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TOPIC: design


Saving Urban Typography In A Digital World

Typography is a familiar sight on the streets, but it has also succumbed to fashions and the passage of time. Rescuing urban signage helps to preserve this part of our collective heritage.

MADRID — The strokes, drawn to the millimeter, scratch the thin sheet of paper. One slip, just the slightest mistake, and all the work will be ruined. In silence, a teacher observes his pupils. The future of their education depends on having studied every detail of each character. Only excellence is acceptable in the imperial school.

On the other side of the world, a few hundred monks all over Europe strive to copy the books they keep in monastery and palace libraries. They devote hours to train their attention span, straining in the half-light, to maintain fidelity to the original book. Some slip a few complaints into the manuscript margins.

Then came Gutenberg, with the Bible printed in textured type, and then the thousands of typefaces now found in data banks and on computers.

Typography has accompanied humanity since the origin of printing techniques, an extension of the ancient art of calligraphy. Tens of thousands of styles, aiming to unite beauty and intelligibility — but in the age of the Internet we seem to limit typography to just a uniform few. Is this the end of typography, or are we in a new stage of its reinvention?

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How The Sari Conquered The World

The prestigious Design Museum in London – named European Museum of the Year in 2018 – is currently staging a landmark exhibition, The Offbeat Sari, all about this item of dress and the clamour of attention it is enjoying.

London Calling: How does India look from afar? Looming world power or dysfunctional democracy? And what’s happening in Britain, and the West, that India needs to know about and perhaps learn from? This fortnightly column helps forge the connections so essential in our globalising world.

The curry has conquered the world; the sari less so. It is, in concept, the most simple of garments: a single piece of unstitched fabric. In execution, it’s really tricky to wear for those who don’t have the knack. All those pleats – the tucking in – and then the blouse and petticoat which are part of the ensemble. Quite a palaver.

When Western women wear a sari – often as a perhaps misguided token of cultural respect – you often wish they had stuck to a trouser suit. And in its heartland, the sari is nothing like as ubiquitous as it once was. Among young urban Indian women, as far as I can make out, the sari is saved for high days and holidays.

Yet the elegance and versatility of the sari, as well as its timeless quality, have caught the attention of fashion gurus and designers, desi and otherwise. The prestigious Design Museum in London – named European Museum of the Year in 2018 – is currently staging a landmark exhibition, The Offbeat Sari, all about this item of dress and the clamour of attention it is enjoying.

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What Makes A Comfortable Chair? Ergonomics Isn't Everything

A highly subjective concept, the notion of comfort has evolved over time and place — but what does it mean today?

PARIS — Bruno Munari was a genius. This visionary Italian designer was the author of an influential essay around comfort, published in a 1944 edition of the architecture review Domus with the ironic title: "Coming home tired after working all day only to find an uncomfortable armchair."

In his uncompromising way — and with a hint of provocation toward his peers — Munari was already harshly criticizing the overproduction of furniture as well as the ensuing lack of comfort.

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Isabelle Regnier

Healthier Spaces: COVID-19 Prompts Rethink Of Hospital Design

While it may make sense from a business perspective, healthcare facilities should focus on more than just optimizing space. Hospital architecture lessons from a pandemic.

PARIS — French hospitals were not prepared for coronavirus. The country's contingency plan — designed to respond to major health crises and terrorist or bacteriological attacks — did not take into account the possibility of such a massive influx of patients for long stays in intensive care. As a result, overstretched hospitals had to rely, at the peak of the epidemic, on medical evacuations organized by regional health agencies and the army.

Day by day, they reorganized themselves, reassigning entire departments to resuscitation, reconfiguring their emergency departments to isolate patients with COVID-19 and doubling the capacity of rooms where possible. The crisis revealed much, in other words, about the structural weaknesses of the country's hospitals, but also highlighted their ability to adapt.

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How The World Of Design Is Embracing The New Normal

Around the world, creative minds are coming up with bright (or at least, new) ideas to help people stay germ-free while returning to work, school or travel.

Countries around the world may gradually be easing their lockdowns, but it's increasingly apparent that "normal" is still a long way off. To limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, there needs to be continued social distancing in all aspects of our lives, from school and work to dining and leisure activities. And keeping up with these changes, people are realizing, requires some major new ideas and innovations in design.

  • After allowing shops to begin reopening, Germany is hoping to soon give bars and restaurants the green light as well. But that raises a tricky question: How to make eating out compatible with the new social distancing measures? One restaurant owner thinks he has the answer. The man, originally from Greece, created a new type of face mask that includes a zipper, which diners can simply open and close every time they want to take a bite or a sip. The creator told the Greek Reporter that a large company already expressed interest in producing and marketing his innovation.

  • Social distancing is also, of course, a concern in schools, which are gradually resuming activities in various countries around the globe. Face masks are one option. But in China, pupils at Yangzheng School in Hangzhou returned to classes with an even more eye-catching accessory: "social distancing hats," with a one-meter-long pole jutting out the sides. Have a look here.

  • For people in search of an even greater level of protection, a design studio in Italy has created a prototype for the ultimate social-distancing gear: a personal inflatable bubble. The item, developed by the studio DesignLibero, is made of a fluorine-based plastic and runs on solar energy, the website Daily Geek Show explains. Like something of science fiction, the bubble also contains a compressor and ventilator that purify and filter the air inside. Take that coronavirus!

  • ABC Displays in Bogota, Colombia created a bed that can be converted into a coffin to deal with the influx of corpses. While it's made almost entirely out of cardboard, it is strong enough to hold the weight of a body. The company used cardboard because it is cheap and widely available material: Each bed costs less than $100. The first 10 will be donated to Colombia's Amazon region, one of the parts of the country worst hit by the pandemic.

  • Air travel is another area where social distancing makes sense, but is easier said than done. With that in mind, the Italian firm Aviointeriors​ has a simple but potentially effective idea: reverse the middle seat to ensure maximum isolation between passengers. Another concept being floated these days, according to the industry publication Flight Global reports, is to install a bubble of transparent material above each seat that encases the passenger's head and shoulders.

The Aviointeriors plane seat design that respects social distancing. — Photo: Aviointeriors

  • Planes, schools and restaurants aren't the only places germs spread. People can also get sick in their own homes — just by touching a dirty doorknob, for example. One way to stay heathy, in other words, is to keep hands off handles, which is why a number of designers are working on simple and attachable door-opening prototypes. A Welsh designer invented a hands-free door pull that works like an "arm extension." And in Belgium, a firm figured out that by fastening a pair of specially designed, 3D-printed pieces over an existing handle, people can easily open the door with an elbow.

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Miguel Jurado

An Argentina Hospital's Safe Space For Patient Feedback

An experimental listening booth in Buenos Aires provides people a comfortable space to give honest feedback — alone and in anonymity.

BUENOS AIRES — The late Francisco Maglio, the long-time head of Intensive Care at Hospital Muñiz in Buenos Aires, had a saying. "For years we doctors have been at the bedside of our patients. But what we need to do now is be on their side."

It was a view that "Pancho," as he was affectionately known, put into practice while working at the hospital, and that he later developed in books and lectures as head of the Argentine Society of Anthropological Medicine. It's also a vision that, three years after his death, inspired an experimental project spearheaded by his daughter Tuti, who heads the hospital's Institutional Relations department.

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Sergiy Fotіev*

How To Renovate Kyiv: Start By Replacing All Soviet-Era Slums

There's an old joke about the apartment complexes named after Khrushchev​.

KYIV — Bed bugs are dining at "Khrushchyovkas," a cramped and grim low-cost apartment building named after the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev.

It's just another achievement for the Soviet goal of eliminating all excess in design and construction. These three- to five-storied buildings were assembled quickly and cheaply: The only thing required was that the size of the staircase and the radius of rotation on the steps allows the transport of a coffin. All other space was designed to be as limited as possible.

Nikita Khrushchev personally tested the toilet in such an apartment and delivered a verdict: "If I can do it, everyone can!" In response, a joke circulated about Khrushchev's apartments: He managed to combine the toilet and bathroom, but couldn't figure out how to combine the floor with the ceiling ...

Since 1957, entire neighborhoods have been built cheaply and quickly in Kyiv, with the current housing stock of the Ukrainian capital at 15% Khrushchevkas. It is no longer news that these old, low-quality buildings require major renovation. According to the preliminary general plan, about 3,055 Khrushchevkas, housing 200,000 families, have to be demolished.

Khrushchyovka on the big alley in Kyiv — Photo: Marjan Blan

The task is challenging but also gives an opportunity to rethink the infrastructure and living spaces of the city, as has been done for decades in urban areas of the U.S., Japan, China, Hong Kong, Great Britain and even Russia. City authorities either buy out apartments at the market price or provide new housing. In European countries and Israel, it is common to repair and renew buildings, adding more space, changing communications, improve energy efficiency, and adding a modern design for facades. Sometimes such works can even be carried out without resettling the residents.

In terms of financing, mass renovations of buildings in Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have been carried out in recent years with state support, along with programs for subsidies and benefits for individuals affected.

Of course, it is almost impossible to garner 100% support for renovations among residents of the old buildings. Authorities must thus come up with measures to somehow "push" people out. In the UK, a "demolition payment" is introduced to compensate residents of dilapidated buildings. In France, if residents insist on remaining, they will have to pay for the maintenance of the whole building.

The government must ensure security.

But the most straightforward and secure renovation algorithm is applied in Istanbul. People are notified of the dates in which they must leave their apartments. Property owners choose the developer themselves. Houses are built at the expense of developers who can sell vacant apartments in a new house. Construction is carried out for a year and a half, during which time the state pays rent to temporarily evicted people. A cash payment of $20,000 is also possible. At the end of construction, people move into new homes at the same address.

Khrushchyovka in Kyiv. — Photo: Marjan Blan

Construction in Istanbul is carried out according to the strictest regulations. Upon delivery of objects, all technical specifications are carefully checked. Particular attention is paid to the protection of the structure from seismic risks. Modern houses are sometimes equipped with swimming pools, excellent infrastructure, and other amenities.

In Moscow, residents of old Khrushchevkas are offered a renovated apartment in a new house in the same area. Moreover, the number of rooms can't be fewer than in the old apartment, while the total area is larger due to more spacious common areas (kitchen, hallway, corridor, bathroom, toilet). If a resident is not ready to move to an equivalent apartment, he can receive monetary compensation.

At every stage, the government must ensure security. And for Ukraine, this is the most vulnerable spot. People are afraid of legal paradoxes and complicated relationships between the mayor's office, developers and citizens. Housing scams of recent years also ruined the reputation of construction companies, and people are afraid to be left on the street.

A system is needed to decide how and where to relocate all of those living in obsolete Soviet blocks, and Ukrainians need strong legislation. And it should start with the passage of a bill heading into Parliament, called: the Comprehensive Reconstruction of Microdistricts of Obsolete Housing.

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Britta Nagel

Bauhaus In Britain: History Of London's 'Modern Living' Experiment

A derivative of the Bauhaus revolution, the Isokon building brought modernity, and affordable rent, to conservative Britain — 85 years ago.

LONDON — There are scant signs today that a revolution once took place in Hampstead, one of London's upscale suburbs, among well-tended Victorian terraced houses and gardens with blooming shrubs. Nothing seems to indicate that 85 years ago, Jack and Molly Pritchard instigated a true uprising here.

The businessman and his wife, both of them Cambridge-educated "Hamstead Liberals', had commissioned a house to be built for themselves on Lawn Road, a house that turned all housing conventions within the United Kingdom on their head. The Isokon building was not only the first residential building to be erected with reinforced concrete, it also revolutionized European standards of building public housing and introduced modernity into Great Britain in 1934.

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Five Argentine Design Firms Join Up to 'Export Together'

Five Argentine design studios are using 'collaborative association,' a format that eliminates competition among members, in order to export products and promote the 'Argentine brand,' Clarín reports.

BUENOS AIRES — An ambitious plan for an innovative idea. Five Argentinian design firms have agreed to boost each other and export their products without competing among themselves. The idea began months ago with the Associative Exporter Management program (Gerenciamiento exportador asociativo), wherein the country's export promotions agency, like a reality show, gave the new partners 26 months to progress toward set objectives.

On July 2, the partners presented their associative firm, SUR Design, at one of the day-long events organized by MICA, the Ministry of Culture"s Argentine Creative Industries Market. Sur Design aims to transcend national frontiers and place local designs on the international market.

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Elvire von Bardeleben

How Good Health And Instagram Squeeze France's Pastry Chefs

Caught between the image-first expectations of social media, and consumer ideas about healthy eating, pâtissiers struggle to find a new recipe for success.

PARIS — How to reconcile the irreconcilable? That, in a nutshell, is the conundrum facing today's top pâtissiers. In this era of Instagram, image is everything. And so there's a demand, on the one hand, to make ever more beautiful cakes. But consumers are also increasingly health conscious, and new rules have banned the use of certain artificial dyes, forcing pastry chefs to tone things down, especially when it comes to colors.

One thing is for certain, it is necessary to be present on Instagram today. "It's a showcase for the world and it's free," says Yann Couvreur, a Parisian pâtissier. He sees it simply as a means of communication that can keep clients up-to-date on what's happening in the boutique. "It's not a megalomaniacal thing to submit your work to the eyes of the people," Couvreur insists.

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