Wednesday 5 July 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 5/7/2023

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Giulia Piermartiri

Latest and greatest

In this week’s dispatch, we talk technology with the founder of a Beirut-based design agency, explore an urban regeneration project at the heart of Brooklyn and visit the latest edition of the art fair Nomad in Capri (pictured). Plus: a colourfully customisable drinks trolley, a desk with a multifunctional feel and a monograph celebrating Scandinavian innovation. But first, Stella Roos on Uzbekistan’s modernist heritage.

Opinion / Stella Roos

Image change

It all started with a tote bag. During the opening days of Venice’s Biennale Architettura in 2021, the chicest people were carrying a sturdy, pink-and-green canvas bag printed with the word “Mahalla”. It came from the first national pavilion of Uzbekistan, which turned out to be one of the must-see shows of the festival.

Back in Venice two years later, I bumped into Emanuel Christ of Basel-based firm Christ & Gantenbein, which had curated that exhibition in 2021. Over impromptu bellinis at Harry’s Bar, he told me how the project had come about. Asked by Uzbekistan’s Art & Culture Development Foundation to submit a proposal for the pavilion, the architects had suggested a study on mahallas, the country’s traditional low-rise neighbourhoods, which were being demolished at a fast clip.

Since then, major exhibitions about Uzbekistan have been springing up in cities across Europe. Earlier this year, Paris hosted two shows on Uzbek cultural heritage at the Arab World Institute and the Louvre, respectively. In April an exhibition on Tashkent’s modernist architecture opened at the Triennale Milano, while Berlin’s James-Simon-Galerie currently has a show on the country’s archaeological treasures.

This formidable cultural push has been orchestrated by Uzbekistan’s Art & Culture Development Foundation. The state-funded initiative makes sense: the authoritarian petrostate started opening up for international travel and business in 2016 and is now seeking to change its international image. And when it comes to PR of that sort, an exhibition at the Louvre or a viral tote in Venice is about as good as it gets.

Perhaps the most curious thing about this pan-European publicity drive is that, despite the Uzbek government’s questionable objectives, it is having a positive effect inside the country on its architecture and for people living under the regime. Milan’s exhibition on Tashkent’s modernism campaigns to protect and reuse the capital’s Soviet-era buildings and it’s already yielding results. Christ & Gantenbein’s show on the mahalla prompted a national ban on the demolition of these neighbourhoods and the architects are now studying ways to adapt and regenerate them. That achievement was worth clinking glasses to: rarely does an exhibition produce not just a coveted tote bag but also meaningful changes on the ground.

Stella Roos is Monocle’s design correspondent and a contributor to ‘Monocle on Design’.

The project / Powerhouse Arts, USA

Power source

Herzog & de Meuron has completed its transformation of a derelict industrial block in New York into a vibrant studio and event space for Powerhouse Arts, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to promoting accessibility in the creative fields. In tackling the project, the Swiss architects tapped into the site’s history: built as a power station supporting Brooklyn’s transit system, it was decommissioned in the 1950s and half of the original structure, the Boiler House, was demolished. The Turbine Hall, meanwhile, was left standing but fell into disrepair; Herzog & de Meuron has renovated this space, restoring its concrete vaults, exposed ductwork and glazed tiling. And where the old Boiler House once stood, it has constructed a new building that draws inspiration in shape and form from its predecessor.

Image: Iwan Baan
Image: Iwan Baan

This revitalisation effort not only reclaims the legacy of the long-neglected site but also offers a beacon of hope to local artists. New, in-house production facilities cater to disciplines such as ceramics, printmaking and public-art construction, with experts based on-site to provide mentorship. The result serves as a testament to the potential of adaptive-reuse projects to reflect a neighbourhood’s past while helping to build a creative community in the present too.;

Design News / Nomad, Capri, Italy

On the move

Since its inception in 2017, the collectable design and art fair Nomad has travelled to places such as St Moritz, Venice and Monaco. For its 12th edition, which runs from 6 to 9 July, it is returning to Capri’s Certosa di San Giacomo, a 14th-century monastery with views of the Tyrrhenian Sea. In this enticing location, 12 galleries and designers from around the world have been invited to showcase their work and make the most of the sprawling, sunny complex. Renowned exhibitors such as Milan-based Nilufar Gallery and Friedman Benda from New York will feature alongside the Artists in Flux exhibition, created in collaboration with Gucci.

Image: Piergiorgio Sorgetti/Mattia Parodi /Federico Floriani
Image: Piergiorgio Sorgetti/Mattia Parodi /Federico Floriani
Image: Piergiorgio Sorgetti/Mattia Parodi /Federico Floriani

While the work on show is important, Nomad also offers visitors a chance to enjoy the site’s spectacular architecture. “The old monastery is not necessarily ‘on the map’ for people coming to Capri so the idea was to valorise the space,” Nomad co-founder Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte told Monocle, prior to the first event in Capri last year. Experiencing design in such a dramatic setting, nestled in a verdant historical landscape on top of the Italian island’s rocky cliffs, certainly beats seeing it in a fair booth. That’s reason enough to visit Nomad when it kicks off tomorrow.

Words with... / Guillaume Crédoz, Lebanon

Machine learning

Guillaume Crédoz is the founder of Bits to Atoms, a Lebanese design and architecture agency specialising in digital fabrication. The company has a global client roster and a portfolio that ranges from chairs to large outdoor structures. Its approach to projects combines traditional craft nous with contemporary technology. To find out more about this process, we visited Crédoz’s Beirut studio to discuss his work and what it’s like to run a design business in Lebanon.

Image: Billy Barraclough

Tell us about your design philosophy.
Digital fabrication is enabling us to become craftsmen again. People who know how to put together information on computers can drive large robot arms and manufacture things. Suddenly, for example, an architect who was working mostly on paper can see results almost instantly. I might draw a chair on my computer in the morning, then 3D-print it in about an hour and sit on it. And I can do that again a number of times within the same day. This brings us to the core of a designer’s work, the driving force behind our practice: becoming digital craftsmen.

What are the other benefits of using technology in this way?
It’s more sustainable. We use local, recyclable material. We can also ensure that 3D printing doesn’t create waste. When you use wood as a material, you end up with leftovers. With 3D printing, you know the amount of material that you need and it’s all used efficiently. And we can also send files where they’re needed and have our products manufactured closer to their products’ final destination, minimising the need for transport. We can share digital plans with fellow designers too. This approach helps to cut waste because you don’t end up creating things that don’t actually fit the purpose. It’s important to acknowledge that we could do everything that a computer does by hand – but technology allows us to be faster and go further. When you start doing something complex, at some point, your brain won’t be able to think of everything. With 3D modelling, however, you can see what you’ve created and add more complexity to it.

What is it like to be in charge of a design studio in Lebanon?
There have been so many crises. In the financial crisis, the government lost all of the banks’ money – not only individuals’ money but also that of many companies. Then, in the 2020 explosion, we lost one good friend and our home was demolished. Despite all of that, we have managed to find a way through and strike a new balance. Of course, it’s not the same balance as before, given that we only have one hour of electricity a day. But we have found an equilibrium.

For more from Crédoz, tune in to ‘Monocle on Design’ or pick up a copy of our design newspaper today.

Image: Anje Jager

From The Archive / Ricardo Bofill desk, France

Open wide

For a decade from the mid-1980s, Annabelle d’Huart ran an interiors studio called Taller Design within Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura. The French artist had a simple way of evaluating a furniture prototype: she would place the piece among Alvar Aalto and Mies van der Rohe tables in her Paris living room and see whether it could hold its own. This drawerless office desk from 1993 made the cut. “It’s a very familiar shape,” she tells The Monocle Minute on Design. “What I did was clean it up until you couldn’t make it more simple.”

After the living-room test, d’Huart didn’t see the wooden desk until one re-emerged at auction some years ago (it is currently for sale at Side Gallery in Barcelona). D’Huart still likes the design, which, thanks to its open shelves, quickly comes to reflect the tastes of its owner. “You can add your own little world inside,” she says. She also points out that the desk could be realised with any finish: plywood, lacquer, bright paints or transparent glass. “This was just the beginning of an idea. It could be recreated any time.”

Around The House / Trace Drinks Trolley, Australia

Precious cargo

Tait is a Melbourne-based furniture design and production company established by husband-and-wife duo Gordon and Susan Tait in 1992. “One of the biggest challenges that we face in manufacturing in Australia is the cost of materials and labour, especially when compared to many imported products,” says Gordon. He explains that by keeping the manufacturing close to home, the company can control every step of the process, from sourcing the materials to prototyping, and ensure a sustainable, premium product. “We also work solely with Australian designers. This allows us to honour our commitment to the industry while showcasing the country’s talent.”

Image: Tait

A case in point is the Trace Drinks Trolley by Sydney-based designer Adam Goodrum. A stainless-steel frame powder-coated with UV-resistant paint connects three slim but sturdy trays. Available in 21 colours and a variety of timber finishes, the trolley is well equipped to survive the heat of the Australian outdoors or sit inside any living room. Our preference would be to find it a spot in the garden, with a freshly squeezed yuzu lemonade sitting on top.

In The Picture / ‘David Thulstrup: A Sense of Place’

Parts of the process

Denmark’s David Thulstrup has received global attention for his modern take on Scandinavian design – an approach that has now been given the hardback treatment. Edited by Berlin-based art and architecture critic Sophie Lovell, David Thulstrup: A Sense of Place charts the designer’s life from his childhood in Denmark to his stints working for Jean Nouvel in Paris and Peter Marino in New York, and the founding of his own practice in 2009.

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

In the monograph, more than 250 photographs, floor plans and architectural drawings showcase Thulstrup’s wide-ranging practice, which includes residential projects, furniture design and restaurant interiors (most notably Noma in Copenhagen). The book offers a glimpse of the process behind many of the designer’s projects, including work for the likes of Møbel Copenhagen and Brdr Krüger. Thulstrup’s career will no doubt continue to develop but this publication offers keen insights into the story so far.


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