Wednesday 22 May 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 22/5/2024

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Bahaa Ghoussainy

On the right track

Hungry for knowledge and fresh perspectives? This week’s dispatch is just the ticket. We break bread with an Australian designer pushing the boundaries of sound engineering and revisit a toaster from the 1930s that’s quite the visual feast. Plus: we learn about Brooklyn’s architectural legacy and a Baghdad school (pictured below) teaches us a lesson in community. But first, Grace Charlton goes underground...

Opinion / Grace Charlton

Sit-down conversation

The goodwill that I feel towards London, the city where I live, has only increased since the Elizabeth Line opened last year and became my go-to transportation route from Heathrow. With its spacious, colourful seats, it’s a welcome departure from the gloomy Piccadilly Line, which also serves the airport. What does it say about a city when the first impression that visitors get of it is one of dusty and frayed metro seats? And how does tired public-transport infrastructure affect the morale of residents who come into contact with it almost every day?

Over my travels, I have fallen into the habit of gauging a city’s look and feel by the design of its metro seats. New York’s subway lines feature orange plastic seating that can withstand coffee spills and suggests a hard-and-fast lifestyle. Copenhagen has opted for a functional and conservative approach, with grey plastic seats that match the aesthetic of the concrete stations that the trains pull into. Sometimes, a city disappoints: the seats of the Paris Métro, for example, could do with an overhaul to help them live up to the grandeur of the French capital’s Haussmannian boulevards.

For me, the cheery designs of Milan’s metro seats come out on top and signpost the Italian city’s role as a centre for industrial design and the home of Salone del Mobile. The wavy red or yellow seats echo the 1960s design of the metro system, which was originally conceived by Italian architects Franco Albini and Franca Helg, in collaboration with designers Antonio Piva and Bob Noorda. Their choices continue to resonate: Milan-based homeware studio Objects Are By recently launched a collection of vases and trays inspired by the metro’s shapes and primary colours. Now there’s a Milanese souvenir for those who want to bring a piece of the design capital home.

Grace Charlton is Monocle’s associate editor. For more news and analysis, subscribe to Monocle today.

Design News / Concéntrico 10, Spain

Staying power

The 10th edition of Concéntrico, Logroño’s international architecture and design festival, concluded earlier this month but a selection of the objects and pavilions will be sticking around a little longer at the request of the city council. Among them is the Poplar Assembly pavilion, designed by Javier García, which will stay another month. This installation recast the Plaza de la Diversidad as an urban oasis with a wall of poplar trees.


The Basic Forms project, a collection of colourful plywood furniture by Finnish urban-design studio RaivioBumann, has been given permanent residency at the Rafael Azcona Library. There, it will invite visitors to engage with the space’s different shapes. The city council’s decision to retain these projects marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for Concéntrico. It offers contributors a chance to implement their ideas in the long term, continuing to engage with the city and its residents after the international design crowd has gone home.

The Project / International Community School, Iraq

School of thought

When Lebanese architects Ahmad Beydoun and Ghida Khayat were asked to design an international school in Baghdad in 2019, they left their jobs in Beirut and launched a studio called Muduni (“urban” in Arabic). They allowed the school’s form to be led entirely by its function. “Most schools separate students of different ages,” says Beydoun. “We wanted to emphasise mixing and playing together.” As a result, the four buildings, from kindergarten up to high school, surround one central space. The layout works perfectly for the Iraqi capital’s climate, with the buildings shading the courtyard.

Image: Bahaa Ghoussainy
Image: Bahaa Ghoussainy
Image: Bahaa Ghoussainy

The commission wasn’t without its challenges. “The Iraqi education ministry had a lot of specific demands,” says Beydoun. Though safety in Baghdad has increased in the past few years, authorities wanted a thick wall to protect the students. So, Muduni made the building’s base into a blast wall and moved all of the classrooms upstairs. Despite such challenges, the resulting building is decidedly playful. A central curved ramp extends from the ground floor, creating flying walkways. Every viewpoint leads the eye to the central, focal space: a large, block-like library. “It’s the main meeting place,” says Beydoun. “We emphasised it to promote reading books and the value that literacy brings to growing up.”

The International Community School is the winner of the 2024 Monocle Design Award for best school design. Read about more winners in the May issue of the magazine.

Image: Mattia Panunzio

Words with… / Tom Fereday, Australia

Speaking volumes

Australian-born Tom Fereday grew up in London, where he studied sculpture and graphic design before moving to Sydney to complete a degree in industrial design. He decided to stay in the sunny Australian city and established his namesake studio in 2012. Today, clients across Australia and Europe are drawn to his use of natural materials and impressive body of work, which includes collaborations with Louis Vuitton, Alessi and Stellar Works. Here, he tells us about his plans for Melbourne Design Week, Australia’s premier industry showcase, which kicks off tomorrow.

What’s the significance of Melbourne Design Week to your work and Australia’s design community?
It has really grown in terms of the quality of work and the involvement of designers. We forget that Australia is a continent, so we need to be a touchstone for the community. The National Gallery of Victoria, which organises the showcase, has done a great job of bringing in international design and art. The event is becoming a meeting point for the wider Asia-Pacific region too.

What are you showing at this year’s event?
I have a solo exhibition called Aver at Oigall Projects gallery. I’m also presenting work at Villa Alba, an Italianate mansion from the 1880s, and launching a limited-edition cast-aluminium speaker collection with a Tasmanian brand called Pitt & Giblin. I’m trying to push myself to create new types of products, which I’m really excited about.

Tell us about the challenge of designing a speaker.
Every time you see a speaker, all of its physical components are on display. Pitt & Giblin and I wanted to make a mono-material speaker. It had to be aesthetically pleasing, so we had to engineer it from the inside out. Every element is made from sand-cast aluminium. It’s difficult to make a high-quality audio device from this material. We ultimately took a sculptural approach to designing a technical product for the home. It was an interesting challenge.

For more interviews with top designers, tune in to ‘Monocle on Design’ on Monocle Radio.

Illustration: Anje Jager

From The Archive / Visible Toaster, USA

Bread winner

Designed in 1932 by Henry Dreyfuss for Birtman Electric Co, this nonagenarian toaster is the only kitchen appliance of its kind to have a pedestal at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Finished in chromed metal and black bakelite, the device has some of the art deco stateliness of the Empire State Building, which had only been completed a year earlier. Its bulging shape helps to increase heat intensity, while the small windows on its sides allow you to watch the bread toasting.

One of the most prolific American industrial designers of the 20th century, Dreyfuss brought his streamlined style to everything from thermostats to passenger trains. Though the Visible Toaster wasn’t initially a commercial success, it had a surge in popularity during the 1980s. In 1988, the last remaining model sold for $5,000 (€4,600), equivalent to more than $13,000 (€11,960) today.

Image: Philippe Fragniere

Around The House / Uno X Kartell, Italy

All hands on deck

The makers of US card game Uno have teamed up with Italian furniture company Kartell to create a design-inspired deck. The cards feature images of the latter’s most recognisable designs, including the Bookworm shelf by British-Israeli industrial designer Ron Arad, Louis Ghost chairs and French designer Philippe Starck’s gnome-shaped Attila side table.

With its clean graphics, sans-serif typeface and subdued pastel tones, the deck is a creative reimagining of the iconic game. Also on the cards is a version of Kartell’s Componibili plastic storage unit, created by Anna Castelli Ferrieri, with four tiers that echo every Uno-card category. Design collaborations don’t get much more playful than this.

Uno x Kartell received the prize for top game in the 2024 Monocle Design Awards. For more winners, pick up a copy of the magazine from newsstands or online today.

In the Picture / ‘A to Z of The Designers Republic’, UK

Collective effort

Ian Anderson’s A to Z of The Designers Republic celebrates a group that has helped to shape the UK’s visual identity over the past 30 years. Anderson founded The Designers Republic studio in the late 1980s in Sheffield, a location that he affectionately proclaims as “North of Nowhere”. The book sold out when it was first issued in 2019 as a limited run of 2,500 copies but is now being rereleased by Thames & Hudson. Because it doesn’t present the collective’s projects in chronological order, readers get a sense of the studio’s constant reinvention.

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

Though Anderson has worked on the visual identity of companies such as Coca-Cola and Nike throughout his career, he is best known for his work in the music and art scenes. A to Z of The Designers Republic serves up more than 500 pages of album covers, posters and projects, including a collaboration with Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker and an advert for the Manchester School of Art. “This book shows some of the marks that we’ve made on design, as well as where, how and why we made them,” says Anderson. “You could see the work on these pages as building blocks for what comes next.”


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