Wednesday 27 March 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 27/3/2024

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Simon d’Exéa

High ideals

We have lofty ambitions in this week’s dispatch, from visiting the gallery space in one of Rome’s finest hotels to celebrating the story of a space-age Seattle skyscraper. Plus: we learn how to design for timelessness and head to Issey Miyake’s bold new Paris flagship. But first, Nic Monisse has a tall story…

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Life’s a beach

I spent an early-spring weekend in Clearwater Beach and I must admit that – to my own surprise – I’m considering returning. The small Floridian city, just outside Tampa, is a place of contrast: it’s a hotspot for college students seeking a beach break as well as elderly Midwesterners escaping the winter cold. Its architecture is equally varied. There are pockets of charming, low-slung condos and hotels from the 1970s and 1980s, with palm trees swaying in front of swimming pools. I became enamoured with them and would love to return for a holiday. The only downside? The 21st-century tourist and “snowbird” boom has seen countless big, brash apartment towers, devoid of personality and character, constructed on the beachfront. They tower over the playful, late-20th-century architecture and are, frankly, ugly.

I’m not alone in thinking this either; Clearwater City Council has been trying to find a way to halt the construction of these monotonous big-builds since the early 2000s. At every turn the local government has been hamstrung by the challenge of legislating for beauty; if a structure fits within the required footprint and height restrictions, it can be difficult to stop its construction on subjective grounds.

Fortunately, there might be a solution: a new book by Thomas Heatherwick, a designer who often plays on the outer reaches of the architectural establishment. Humanise: A Maker’s Guide to Building Our World suggests that while beauty may be subjective, a measure of whether a building is visually “interesting” is much more objective. Heatherwick Studio has developed a metric for calculating whether a structure has high levels of variation, detail and thought-out massing (the general shape, form and size of a building). A combination of these architectural elements creates buildings that are more interesting to look at than flat, plain, placeless towers.

While this digital technology is currently only employed by Heatherwick’s team, architects and city governments could use its principles to assess whether new design proposals will add to the visual appeal of a place. Should this happen in Clearwater Beach, I’ll be heading back as soon as possible.

Nic Monisse is Monocle’s design editor. This column features in Monocle’s April issue, which is available on all good newsstands now. For more news and analysis, subscribe to Monocle today.

Design News / Issey Miyake Paris, France

Change of a dress

Out with the old, in with the new, as the adage goes. That’s certainly the case for Japanese fashion label Issey Miyake, which recently swapped its first Paris address on Rue Royale for a prime spot on Rue François 1er. Designed by Tokujin Yoshioka, the new flagship occupies a 19th-century stone building in the 8th arrondissement. A one-time employee of the brand, Tokyo-based Yoshioka retained the structure’s historic façade – the large windows of which flood the space with natural light – when reimagining its interior.


Inspired by Issey Miyake’s minimalist yet playful aesthetic, pristine-white walls contrast with brushed-metal rails, beige stools and walls clad in orange anodised aluminium. “These contrasting colours, particularly the orange, give the impression of the sun,” says Yoshioka, who has designed a number of Issey Miyake shops over the past 30 years. “It adds a touch of futuristic energy to the space but also a sense of warmth, which reflects the philosophy of the brand.” The outcome? An uplifting spot to shop for your next L’Eau d’Issey fragrance or trademark pleated trouser.

The Project / Rhinoceros, Italy

Art of the matter

In recent years an increasing number of high-end hotel openings in Rome have pushed the average price for a night in the Eternal City to unprecedented heights. A still-reasonable five-star option is Rhinoceros, located in a tall palazzo on Via del Velabro at the foot of Palatino Hill. This central street is said to be the birthplace of Rome but, luckily, remains off the tourist map. Owned by Alda Fendi and designed by architect Jean Nouvel, the hotel’s 25 apartments are available to rent on a monthly basis and are all equipped with stainless-steel kitchens and Vitra dining rooms.

Image: Simon d’Exéa
Image: Simon d’Exéa

Last week, Rhinoceros launched a collaboration with Parisian Galerie Kreo in its ground-floor gallery space. “The idea is to bring in artists and designers together from outside Rome,” says Alessia Caruso Fendi, Alda’s daughter, who directs the gallery. The first exhibition is a solo show by French designer Ronan Bouroullec, featuring never-before-seen sketches, ceramic bas-reliefs and limited-edition furniture. “As soon as you leave your apartment, you’re already on an art itinerary,” says Caruso Fendi. Guests and passers-by are welcome to the gallery, as well as the hotel’s rooftop bar and restaurant, which offer a priceless view over one of Rome’s most historic corners.;

Image: Peter Flude

Words with... / Alison Brooks, UK

Building a legacy

How do we design for timelessness? This is a topic that Monocle has been discussing in partnership with V-Zug through a series of panel talks hosted at the Swiss appliance specialist’s showrooms across the world. The panels have featured leading creatives such as award-winning UK architect Alison Brooks. Here, she shares her perspective on time, architecture and art.

Do you consider timelessness when designing a building?
Timelessness is overused as a word. Clients have even requested that we don’t use the word “timelessness” because it has been said so much without people thinking about what it means. But timelessness is still important because architecture, design and art that stand the test of time are sustainable. It’s also about ideas, imagination and creativity – and how this is maintained over centuries.

Are there any principles that help you bring timelessness into your work?
I have three. The first one is about nature; design that makes us feel close to it has an essential quality. The second is about design bridging the gap between the past and the future. The third is about drawing on art because it is the only product of human culture that can be truly timeless.

Can your architecture be considered a work of art?
I think every architect wants their work to be seen as art. I try to convince my clients that they’re patrons of art, even if they’re commissioning a house or a shed. I also try to make artful things; a staircase can also function as a kind of sculpture.

Join Monocle and V-Zug during Milan Design Week at Pinacoteca di Brera, where we’ll be joined by leading architects and designers. For more information, visit

Illustration: Anje Jager

From The Archive / Tamburo Lamp, Italy

Bright idea

Whoever is currently in the market for a new garden light has woefully few good options. Most outdoor lamps are bogged down by their bland constructions and monochrome weather-resistant finishings – especially unfortunate given that gardens are mainly meant to delight. For inspiration, manufacturers should look to the Tamburo, designed by Afra and Tobia Scarpa and produced by Flos in the 1970s and 1980s.

The enamelled green Tamburo (tambourine in Italian) came in several heights and was topped with a tilted head that shone a light in both directions. The friendly-looking lights were ideal for placing along a garden path or gathered in a cluster to illuminate a specific spot. The Italian-made design was suited for gardens from Como to Caracas, where some can still be spotted in use today. Quick idea: reissue the Tamburo in a solar-powered version, with the top of the light fitted with a small and unobtrusive panel. Ideally, in time for summer.

Image: Ollie Tomlinson

Around The House / Wassily, Germany

In the hot seat

In celebration of its 60 years in business, London-based furniture company Aram has partnered with US manufacturer Knoll to launch a limited edition of the iconic – and we don’t use that term lightly – Wassily chair by Marcel Breuer. The release, which will be available from early May, pays homage to the brand’s founder, Zeev Aram, and commemorates the chair’s significance as the first product to be sold at his flagship shop on the King’s Road. (The furniture-seller even said that if he had to keep only one piece from his collection, it would be the Wassily.)

Originally designed by Breuer in 1925, the Wassily chair quickly gained recognition as one of the most notable designs of the Bauhaus movement for its functionality and sculptural form. To set it apart from the original, which uses strips of black leather for the backrest, seat and arms, the limited-edition version of the chair features black canvas and is stamped with “Aram 60 2024”. With only 24 chairs produced as a nod to the year 2024, every piece is a collector’s item that celebrates Aram’s involvement in London’s design scene. Enthusiasts looking to add this special piece to their collection will have to act swiftly to secure their own.

In The Picture / ‘New Heights’, USA

Space crusaders

New Heights: Transforming Seattle’s Iconic Space Needle is an overview of design firm Olson Kundig’s work on the landmark tower. The publication tells meticulously detailed tales of the construction, reconstruction and refurbishment of the building. They start from the late 1950s, with original sketches and photos of the tower’s erection for the 1962 World Fair, and run until the tower’s completed renovation in 2018.

Image: Tony Hay
Image: Tony Hay
Image: Tony Hay

With an introduction by Alan Maskin and Blair Payson, principals and owners of Olson Kundig, New Heights is more of an ode to the city of Seattle than a strict architectural account of a project. “The story of the Space Needle is really unusual and we were attempting a number of technical challenges such as creating the world’s first rotating glass floor and dealing with a construction site that is more than 150 metres high,” says Maskin. “There were custom robotic machines created by space-vessel engineers, 11 different types of glass and a local landmark-preservation board that wasn’t particularly supportive of our ideas, at least initially. Whenever someone completes a project that has a small likelihood of ever being built, there is usually a battle story worth sharing.”


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