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1 Inch by Jasper Morrison Less weight. Less waste. Made in America from reclaimed materials.

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emeco.net

effort less

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Home at last.

ADDA SECTIONAL SOFA design by Antonio Citterio FLEXFORM www.flexform.it

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Hall 1 SĂźd, Messe Basel, Switzerland/ @designmiami

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#designmiami

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Cafétéria no. 300 demountable chair/ Jean Prouvé, ca. 1950/ Courtesy of Galerie Patrick Seguin

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87 87 Series by Omer Arbel Standard fixtures and bespoke installations

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Spring Cleaning Words Oli Stratford

Oh my stars, this has all gotten very ragtag! Reader, I am afraid that Disegno # has become a catawumpus issue, with little rhyme or reason as to what goes where, or when or how. So, over the coming pages, you can look forward to articles about the rise of meme culture; urban planning in El Alto; legal changes surrounding chromium; weaving in Kabul; running shoes in Kenya; and bikes by Naoto Fukasawa. All in no particular order! Personally, however, I think that’s fine. And here’s why. In 201, the American author Heidi Julavits published The Folded Clock, a pseudo-diary in which she does not so much record her life as write herself into existence through her essay-like entries. “What’s on the page appears to have busted out of my head and traveled down my arms and through my fingers and my keyboard and coalesced on the screen,” she observes. “But it didn’t happen like that; it never happens like that.” Anyway, The Folded Clock made quite an impression on me (that “catawumpus” you came across in the opening paragraph was stolen from its pages). Recurring throughout its pages is the image of an old tap handle that Julavits carries in her handbag. She discovered it between the wall studs of her house, nestled alongside Introduction

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old newspapers, razor blades “too sharp to throw in the trash” and the vertebra of a cow. Each day, Julavits sketches this tap handle, thereby hoping to make some sense of it and in so doing assimilate it into her life. “If an object is relegated to dailiness it becomes a part of you. It is ingested by habit,” she writes. “It is stored between the studs of the walls of your self. When I’m autopsied they will find inside – this tap handle, a child too scared to go to matinees, a song I once loved, maybe also a cow bone and some old news. Who knows what else I’ve hidden in there because I could make no sense of it at the time, and found nowhere else to put it.” It’s a beautiful image and one that works well for the curation of the magazine. What slips down to settle atop the pages ought not resemble the regularity of wall studs, but rather the detritus that accumulates among them: the oddball odds and ends through which worthwhile identity might be formulated. What we aspire to is mélange: a satisfyingly messy agglomeration that, seemingly by fluke, somehow knits together to form a coherent whole (although, as Julavits notes, happy haphazardry is rarely happenstance: “it didn’t happen like that; it never happens like that”). Reader, I leave you with the happy thought that Disegno # may be the most catawumptastic issue yet. 10

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ADV


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Contents 

Comment Markets! Monetise my Money! Moneypenny gets fiscal

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Report Gets Commission / Writes Article Memes and the future of the undesigned realm



Interview Cycle Networks Naoto Fukasawa and Hu Weiwei on the rise of Mobike

8

Roundtable Mindful Labour Mind-controlled machines and technological choice

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Report Museum With Walls Museological display at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam

Introduction Spring Cleaning



Contents

1

Contributors

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Masthead The people behind Disegno



Timeline December 2017 to March 2018 in review



Photoessay Kabul’s Weavers Rug production in Afghanistan’s capital

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Project What’s in a Shoe? The creation of Kenya’s first running shoe

8 Index Short stories from the creation of this issue



Profile Trend or Foe? Franklin Till and the quantification of design



Reviews

8



Gallery Chrome on Chrome A 20th-century giant meets EU regulations

Muji Hotel () Down and out in Shenzhen

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Comment Spinning Yarns Remembering Azzedine Alaïa

Phantom Thread (8) Paul Thomas Anderson’s mid-century couture

8

Comment Data Faking Corporate chicanery gone wild

Revisiting Postmodernism () What is dead may never die

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Comment WT actual F Designing a digital god

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Observations Moulded Matter Eight break the mould



Comment The Gospel of Ingvar A Lutheran Ikea cycling holiday for Ingvar and Erling

Endnote The Restrictions of Industry Paul Lukas, designer, hits a wall

The White Book () Cultural resonances within a single colour 

Travelogue Ciudad Rebelde Contested identities in El Alto



Object Interview What if a Chair Realised she had a Son? D.235.1 reconnects with Robin Hood Gardens

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MOOOI P RE S E N T S T H E M USE UM O F E XT I N CT A N I M A L S S A LONE D E L M O B I L E M I L A N , V I A SAVO N A 5 6 1 7 - 2 2 A PR I L 2 0 1188 Moooi Amsterdam · Westerstraat 187 · 1015 MA Amsterdam Moooi London · 23 Great Titchfield Street · London, W1W 7PA Moooi New York · 36 East 31st Street · New York, NY 10016 Moooi Stockholm · Norr Mälarstrand 26 · 112 20 Stockholm Moooi Tokyo · Three F 6-11-1 Minami Aoyama · Minato-ku, Tokyo moooi.com

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Contributors Jalal Abuthina is a photographer, wanderer and undercover android. p. 24

Fabian Frinzel just photographed the Ayzit Bostan lookbook. p. 81

José del R. Millán is a very nice guy for being a scientist. p. 158

African Cityzens are Sarah Waiswa and Joel Lukhovi, who encourage trans-city movement and new spatial exchanges. p. 101

Teresa Giannico likes to work with photography, drawing and set design. p. 145

Michael Mitchell lives on a tourist visa in London, but resides in Ticino. p. 158

Renée de Groot has been eagerly waiting for spring. p. 167

Ken Ngan loves taking portraits. p. 149

Darran Anderson writes about cities while plotting to escape them. p. 122 Murray Ballard has been working on an 18-month public art commission. p. 35 Nick Ballón finds Bolivia strange at times and home-like at others. p. 129 Crystal Bennes’s favourite colour is orange. p. 126 Laurence Blair is based between the UK and Latin America. p. 129 Felix Chabluk Smith has been trying to become a Luxembourger. p. 118 Brendan Cormier curates random passing interests at the V&A. p. 114 Lia Forslund worries about ethics and technology. p. 48

Alexandre Humbert uses film to design human-object interactions. p. 145 John Jervis has left London for Bury St Edmunds. p. 77

Nanjala Nyabola is a writer based in Nairobi, Kenya. p. 101 Riya Patel loves and hates the internet in equal measure. p. 67

Jonathon Keats is a Black Mountain College Legacy Fellow. p. 158

Alice Twemlow leads the Design and the Deep Future readership at The Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. p. 167

Priya Khanchandani toiled hard to spell her name aged four and realised other words would be easy thereafter. p. 51

Cyril Zammit has trotted all over Europe and now finds himself based in Dubai. p. 24

Beatrice Leanza lives in Beijing where she directs The Global School. p. 149 Paul Lukas believes in the power of his art to change society. p. 184 Theresa Marx is a fashion and still-life photographer based between London and Paris. p. 52

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The Quarterly Journal of Design #8 Editor-in-chief Oli Stratford oliver@disegnomagazine.com Deputy editor Kristina Rapacki kristina@disegnomagazine.com Acting deputy editor Debika Ray Editorial project coordinator Paula Wik paula@disegnomagazine.com Subeditor Ann Morgan

Founder and publication director Johanna Agerman Ross Creative directors Florian Böhm Annahita Kamali akfb.com

Sales executive Farnaz Ari farnaz@disegnomagazine.com

Designer Jonas Hirschmann info@akfb.com

Accounts department Sharon Williams accounts@tack-press.com

Colour management Terry Smith Complete Creative Services completeltd.com

Circulation and stockist enquiries Adam Long adam@logicalconnections.co.uk Distribution Logical Connections Distribution logicalconnections.co.uk

Editorial intern Marigold Warner

Words by Johanna Agerman Ross, Darran Anderson, Crystal Bennes, Laurence Blair, Felix Chabluk Smith, Brendan Cormier, Lia Forslund, Alexandre Humbert, John Jervis, Jonathon Keats, Priya Khanchandani, Beatrice Leanza, Paul Lukas, José Millán, Michael Mitchell, Nanjala Nyabola, Riya Patel, Kristina Rapacki, Debika Ray, Oli Stratford, Alice Twemlow and Cyril Zammit.

Thanks Thank you to Cre8 Studio London for being so accommodating; to Michael Mitchell for his dedication; to Abdulla Al-Jenaibi for his excellent ideas; to Beatrice Leanza for her translation skills; to Weldon Kennedy for his helpfulness; to Terry Smith for his willingness to go above and beyond, as always; and to Chris Jones for nominating himself for inclusion in the thanks section.

Images by Jalal Abuthina, African Cityzens, Murray Ballard, Nick Ballon, Fabian Frinzel, Matthieu Gafsou, Teresa Giannico, Renée de Groot, François Longchamp, Paul Lukas, Theresa Marx, Ken Ngan and Leonhard Rothmoser.

We are very grateful to all our contributors, and for the help of everybody who has supported us and helped make Disegno #18 possible. Not least Porridge the Lhasa Apso – king of The Rose Lipman Building, prince of our hearts – who checks in on Disegno every lunchtime and makes sure our hands are clean.

Paper and print This issue of Disegno is printed by Park Communications on Arcoprint Extra White gsm and Symbol Freelife Gloss  gsm. The cover is printed on Symbol Freelife Gloss  gsm. All of the paper used in this issue is from Fedrigoni UK.

Publisher and commercial director Chris Jones chris@disegnomagazine.com

Content copyright The content of this magazine belongs to Tack Press Limited and to the authors and artists. If you are tempted to reproduce any of it, please ask first. Contact us Studio , The Rose Lipman Building  De Beauvoir Road London N SQ +    Tack Press Limited Disegno is part of Tack Press, along with creative agency Disegno Works. tack-press.com

Finally, we would like to thank Debika Ray for her sterling work as Disegno’s acting deputy editor. Debika was an excellent addition to the team and we all miss her in the office.

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AXO


What’s in a Shoe? Words Nanjala Nyabola Photographs African Cityzens Model Abak Akol Diing

On 16 August 2016, Julius Yego adjusted his grip on his javelin, preparing for his second throw. His first had been perfect, leaving him well placed for a medal at the Olympics; after years of dominating the track, his nation had its first real shot at an honour in the field events. Kenya, a country sharply divided, loves the Olympics. Every four years, the complexities of ethnicity, class, age and gender seem to disappear and an overwhelming sense of pride and oneness takes hold. The Olympics bring out the best version of Kenya, and Kenyans feast on it.

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Abak Akol Diing wears Enda’s red Iten running shoes, photographed in the brand’s hometown of Nairobi.

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Ignoring the restless crowd in the packed stadium, Yego leaned back and launched himself into his effort. He must have known that halfway around the world in his home country millions of pairs of eyes were watching his every move. It wasn’t just that Yego was breaking barriers in Kenya’s athletic tradition; he also symbolised the power of possibility. Yego had taught himself to throw the javelin by watching YouTube videos and gone from being an ordinary working-class boy to an international superstar. Inspirational, aspirational, hopeful, dynamic and as Kenyan as the black, red and green of the flag – Yego became the quasi-superhero that an increasingly divided nation needed, even if that nation didn’t know it. In 2007, Kenya had nearly fallen apart. An openly manipulated election fuelled political tension that spilled over into inter-ethnic clashes. Overnight, the ruling party destroyed the main opposition’s nearly one-million-vote lead with results from constituencies that showed turnouts of more than 100 per cent. The opposition invaded the tallying centre, leading to an on-air confrontation between politicians from both camps that triggered waves of protests around the country. In the resulting violent clashes, more than 1,000 died, well over 100,000 were displaced, and East Africa’s largest economy ground to a halt. The impact was felt beyond Kenya’s borders – Uganda and the DRC, which rely on the port city of Mombasa to import goods, suffered shortages for three months during the crisis. Only national dialogue supported by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan halted the violence, although arguably its political effects continue 10 years later. Multi-party elections in Kenya are always hotly contested and often violent affairs that pit strongman against strongman to the exclusion of women, the youth, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities. By the 2016 Olympics, the country was in election mode once more and strongmen politicians were rallying their bases in preparation for the 2017 vote. The Olympics couldn’t have come at a better time – dousing the escalating tension, albeit for just two weeks. The entrepreneur Navalayo Osembo‑Ombati was one of those watching in Kenya who was captivated by Yego and elated when he took home the silver medal in Rio. She remembers thinking that Yego and others like him represented potential reservoirs of unity in Kenya.

“If we could tap into that energy,” thought OsemboOmbati, “what kind of social impact could Kenyan athletes have?” Osembo-Ombati was born in a village in Bungoma County, western Kenya, but after graduating from the London School of Economics in 2014, had travelled and worked throughout the US, Ethiopia and Tanzania. In 2014, she was back in Nairobi for Spark Kenya, a business-accelerator programme for social entrepreneurs in East Africa. Osembo-Ombati was there to pitch a sports academy where children from poor backgrounds might get a quality education, as well as a chance to begin a sports career, building on the idea of a non-profit school that she had founded in Bungoma. Through that experience and after trying to find a sports-friendly school for her own daughter, Osembo-Ombati saw how little attention Kenya’s education system gave to the field, even while the

“I remembered watching a Nike window display in a store in New York and wondering, ‘Why haven’t we made a Kenyan running shoe?’” —Navalyao Osembo-Ombati country basked in the glory of self-made athletes like Yego. There is provision for physical education in the Kenyan school curriculum, but schools often ignore this to create study time instead – while PE is not examinable, maths and science are. OsemboOmbati believed that her idea for a sports academy was the best way to reconcile the two approaches, although the judges at the competition disagreed. By the end of the event, Osembo-Ombati was looking for a new direction. “I remembered watching a Nike window display in a department store in New York that was an exact replica of the Rift Valley,” she says, referencing the region of East Africa that is home to Kenya’s running community. “There were even life-size cut-outs of Kenyan athletes in the display but it was an American shoe. And I remember

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even then wondering, ‘Why haven’t we made a Kenyan running shoe?’” For much of the last 15 years, Kenya’s economy has registered high rates of economic growth, hovering at around 5 per cent and above the global average of just under 3 per cent. Its staples are horticulture and tourism (38 per cent of cut roses sold in the European Union are grown in Kenya), but much of the country’s economic expansion has also been driven by information and communications technology. The Communication Authority of Kenya estimates mobile penetration to have reached 88 per cent in 2016, while a 2017 study showed that more than 60 per cent of the population had access to smartphones. However, the persistent inability to resolve overarching political issues, and particularly the recurrent electoral tension, has put a damper on Kenya’s success story. “Political power in Kenya is linked to access to public resources which are easily plundered due to a paucity of independent institutions that would demand accountability,” observes Kimani Njogu, a linguist and cultural theorist based in Nairobi. Increasing corruption and political violence mean that every five years since 1992 Kenya holds its collective breath, waiting to see if this will be the election that finally breaks the country. “This problem is compounded by the way in which money and public resources are used during elections to buy votes,” explains Njogu. “The fact that a good number of leaders believe that they bought their way into positions of power [means that] they believe they can abuse power without any consequences.” These politicians’ strategies often involve financing and mobilisation of inter-ethnic violence. This peaked in 2007 but is typical of every multi-party election for the last 25 years, with the exception of 2002. Throughout these periods, spending contracts and investments wither as money is diverted towards the election, and confidence in the economy shrinks while everyone trades the by-now infamous Kenyan cliché, “Ngoja tuone vile hizi elections zitaenda” (“Let’s wait and see how the elections will go”). Despite these challenges, or perhaps because of them, a nascent design sector is coalescing in Kenya, turning inwards to develop products and find a market for goods that capitalise on the nation itself as a brand. Peperuka is a label that sells T-shirts,

mugs and other items showcasing often difficultto‑translate Kenyan clichés like “Me I love Nairobi” (a direct translation from the Swahili featuring the double subject) and “Wacha niende nirudi” (“Let me go and come back”), a euphemism often used to ease out of conversations one is no longer interested in. Sandstorm Kenya, meanwhile, connects its sturdy canvas and leather luggage and bags to the wide and wild Kenyan outdoors, and other brands scream “Africa” through their

A nascent design sector is turning inwards to develop products and find a market for goods that capitalise on the nation itself as a brand. omnipresent use of kitenge Dutch wax print, as evident on bags by Vintara Collections or chairs produced by Love Artisan. None of these initiatives is older than their home nation’s multi‑party democracy, and all are working hard to establish themselves as quintessentially by Kenya and primarily for Kenya. The domestic design landscape is filled with companies that have suffocated under ambitions larger than their investment in building good products, but others have managed to jump into the international scene, like Sandstorm – which is endorsed by the Duchess of Cambridge – or the jewellery chain Kazuri Beads. Osembo-Ombati wanted to ride this wave. Although she didn’t advance in the Spark Kenya competition, she did connect with Weldon Kennedy, a communications and campaign strategist working as a mentor at the event, who was impressed by Osembo-Ombati’s presentation. “Nava was really passionate about the idea of mixing sports and education,” he says, “and she made an excellent point that Kenya wasn’t doing enough with [its] sports legacy.” Kennedy was born in Michigan but had moved to Kenya with his wife in 2013, having previously worked in social justice and co-founded Campaign Bootcamp, an activist training programme based in Europe. When Osembo-Ombati and Kennedy 104

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met for coffee a week after the competition, they began trading ideas on how to build an ethical, sustainable business inspired by their backgrounds in development, while also drawing on Kenya’s sporting tradition. For non-Kenyans, brand Kenya is synonymous with athletics, wildlife and the bright-red scarves of the Maasai people. But game reserves are often too expensive for locals to visit, and the Maasai people account for only 1 per cent of the population, which comprises 44 ethnic groups. Only sport transcends the lines of class and ethnic diversity that cut through the country. Osembo-Ombati and Kennedy wanted to capitalise on this, condensing the athletic version of brand Kenya into a running shoe. They wanted the people who stitched it to have meaningful work – a living wage and good conditions – so that everyone who came into contact with the product was enriched by the experience. Osembo-Ombati and Kennedy also wanted to make an affordable shoe that would be a reasonable option for an athlete yet to earn the lucrative endorsement deals that support those at the elite level. Those who make it onto Kenya’s national athletics team are fully kitted out

by Nike thanks to a sponsorship deal with Athletics Kenya, but people who don’t make the cut often go back to training and competing nonetheless, frequently running barefoot. Osembo-Ombati and Kennedy’s concept was for a social enterprise that would invest in Kenya and Kenyans, incorporating a foundation that would support some of the thousands of athletes who try to qualify. “Of the many who try out for Kenya’s athletic teams every year, very few actually make it onto the team,” observes Kennedy. “What happens to the others?” But Osembo-Ombati and Kennedy would also be taking on powerful entrenched interests. Soon after Rio 2016, investigations revealed that officials from Nike had paid $500,000 allegedly to prevent Athletics Kenya from signing with a rival Chinese company. The same officials also diverted kit destined for athletes to family and friends of senior Ministry of Sports officials. Creating a good product was one thing; building a brand to take on these issues quite another. Over and above all of this, however, was the enterprise’s major hiccup. “I had no idea how to make shoes,” says Osembo-Ombati laughing. Kennedy had no idea either. They had 106

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no background or training in shoe design, no leads, no experience – just a strong sense that their idea would work. Their first challenge was figuring out how to shrink their social and political aspirations into a single, functional material object. Osembo-Ombati decided that the best place to start would be to ask athletes what they wanted. She sent word to Eldoret and Iten, the two towns in East Africa’s Rift Valley that serve as the epicentre of Kenya’s running community. Perched astride the Kerio Valley, the narrowest point of the Rift Valley, Iten overlooks the lush, green slopes below from dizzying heights. Meanwhile, Eldoret is the fifthlargest city in Kenya. Formerly a racially segregated agricultural town and the hub for the country’s small Afrikaaner community, it has grown into one of the nation’s most important conurbations, in part because of its fame as a base for training. At 2,150m and 2,400m above sea level respectively, the altitude in Eldoret and Iten attracts thousands of local and international athletes hoping to take seconds off their personal bests. Researchers argue that because of the relatively thin oxygen, training at high altitudes boosts performance when the athlete returns to lower altitudes. Iten and Eldoret are high enough to trigger this effect, but not so high that special equipment is required. All of Kenya’s elite athletes, such as the 800m world record-holder David Rudisha and the Olympic marathon gold medallist Eliud Kipchoge train in Iten, as does the reigning Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m champion Mo Farah. It was a community that provided a ready-made sample for Osembo-Ombati’s initial product-development research. “We wanted to get their perspective on the technical and aesthetic aspects of the shoe,” she says, “so we commissioned a large survey of athletes to hear what they wanted.” Many of those they approached would not participate because of contractual obligations, but some, such as the nationally ranked runners Justin Lagat and Joan Masa, did. “They told us that shoes are the most expensive items in their kits,” Kennedy remembers, “which seems obvious but was important to hear.” A good pair of running shoes is an investment. None of the other brand elements behind OsemboOmbati and Kennedy’s idea mattered if the shoe wouldn’t help the athletes run fast. The ideal shoe has to be ultra lightweight and flexible, but also sturdy enough to support the foot and prevent

rolling, which can damage ankles over the many kilometres that elite athletes run each day. Still, Kennedy observes, “while running shoes are expensive, they are also high-turnover items. Even a novice runner will run about 300 or 400km when preparing for a single race.” This means that anyone who takes running seriously is probably replacing their shoes regularly. The business potential for the right kind of shoe is huge. There are no statistics for Kenya, but a 2016 report by Running USA estimated that almost 2 million people ran a half-marathon in the US in 2015, with another 509,000 finishing a full marathon. In that same year, Americans spent $3.2bn on running shoes, a 40 per cent increase from 2010. Upstart companies like Brooks are challenging established names such as Nike, which in 2015 was only the fourth-mostpurchased running-shoe brand. For new companies this spells possibility; for the old guard it’s an incentive to protect their territory at all costs, especially in emerging markets such as Kenya. “This shoe is a great opportunity to let people in on what’s happening with running in Kenya,” says Osembo-Ombati. Osembo-Ombati and Kennedy networked furiously for six months, talking to people who understood the technical aspects of making a running shoe. This level of research is unusual in product design in Kenya, a country in which market research may be common, but is practically unheard of for new brands. Instead, a model in which people bring whatever they have to a market and hope that someone browsing the stalls is interested is the norm. Moreover, designers in Kenya who display an attention to detail rarely manufacture for the mass market. Peperuka, Vivo and Sandstorm, for instance, all have their retail outlets and pop-ups at Nairobi’s high-end malls, with prices starting at close to the national monthly minimum wage (approximately $50). This means that market-orientated design in Kenya is, for the most part, a luxury good, with middle- and lower-class consumers often settling for formless functionality. Osembo-Ombati and Kennedy were not targeting the high end, however. They wanted to build a shoe that ordinary people would see as an investment in their sporting career and they spent considerable time trying to understand what product might justify such an investment. It took six months to distil their conversations into a concept of what the ideal Kenyan shoe would look like. “It was about

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both a technical and an aesthetic perspective,” says Osembo-Ombati. But they soon hit another hurdle – they needed someone who knew how to make it. The initial plan had been to create a 100 per cent Kenyan shoe, but the realities of the nation’s design and manufacturing capacities stood in the way. “We found that there was only one person in Kenya who knew how to make an athletic shoe,” says Kennedy. Although that designer, Barre Yassin, worked closely with Osembo-Ombati and Kennedy, they were unable to translate their ideals into a product. In order to find a developer who could both design the shoe and identify suitable materials for building it, the pair had to look outside the country. They eventually settled on Birdhaus design, a New York-based firm that specialises in working with small companies and was able to recommend commodities, manufacturers and other design elements. Yassin and a further footwear designer, Daniel Richard from the New Hampshirebased practice Daniel Richard Design, were brought in to work on revisions. “We were still committed to making a Kenyan shoe,” Osembo-Ombati remembers, “and so we were really involved in the design process to make sure it reflected that. But we had to recognise that in Kenya the capacity just wasn’t there.” A similar problem emerged around manufacturing. By the time they had a product that was ready to launch on the market, Osembo-Ombati and Kennedy had orders for approximately 10,000 shoes: an amount that they thought was large, but which turned out to be peanuts, relatively speaking. Most shoemakers in Kenya supply to Bata, a Swiss multinational that makes low-cost canvas and leather shoes and owns a large factory in Limuru, a few kilometres outside Nairobi. Bata is prolific across Africa and sells millions of shoes each year; it has more than 100 outlets in Kenya alone. “Many suppliers said we were too small for them, so we had to go back to the drawing board,” remembers Osembo-Ombati. “There were some small factories in Lamu that manufacture for Bata who considered our offer but none of them had the capacity to manufacture the uppers.” Furthermore, none were willing to make the investment required to address their capacity issues given the size of the order. “[Because] no one could make all the parts in Kenya,” adds Kennedy, “we basically had to rebuild our supply chain from scratch.” Only Chinese manufacturers were willing to invest in making

moulds for such a small order and at a price that wouldn’t put the shoe out of reach for ordinary Kenyans. For a concept so rooted in national identity, this was no small setback. Can a shoe designed in New York and manufactured in China call itself Kenyan? “Our shoe is about the spirit of Kenya,” says Osembo-Ombati. “When we were talking to the designer we spent a lot of time just talking generally about the history of the country. All of those conversations are distilled in the shoe.” Equally significant, however, is the fact that the difficulties encountered by Osembo-Ombati and Kennedy are not unique to their project or, indeed, to Kenya. Today, it is rare to find a branded consumer good that is 100 per cent owned, designed and manufactured in the country that claims it. Most Apple products may be “Designed in California” but they are made in China. Osembo-Ombati and Kennedy’s putative competitor Nike is an American brand that gets much of its credibility through its association with American sports like basketball, as well as American hip-hop culture, but its shoes are made in more than 10 Asian countries. As Greg Linden, co-author of a 2011 study titled ‘Distribution of Value in a Mobile Phone Supply Chain’ published in the journal Telecommunications Policy, told Nautilus magazine, “capturing all the logistics linkages for a mobile phone would take years”. When they had a working prototype, OsemboOmbati and Kennedy reached out to Joan Masa and David Gitari, another professional runner. They gave the athletes a pair of shoes each and invited them to pound the muddy roads of Iten. “We wanted to see how the shoe performed under normal training conditions,” Kennedy says, “so we told them to use the shoe as regular training shoes and then be brutally honest with us.” This trial process led to major changes in the design. For example, the first prototype had a solid sole that the runners complained made it rigid and inflexible. A swooping groove running from the middle to the rear was added so that it yielded more to the variable pressure of the athlete’s foot. The groove also made the shoe lighter, bringing it closer to the barefoot running preferred by Kenya’s amateur athletes. Osembo-Ombati and Kennedy further incorporated design elements that nod to Kenya and its running tradition. For example, a notch in the heel represents the Rift Valley in which Iten sits, as does the groove 108

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in the sole. The Kenyan national motto “harambee” (“let’s pull together”) is etched into each sole and the company’s logo is a spear tip, borrowed from Kenya’s flag and coat of arms. Osembo-Ombati and Kennedy also settled on a name for their company: Enda, the Swahili word for “go” and the mantra that Kenyans shout when willing on athletes like Yego. In addition, they dubbed their first-generation shoe the Iten in a nod to the running town. The Iten comes in only three colours, black, red and green, all of which are accented with hints of white: the colours of Kenya’s flag. Significantly, Enda was keen that the red and green match the Kenyan flag’s distinct Pantone shades. The red is richer and deeper than that on most flags because it is intended to mimic the colour of blood, and the green is stronger for the verdant hues of the Rift Valley’s forests and countryside. At the Olympics, these darker hues give the national kit a gravitas that Enda tried to replicate on the Iten shoe. Aesthetic nods aside, the Iten is also a Kenyan shoe because of its story. By the time they had built and tested their prototype, Enda had no money left to make shoes. No bank in Kenya was willing to take a chance on a start-up business with no actual assets. “Kenyan individual investors were the hardest,” says Osembo-Ombati. “If it’s not about land, they really don’t want to hear it.” What Enda did to overcome these obstacles, however, is part of what makes this a uniquely Kenyan story. Kenya is a largely rural and poor country, with internet penetration at only 27 per cent. The nation’s 88 per cent mobile penetration, however, provides considerable opportunities. By 2006 only 27.4 per cent of Kenyans were using formal banking systems, which demand oppressive minimum opening and operating balances, and charge a fortune in transaction fees. When the mobile provider Safaricom launched M-Pesa mobile banking in 2007, Kenyans were ready for a cheaper, more flexible alternative. This new platform allowed individuals to send money to other mobile-phone customers and to hold significant deposits. By 2016, M-Pesa had evolved to allow customers to borrow, buy government bonds, and pay for goods and services, all without needing a bank account or a credit card. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that some of the most frequent users of M-Pesa are market women who borrow money in the morning, buy goods with it, and repay

the loans at close of business that day. In the same year, the value of money traded on mobile money apps in Kenya equalled 50 per cent of the country’s GDP, with M-Pesa alone accounting for 30 per cent. At the same time, more than 5 million Kenyans were on social media by 2016, coalescing into a distinct digital identity colloquially known as #KOT (Kenyans on Twitter). This group has been involved in everything from organising and executing protests, to deepening accountability around elections. During the 2017 vote for example, citizens tweeted pictures of results posted at their polling stations, aggregating and sharing them under the hashtag #KOT to refute fraudulent tallies on the official results website. In a similar vein, Enda turned to the digital-fundraising platform Kickstarter. Because of the limitations of formal banking, community fundraisers, which are known as harambees, are an integral part of the culture. There is probably a harambee somewhere in the country every weekend and a Kickstarter campaign can essentially be seen as a digital version of the phenomenon. To realise the money required for production, Enda combined fundraising on Kickstarter with a social-media campaign. OsemboOmbati and Kennedy didn’t just talk about shoes; they wanted donors to buy into a concept – the idea of a running shoe built by and around one of the world’s greatest running communities. “Social media is a big part of our story,” says OsemboOmbati, “it helps us tell our story and the Kenyan running story is what sells this shoe. You would be surprised at how much people love the idea of a Kenyan running shoe.” After a few days of build-up, their campaign went live to considerable success. “It was surreal,” says Osembo-Ombati. “People actually believed in this. They gave us their money!” In fact, the pair raised their target repeatedly over the three days that the campaign was active. Their initial ask was $75,000 but in the end they got more than $128,000. By remaining true to its initial vision and investing significantly in the research and design process, Enda achieved something extraordinary: it attracted significant public investment in and excitement over a product that didn’t yet exist. “That was an amazing feeling,” Osembo-Ombati remembers. “It was amazing to see all the work we had put in finally pay off.”

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Enda successfully harnessed the story of Kenyan running to build hype around a previously untested idea – the Kenyan running shoe. The Iten undoubtedly represents a remarkable first attempt at such a product. It is lightweight and responsive to rapid changes in terrain, especially in urban running in Kenya, which can go from tarmac to mud in a snap. Moreover, no one is more aware than Osembo-Ombati and Kennedy that the Iten can be improved upon. If you have normal feet, the current model is successful, but there is one seam in the right shoe that people with one foot larger than the other – a common situation – will feel after the first kilometre. “We know about the seam,” concedes Kennedy. “We’re fixing it for the next round.” The Iten also has no ankle support or compensation for pronation when the foot lands, making it less than ideal for those with flat feet or low arches. In addition, Kennedy concedes that in its current iteration, the Iten is not suitable for running a full marathon, especially one like the urban Nairobi Marathon, which takes place entirely on tarmac. “A half marathon, maybe,” he says, “but a full marathon would be too much.” The athletes they collaborate with are currently using it for speedwork and recovery runs, and the creators plan to keep iterating. At 10,000 shillings (approximately $100) the shoe is fairly priced for those keen to invest in their running seriously – other running shoes start at around $120. In fact, the Iten has so far done well domestically. “Fifteen per cent of all our sales during the first round were in Kenya,” says Kennedy, “and we were only expecting single digits.” The first round of orders delivered to 32 countries, the majority to Australia, where the Kickstarter campaign was featured on Runners’ Tribe, a popular running blog, which also serves as Enda’s Australian distributor. In the Iten, Enda has succeeded in building a starter shoe that is at least worthy of the ambitions of the athletes who aspire to one day wear Team Kenya’s colours at the Olympics. The creators hope that the buzz will make fundraising for the second round of manufacturing easier. In the meantime, they are using their digital presence to collect and share the lessons they’ve learnt during their process. David Gitari ran the 2017 New York Marathon in a pair of Endas and has since featured prominently in their marketing. In January 2017, Enda launched a range of running tees that complement the colours and

style of the shoes. As Nike did with the Air Jordan, Enda is cross-positioning the Iten as a lifestyle shoe, managing to get the Kenyan Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o photographed in a pair during the Afropunk Festival in New York. “The Lupita moment was something,” says Osembo-Ombati. “It took quite a bit of work and networking to get in touch with her team and they didn’t really respond except to say thanks. We actually didn’t know she was going to wear the shoes until they showed up on her Instagram. It was such a special moment.” In the long term, Osembo-Ombati and Kennedy hope to take on the giants like Nike and Adidas, which currently dominate sports sponsorship in Kenya. These companies play right into the pervasive practice in race-meet commentary and athletics writing to treat Kenyan athletes not as individuals, but as a pack – no coverage of a major race is complete without the phrase “the Kenyans”. Enda hopes to change that by working closely with individual athletes: to keep building its shoes around these people and hopefully sponsor one of them to reach the heights achieved by Yego in 2016. “Right now, these big companies treat Kenyan runners as a unit,” explains Osembo-Ombati, “but they can’t beat us at individualisation.” For brand Kenya, therefore, the Iten is a brave and exciting development, even if work remains to be done for it to achieve its full potential. “It’s about just going – just trying,” Osembo-Ombati reflects. “Enda means ‘just go’, so even when everything is scary, we just go for it.” E N D

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Reviews

OUR NEW SHOWROOMS. SEEING IS BELIEVING.

Muji Hotel Words Brendan Cormier Phantom Thread Words Felix Chabluk Smith It’s a big statement and one we’re happy to stand by. No matter the size or scale of your project, whether you require ready-to-go storage solutions or tailored and flexible workspaces, we have an extensive and high quality portfolio. Our new showrooms allow you to explore workplace trends and their impact on the latest designs, with that all important face-to-face expert guidance. Visit one of our new showrooms this spring: New York, Paris, London, Madrid and Dublin.

www.bisley.com

Revisiting Postmodernism Words Darran Anderson The White Book Words Crystal Bennes

Helping you work better anywhere

Review


Reviews

OUR NEW SHOWROOMS. SEEING IS BELIEVING.

Muji Hotel Words Brendan Cormier Phantom Thread Words Felix Chabluk Smith It’s a big statement and one we’re happy to stand by. No matter the size or scale of your project, whether you require ready-to-go storage solutions or tailored and flexible workspaces, we have an extensive and high quality portfolio. Our new showrooms allow you to explore workplace trends and their impact on the latest designs, with that all important face-to-face expert guidance. Visit one of our new showrooms this spring: New York, Paris, London, Madrid and Dublin.

www.bisley.com

Revisiting Postmodernism Words Darran Anderson The White Book Words Crystal Bennes

Helping you work better anywhere

Review


Muji Hotel Words Brendan Cormier

Shenzhen, the sprawling manufacturing megacity in Southern China, just north of Hong Kong, doesn’t normally attract big firsts. Shenzheners, the majority of whom are migrants who have moved to the city for better economic opportunities, tend to look to other cultural capitals in the country with a certain envy. The flagship shopping opportunities and cultural amenities that give places like Beijing and Shanghai a cosmopolitan allure have so far passed Shenzhen by. After all, the city was invented for work. In the 1980s, as part of Deng Xiaoping’s “opening up and reform” strategy, Shenzhen was identified as a special economic zone and despite its formidable growth since then – from 300,000 inhabitants to 20 million – it has continued to be defined by this. So the news that Muji, the Japanese retail behemoth, had chosen the metropolis to be the site of its first-ever branded hotel caught people by surprise. Was the city finally getting the cultural respect it deserved? The Japanese retailer has remained reticent so far as to why it chose Shenzhen for its 79-room hotel. When it opened in January, local enthusiasm for the arrival of a much-wanted design icon was nonetheless palpable. People queued for hours to get a seat at the hotel’s Muji-branded diner. Rooms were fully booked; the shop was crammed. Muji appeared to have made a calculated bet and it was paying off. Two weeks after the opening, I booked a night at the hotel. To air my biases from the outset, I should declare that I’m a Muji fan (probably not a surprising admission for a design writer). Last year, for example, I went on a prolonged

mission to find the perfect toaster. I considered dozens of brands and models, dwelled far too long in the home appliances section of department stores, played with endless knobs and levers, and after six months of deliberation, chanced upon Naoto Fukasawa’s brilliantly minimal Muji toaster, and bought it on the spot. It is a perfect device, for which I have a loving affection that exceeds rational limits. It does exactly what Muji has been so good at doing for the past 38 years: stripping away excess to produce simple essential forms that perform well and look good in modest homes. My cramped London apartment is filled with other Muji accoutrement: a coat stand, a bookcase and translucent storage boxes. They are great because they almost disappear, providing some calm amidst the clutter. Arguably, this effect should translate well into a hotel venture: a designed escape from distractions, an oasis of material comfort. But there is one problem: Muji Hotel is not a good hotel. The first issue is location. The hotel seems reasonably central: it is based in Futian, the city’s central business district, not far from some of Shenzhen’s most important civic buildings, including the OMA-designed Stock Exchange and the recently opened Museum of Contemporary Art and Planning by Coop Himmelblau. However, the hotel sits within a new mega-development called Upper Hills, a project by the developers Shum Yip Land, who have stacked a mixed-use luxury village of sorts on top of a mall flanked by two super-tall towers. Getting there on foot involves a 30-minute slog

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from the closest metro station along a multi-lane highway and through a few pedestrian underpasses. From the ground, Upper Hills presents itself as an imposing mass. I missed the cue to take a four-storey outdoor escalator up to the mixed-use village and instead circumnavigated the development, walking under a massive elevated platform stretching for about 500m. I questioned some security guards and was guided through an anonymous fire-access corridor into the mall. After a few more escalators, I eventually wound up on the platform where the Muji Hotel sits. (The following morning, I realised my mistake: the site is really only meant to be accessed by car, as became clear when the taxi scuttled me away down the sidewalk-less ramps back onto the street.) In Shenzhen, you can often find yourself in spaces that feel absolutely nowhere. The setting of the hotel is exactly this. Arriving at night, emerging from a shopping mall onto a windswept platform, I was presented with an image of the hotel as standalone box – albeit clearly emblazoned “Muji Hotel” and with a bustling Muji shop adjacent to it – surrounded by a desolate surface of access roads, dark silhouettes of towers in the distance and an unusually cold February chill. This desolation rings antithetical to the brand, which seems, paradoxically, to be both about big-city bustle and rural calm. Here, instead, we get a modern sense of Goddardian anomie, full of the hypertrophied concrete and steel that has come to define modern China. If Muji is supposed to be the calming antidote to vibrant

Photographs courtesy of Muji.

Less Gesamtkunstwerk and more 3D-simulated catalogue, the first Muji-branded hotel, which opened this year in Shenzhen, offers a hollow experience.

The inaugural Muji Hotel is located in Shenzhen’s Upper Hills complex and features only Muji furniture and products.

Review


Muji Hotel Words Brendan Cormier

Shenzhen, the sprawling manufacturing megacity in Southern China, just north of Hong Kong, doesn’t normally attract big firsts. Shenzheners, the majority of whom are migrants who have moved to the city for better economic opportunities, tend to look to other cultural capitals in the country with a certain envy. The flagship shopping opportunities and cultural amenities that give places like Beijing and Shanghai a cosmopolitan allure have so far passed Shenzhen by. After all, the city was invented for work. In the 1980s, as part of Deng Xiaoping’s “opening up and reform” strategy, Shenzhen was identified as a special economic zone and despite its formidable growth since then – from 300,000 inhabitants to 20 million – it has continued to be defined by this. So the news that Muji, the Japanese retail behemoth, had chosen the metropolis to be the site of its first-ever branded hotel caught people by surprise. Was the city finally getting the cultural respect it deserved? The Japanese retailer has remained reticent so far as to why it chose Shenzhen for its 79-room hotel. When it opened in January, local enthusiasm for the arrival of a much-wanted design icon was nonetheless palpable. People queued for hours to get a seat at the hotel’s Muji-branded diner. Rooms were fully booked; the shop was crammed. Muji appeared to have made a calculated bet and it was paying off. Two weeks after the opening, I booked a night at the hotel. To air my biases from the outset, I should declare that I’m a Muji fan (probably not a surprising admission for a design writer). Last year, for example, I went on a prolonged

mission to find the perfect toaster. I considered dozens of brands and models, dwelled far too long in the home appliances section of department stores, played with endless knobs and levers, and after six months of deliberation, chanced upon Naoto Fukasawa’s brilliantly minimal Muji toaster, and bought it on the spot. It is a perfect device, for which I have a loving affection that exceeds rational limits. It does exactly what Muji has been so good at doing for the past 38 years: stripping away excess to produce simple essential forms that perform well and look good in modest homes. My cramped London apartment is filled with other Muji accoutrement: a coat stand, a bookcase and translucent storage boxes. They are great because they almost disappear, providing some calm amidst the clutter. Arguably, this effect should translate well into a hotel venture: a designed escape from distractions, an oasis of material comfort. But there is one problem: Muji Hotel is not a good hotel. The first issue is location. The hotel seems reasonably central: it is based in Futian, the city’s central business district, not far from some of Shenzhen’s most important civic buildings, including the OMA-designed Stock Exchange and the recently opened Museum of Contemporary Art and Planning by Coop Himmelblau. However, the hotel sits within a new mega-development called Upper Hills, a project by the developers Shum Yip Land, who have stacked a mixed-use luxury village of sorts on top of a mall flanked by two super-tall towers. Getting there on foot involves a 30-minute slog

114

from the closest metro station along a multi-lane highway and through a few pedestrian underpasses. From the ground, Upper Hills presents itself as an imposing mass. I missed the cue to take a four-storey outdoor escalator up to the mixed-use village and instead circumnavigated the development, walking under a massive elevated platform stretching for about 500m. I questioned some security guards and was guided through an anonymous fire-access corridor into the mall. After a few more escalators, I eventually wound up on the platform where the Muji Hotel sits. (The following morning, I realised my mistake: the site is really only meant to be accessed by car, as became clear when the taxi scuttled me away down the sidewalk-less ramps back onto the street.) In Shenzhen, you can often find yourself in spaces that feel absolutely nowhere. The setting of the hotel is exactly this. Arriving at night, emerging from a shopping mall onto a windswept platform, I was presented with an image of the hotel as standalone box – albeit clearly emblazoned “Muji Hotel” and with a bustling Muji shop adjacent to it – surrounded by a desolate surface of access roads, dark silhouettes of towers in the distance and an unusually cold February chill. This desolation rings antithetical to the brand, which seems, paradoxically, to be both about big-city bustle and rural calm. Here, instead, we get a modern sense of Goddardian anomie, full of the hypertrophied concrete and steel that has come to define modern China. If Muji is supposed to be the calming antidote to vibrant

Photographs courtesy of Muji.

Less Gesamtkunstwerk and more 3D-simulated catalogue, the first Muji-branded hotel, which opened this year in Shenzhen, offers a hollow experience.

The inaugural Muji Hotel is located in Shenzhen’s Upper Hills complex and features only Muji furniture and products.

Review


Timber is one of the defining features of the Muji Hotel experience: wooden floors, furniture, detailing and art are matched to a strict colour palette of beiges, creams and off-whites.

urbanism, what is the corresponding corrective to a non-place like this? The siting is admittedly a flaw in the Upper Hills masterplan; it sacrifices the intended sociability of the rest of the scheme for the serviceability of the anticipated steady stream of car-hires meant to take people to and from the

hotel. The following morning, I chanced upon an unlikely access ramp around the corner, which takes you up to Upper Hills Loft, the outdoor rooftop complex of shops, studios and residences that are clearly designed to create the sense of city-ness that the hotel’s situation otherwise lacks. In 2012, the Shenzhen-

116

based design and architecture office Urbanus, was given the surreal and harrowing task of creating this 105,000sqm mixed-use space, which sits atop a 64,000sqm shopping mall. Previously, Urbanus had conducted a number of studies on the unusual nature of cityscapes, in particular the

southern China phenomenon of “urban villages”: patches of land around conurbations like Shenzhen that have grown autonomously thanks to being governed by rural village land laws that pre-date the emergence of the city. These are characterised by dense and lively streets, and walk-up apartment blocks of four to six storeys, which have served primarily to house the city’s working class. With Upper Hills Loft, Urbanus has attempted to repackage the layered urbanism of an urban village for luxury living. The result is a strange mix of modernist box-boutiques and narrow pedestrian passages interwoven with staircases and walkways that lead to more flats and offices, peppered with references to industry (corten steel) and grassroots culture (graffiti). It is unavoidably contrived, especially as Urbanus has employed a number of tricks to try to recreate the vibrancy of the city – an intimately scaled pedestrian street network; ample outdoor sitting and public space; plentiful glazing; a mishmash of colours; and random objets trouvés – while transplanting the whole performance onto the roof of a shopping mall. Nevertheless, Upper Hills Loft has an ambience infinitely more pleasing than that of the Muji Hotel, just one service ramp away. The setting aside, what about the actual hotel experience? In the promotional literature, Muji lays out its mission for what a hotel should be. It sounds entirely sympathetic to the company’s well-rehearsed design philosophy: reasonably priced, divested of superfluous services, yet high in quality furnishings. “For our visitors, every detail, from the texture of the towels to the layout of outlets and switches, to the restaurant menus, helps form the bedrock of a successful trip.” This is promising stuff and, in part, a stay at the Muji hotel lives up to these goals. If you want Muji design, you’ll get a lot of it. The lobby is minimal and heavy on wood. The hotel logo is tacked onto a mosaic of reclaimed timber; and you can choose to relax either on a massive log by the lifts, or on some more refined timber benches by the reception desk. In the rooms, you get even more wood – floors, furniture, and wood-art mounted on the walls, complemented by a strict

colour palette of beiges, creams and off-whites. You get Muji products as well, including Fukasawa’s elegant kettle, which always seemed to me too small to be useful in a kitchen, but which is just about right for morning tea in a hotel room. The classic wall-mounted CDplayer is there too and comes pre-loaded with an unlikely soundtrack of traditional Celtic music. (The same music is played in the lobby, the diner and the shop, and quickly becomes a chief point of irritation throughout the stay.) At many moments though, the Muji mantra struggles. For instance, the music player in the room is a brilliant idea, but without Bluetooth capability, what use is it, really? (As mentioned above, nobody would voluntarily suffer through an entire album’s worth of the Celtic music.) I had to call the front desk to ask where the TV remote was, as someone had decided that the only

At many moments, the Muji mantra struggles. The music player in the room is a brilliant idea, but without Bluetooth capability, what use is it, really? reasonable place for such an ugly thing was shoved so far back in the bed-side cubby that it would never be found. Muji also seems to have a problem with visible plugs: to hide the TV’s power outlet, a brutal hole has been drilled into the wood floor; to conceal the CD-player’s plug, an elaborate but visible hinged panel is set into the wall. The effort of being effortless is apparent and distracting. None of this is necessarily bad, but it is dull and disappointing. Gradually, one gets the sense of being cheated. The hotel’s promises of doing away with superfluous services come off as cheap. Yet for all its claims of being cheap, the Muji Hotel is actually quite expensive (a roughly evenly sized bedroom at the Hilton Shenzhen Shekou Nanhai can sometimes go for around the same price as the Muji Hotel’s ¥1,085). There’s no opportunity for in-room dining, the gym has the bare essentials and a reading room on the same floor is just another opportunity to hawk more Muji goods. And then there’s the unavoidable fact that you are sleeping next to a giant Muji superstore, and will inevitably walk

Review

away from your experience with some nicely set notepads and impeccably packaged junk food. I opted for the White Chocolate Strawberry and the Seaweed Rice Crackers. To be fair, I was in a bad mood. An unseasonable cold snap of sub-zero temperatures in a tropical city combined with a perpetually grey sky hadn’t done this particular outing any favours. But still, I couldn’t help feeling an insidious tedium in such a place – a tedium brought about by the very idea of the tightly curated environment and what it has come to represent. The hotel and the “loft village” above it are similar in that regard. The former offers a curated vision of total good design, the latter, a curated simulacrum of city-ness. And to carry the curating metaphor one step further, the whole development is situated on a plinth-turned-shopping mall – neither the hotel nor the loft let the accidental haphazardness of the real city in. This brings me back to my apartment and the Muji products I own. The toaster is a marvel, but then again, so is the bread that I buy at my local Italian shop. They go hand in hand. My coat rack is smothered by jackets that my wife and I have accumulated over time. My storage boxes are crammed with forgotten and one-day-to-be-rediscovered tchotchkes and souvenirs. My bookshelf, a record of things I’ve read or hope to read. The Muji Hotel offers neither the escapist fantasy at which a similarly priced luxury hotel can excel, nor the creature comforts and layered history of your own lived-in abode. Staying there is, instead, like being trapped inside a physical form of advertising copy. Two new Muji Hotels are set to open this year and next: the first in Beijing, in the lively hutong district Dashilar, and the  other in the pre-eminent shopping district of Ginza in Tokyo. If Muji wants to improve on its model, it should consider letting a bit of the messiness of the real city in. Because, as I’ve come to realise, without the mess, Muji is a bore. Muji Hotel, Shenzhen opened in January 2018. Room prices start at ¥950.


Timber is one of the defining features of the Muji Hotel experience: wooden floors, furniture, detailing and art are matched to a strict colour palette of beiges, creams and off-whites.

urbanism, what is the corresponding corrective to a non-place like this? The siting is admittedly a flaw in the Upper Hills masterplan; it sacrifices the intended sociability of the rest of the scheme for the serviceability of the anticipated steady stream of car-hires meant to take people to and from the

hotel. The following morning, I chanced upon an unlikely access ramp around the corner, which takes you up to Upper Hills Loft, the outdoor rooftop complex of shops, studios and residences that are clearly designed to create the sense of city-ness that the hotel’s situation otherwise lacks. In 2012, the Shenzhen-

116

based design and architecture office Urbanus, was given the surreal and harrowing task of creating this 105,000sqm mixed-use space, which sits atop a 64,000sqm shopping mall. Previously, Urbanus had conducted a number of studies on the unusual nature of cityscapes, in particular the

southern China phenomenon of “urban villages”: patches of land around conurbations like Shenzhen that have grown autonomously thanks to being governed by rural village land laws that pre-date the emergence of the city. These are characterised by dense and lively streets, and walk-up apartment blocks of four to six storeys, which have served primarily to house the city’s working class. With Upper Hills Loft, Urbanus has attempted to repackage the layered urbanism of an urban village for luxury living. The result is a strange mix of modernist box-boutiques and narrow pedestrian passages interwoven with staircases and walkways that lead to more flats and offices, peppered with references to industry (corten steel) and grassroots culture (graffiti). It is unavoidably contrived, especially as Urbanus has employed a number of tricks to try to recreate the vibrancy of the city – an intimately scaled pedestrian street network; ample outdoor sitting and public space; plentiful glazing; a mishmash of colours; and random objets trouvés – while transplanting the whole performance onto the roof of a shopping mall. Nevertheless, Upper Hills Loft has an ambience infinitely more pleasing than that of the Muji Hotel, just one service ramp away. The setting aside, what about the actual hotel experience? In the promotional literature, Muji lays out its mission for what a hotel should be. It sounds entirely sympathetic to the company’s well-rehearsed design philosophy: reasonably priced, divested of superfluous services, yet high in quality furnishings. “For our visitors, every detail, from the texture of the towels to the layout of outlets and switches, to the restaurant menus, helps form the bedrock of a successful trip.” This is promising stuff and, in part, a stay at the Muji hotel lives up to these goals. If you want Muji design, you’ll get a lot of it. The lobby is minimal and heavy on wood. The hotel logo is tacked onto a mosaic of reclaimed timber; and you can choose to relax either on a massive log by the lifts, or on some more refined timber benches by the reception desk. In the rooms, you get even more wood – floors, furniture, and wood-art mounted on the walls, complemented by a strict

colour palette of beiges, creams and off-whites. You get Muji products as well, including Fukasawa’s elegant kettle, which always seemed to me too small to be useful in a kitchen, but which is just about right for morning tea in a hotel room. The classic wall-mounted CDplayer is there too and comes pre-loaded with an unlikely soundtrack of traditional Celtic music. (The same music is played in the lobby, the diner and the shop, and quickly becomes a chief point of irritation throughout the stay.) At many moments though, the Muji mantra struggles. For instance, the music player in the room is a brilliant idea, but without Bluetooth capability, what use is it, really? (As mentioned above, nobody would voluntarily suffer through an entire album’s worth of the Celtic music.) I had to call the front desk to ask where the TV remote was, as someone had decided that the only

At many moments, the Muji mantra struggles. The music player in the room is a brilliant idea, but without Bluetooth capability, what use is it, really? reasonable place for such an ugly thing was shoved so far back in the bed-side cubby that it would never be found. Muji also seems to have a problem with visible plugs: to hide the TV’s power outlet, a brutal hole has been drilled into the wood floor; to conceal the CD-player’s plug, an elaborate but visible hinged panel is set into the wall. The effort of being effortless is apparent and distracting. None of this is necessarily bad, but it is dull and disappointing. Gradually, one gets the sense of being cheated. The hotel’s promises of doing away with superfluous services come off as cheap. Yet for all its claims of being cheap, the Muji Hotel is actually quite expensive (a roughly evenly sized bedroom at the Hilton Shenzhen Shekou Nanhai can sometimes go for around the same price as the Muji Hotel’s ¥1,085). There’s no opportunity for in-room dining, the gym has the bare essentials and a reading room on the same floor is just another opportunity to hawk more Muji goods. And then there’s the unavoidable fact that you are sleeping next to a giant Muji superstore, and will inevitably walk

Review

away from your experience with some nicely set notepads and impeccably packaged junk food. I opted for the White Chocolate Strawberry and the Seaweed Rice Crackers. To be fair, I was in a bad mood. An unseasonable cold snap of sub-zero temperatures in a tropical city combined with a perpetually grey sky hadn’t done this particular outing any favours. But still, I couldn’t help feeling an insidious tedium in such a place – a tedium brought about by the very idea of the tightly curated environment and what it has come to represent. The hotel and the “loft village” above it are similar in that regard. The former offers a curated vision of total good design, the latter, a curated simulacrum of city-ness. And to carry the curating metaphor one step further, the whole development is situated on a plinth-turned-shopping mall – neither the hotel nor the loft let the accidental haphazardness of the real city in. This brings me back to my apartment and the Muji products I own. The toaster is a marvel, but then again, so is the bread that I buy at my local Italian shop. They go hand in hand. My coat rack is smothered by jackets that my wife and I have accumulated over time. My storage boxes are crammed with forgotten and one-day-to-be-rediscovered tchotchkes and souvenirs. My bookshelf, a record of things I’ve read or hope to read. The Muji Hotel offers neither the escapist fantasy at which a similarly priced luxury hotel can excel, nor the creature comforts and layered history of your own lived-in abode. Staying there is, instead, like being trapped inside a physical form of advertising copy. Two new Muji Hotels are set to open this year and next: the first in Beijing, in the lively hutong district Dashilar, and the  other in the pre-eminent shopping district of Ginza in Tokyo. If Muji wants to improve on its model, it should consider letting a bit of the messiness of the real city in. Because, as I’ve come to realise, without the mess, Muji is a bore. Muji Hotel, Shenzhen opened in January 2018. Room prices start at ¥950.


Phantom Thread Words Felix Chabluk Smith

A fastidious Daniel Day-Lewis leads the cast in Paul Thomas Anderson’s exacting and exact exploration of mid-century couture.

however. After becoming Woodcock’s lover and model, she glumly stands in a dress as the seamstresses fuss about her. “I don’t like the fabric,” she says. “One day maybe you will change your taste,” replies Woodcock. “Maybe I like my own taste,” she hits back without missing a beat. Later, she says proudly, “I can stand endlessly. No one can stand as long as I can.” She is talking about the punishing hours of a fit model, but it’s also clear she’s in it for the long run, and that Reynolds has met his match. Aided, abetted and occasionally kept in place by his sister Cyril, a magnificently glacial and brittle Lesley Manville, Reynolds is a man with a fair amount of pomposity and pretension of his own. Cyril keeps the wheels of the house turning when her brother, emboldened in his entitlement by the de rigueur God complex that never seems to have gone out of style, is too distracted or too sulky to communicate. He’s also not a very good designer. Throughout the film we see more and more examples of Reynolds’s oeuvre, and those in the know can play spotthe‑reference: Dior waists, Charles James colours, Balenciaga lace. Rather uniquely when writing the script and creating the look of the House of Woodcock, Anderson and costume designer Mark Bridges had to design a designer, and they made him mediocre. If real Parisian haute couture was too outré, and you couldn’t get on the books at Hardy Amies, Norman Hartnell or John Cavanagh – the slightly staid, obscure stars of 1950s London couture – then Reynolds Woodcock would have been a safe pair of hands. The first creation we see from the House of Woodcock, after scenes of

118

breathless anticipation, isn’t just not very good – it’s almost laughably bad. Far from the perfect vision of mid-century elegance, the delighted client trudges from the fitting room in a heavy mulberry‑purple velvet gown with a bizarre quasi-medieval slashed bodice and lace collar, looking like an extra from a Pinewood production of Macbeth. Such unflattering historicism was actually a fairly common feature of high fashion of the time. Respectability was valued above all and what could be more respectable than Shakespeare? The film was shot entirely on location in the Georgian townhouse that serves as Woodcock’s home, showroom and atelier; a process that Anderson and Day-Lewis described as nightmarishly cramped and stressful during an onstage discussion at a screening in New York in November 2017. This sense of claustrophobia does not exactly come across on screen, which is perhaps a pity. Rather than an air of inescapable slow suffocation that would have been a marked and interesting contrast to the agoraphobic expansive vastness of There Will Be Blood and The Master, the setting of Phantom Thread is largely interior – and a fairly comfortable interior at that. With its mix of William Morris prints, peacockblue accent walls with French Empirestyle sconces, Parisian reception rooms with echoing parquet floors and Napoleonic furniture, the house is a modish mélange of the comfortably English and aspirational European. Yet cultured and refined as Woodcock is – the Japanese iron teapot and bowl from which he drinks his morning matcha while others sip from English porcelain are inspired

Daniel Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a mid-century couturier who is spoilt, petulant, and demanding. He is also not a very good designer.

Photographs courtesy of Universal.

Fashion is absurd, yet fascinating. Fashion is unnecessary, yet vital. Fashion is pretentious, beautiful, laughable, pompous and cruel. It is a world of quiet craft and outrageous ostentation, of the astonishingly talented and of the unrepentantly talentless, attracting the vain, the shallow and the plain ridiculous. It is a wonderful, irrational milieu of stereotypes, which is presumably why when cinema deigns to depict it, it does so stereotypically, showing us what it thinks it sees, not what is actually there. In this respect, Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film after There Will Be Blood, The Master and Inherent Vice, is rather unique. In this twisted story of romance and obsession in the rarefied, repressed world of 1950s London couture, fashion seems the sanest part. Daniel Day-Lewis is Reynolds Woodcock, couturier to British high society. In sharp contrast to his portrayal of the towering monstrosity Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, he is in far softer, loucher form, although no less twisted and tightly wound. With a well-enunciated, mid-century crispness that never strays too far from patronisingly didactic, Woodcock is spoilt, petulant and demanding, and knows exactly what he wants. He is used to getting it too, as discovered by provincial waitress Alma Elson – played with modest, yet steely confidence by Vicky Krieps – who takes his fancy after taking his order for breakfast. Perhaps one of the most romantic aspects of the film is the idea that a seaside bed and breakfast in 1950s England would serve lapsang souchong. By all accounts meek and willing, Elson is far stronger than she seems,

touches – he appears neither capable nor confident enough to be entirely himself in his house or dresses. Instead, Woodcock seems always to be looking to other places and other designers for inspiration and validation, in the process remaining a second-rate couturier with a secondrate clientele. Unlike the unforgiving but impassive desert plains and oceans of Anderson’s previous films – inhuman environments to struggle in and strive against – Woodcock’s elegant townhouse almost becomes a character itself. From afar, the grand salons and fitting rooms resonate with chilly perfection; but up close we see the grubby corners and knocked edges, the chipped stone tread on the grand staircase and the rickety electrical wiring around the doorways glued to the old frames with layers of sloppy lead paint. When the cellar door swings open ominously, revealing a steep staircase down to the depths just seconds

before the arrival of an important client, it feels as if the architecture is trying to tell us something. As for the fashion, it is rare to see the craft depicted so faithfully with such little romanticism or artistic licence. Anderson’s genius lies in having observed the garment-creation process, recognising its potential and using such factual mundanity as a framework for complex interpersonal narratives. Much like placing a found object in a gallery space, this kind of presentation helps us see the setting and its rituals anew; the meanings deeply resonant in the snip of a scissor or the prick of a pin. One of the most charged and balletic sequences is built around Woodcock taking Elson’s measurements, after asking her for dinner and then back to his country cottage. There is a perverse pleasure in seeing the cracks emerge in a depiction of skill onscreen:

Review

an incorrect key pressed on a piano overdubbed with a perfect performance, or a tentative dab at the edge of a dry painting clearly done by someone else. Yet here one has the higher, purer delight of watching a job done exceptionally and exuberantly well. In interviews, Day-Lewis claims to have prepared for his role not only by observing tailors, seamstresses and cutters at work, but by attempting to make a Balenciaga dress from scratch. He has never mentioned the result of such a Herculean task, but it seems to have worked. He is pitch perfect. From the blue ribbon he ties around Elson’s stomach (to define her natural waist) to the way he snips it from the roll by holding the blades of the shears rather than the handles (a tailor’s affectation), Day-Lewis’s moves are swift yet still unhurried, unstudied and entirely easy. The man is utterly believable as a master craftsman at work. He’s Reynolds


Phantom Thread Words Felix Chabluk Smith

A fastidious Daniel Day-Lewis leads the cast in Paul Thomas Anderson’s exacting and exact exploration of mid-century couture.

however. After becoming Woodcock’s lover and model, she glumly stands in a dress as the seamstresses fuss about her. “I don’t like the fabric,” she says. “One day maybe you will change your taste,” replies Woodcock. “Maybe I like my own taste,” she hits back without missing a beat. Later, she says proudly, “I can stand endlessly. No one can stand as long as I can.” She is talking about the punishing hours of a fit model, but it’s also clear she’s in it for the long run, and that Reynolds has met his match. Aided, abetted and occasionally kept in place by his sister Cyril, a magnificently glacial and brittle Lesley Manville, Reynolds is a man with a fair amount of pomposity and pretension of his own. Cyril keeps the wheels of the house turning when her brother, emboldened in his entitlement by the de rigueur God complex that never seems to have gone out of style, is too distracted or too sulky to communicate. He’s also not a very good designer. Throughout the film we see more and more examples of Reynolds’s oeuvre, and those in the know can play spotthe‑reference: Dior waists, Charles James colours, Balenciaga lace. Rather uniquely when writing the script and creating the look of the House of Woodcock, Anderson and costume designer Mark Bridges had to design a designer, and they made him mediocre. If real Parisian haute couture was too outré, and you couldn’t get on the books at Hardy Amies, Norman Hartnell or John Cavanagh – the slightly staid, obscure stars of 1950s London couture – then Reynolds Woodcock would have been a safe pair of hands. The first creation we see from the House of Woodcock, after scenes of

118

breathless anticipation, isn’t just not very good – it’s almost laughably bad. Far from the perfect vision of mid-century elegance, the delighted client trudges from the fitting room in a heavy mulberry‑purple velvet gown with a bizarre quasi-medieval slashed bodice and lace collar, looking like an extra from a Pinewood production of Macbeth. Such unflattering historicism was actually a fairly common feature of high fashion of the time. Respectability was valued above all and what could be more respectable than Shakespeare? The film was shot entirely on location in the Georgian townhouse that serves as Woodcock’s home, showroom and atelier; a process that Anderson and Day-Lewis described as nightmarishly cramped and stressful during an onstage discussion at a screening in New York in November 2017. This sense of claustrophobia does not exactly come across on screen, which is perhaps a pity. Rather than an air of inescapable slow suffocation that would have been a marked and interesting contrast to the agoraphobic expansive vastness of There Will Be Blood and The Master, the setting of Phantom Thread is largely interior – and a fairly comfortable interior at that. With its mix of William Morris prints, peacockblue accent walls with French Empirestyle sconces, Parisian reception rooms with echoing parquet floors and Napoleonic furniture, the house is a modish mélange of the comfortably English and aspirational European. Yet cultured and refined as Woodcock is – the Japanese iron teapot and bowl from which he drinks his morning matcha while others sip from English porcelain are inspired

Daniel Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a mid-century couturier who is spoilt, petulant, and demanding. He is also not a very good designer.

Photographs courtesy of Universal.

Fashion is absurd, yet fascinating. Fashion is unnecessary, yet vital. Fashion is pretentious, beautiful, laughable, pompous and cruel. It is a world of quiet craft and outrageous ostentation, of the astonishingly talented and of the unrepentantly talentless, attracting the vain, the shallow and the plain ridiculous. It is a wonderful, irrational milieu of stereotypes, which is presumably why when cinema deigns to depict it, it does so stereotypically, showing us what it thinks it sees, not what is actually there. In this respect, Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film after There Will Be Blood, The Master and Inherent Vice, is rather unique. In this twisted story of romance and obsession in the rarefied, repressed world of 1950s London couture, fashion seems the sanest part. Daniel Day-Lewis is Reynolds Woodcock, couturier to British high society. In sharp contrast to his portrayal of the towering monstrosity Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, he is in far softer, loucher form, although no less twisted and tightly wound. With a well-enunciated, mid-century crispness that never strays too far from patronisingly didactic, Woodcock is spoilt, petulant and demanding, and knows exactly what he wants. He is used to getting it too, as discovered by provincial waitress Alma Elson – played with modest, yet steely confidence by Vicky Krieps – who takes his fancy after taking his order for breakfast. Perhaps one of the most romantic aspects of the film is the idea that a seaside bed and breakfast in 1950s England would serve lapsang souchong. By all accounts meek and willing, Elson is far stronger than she seems,

touches – he appears neither capable nor confident enough to be entirely himself in his house or dresses. Instead, Woodcock seems always to be looking to other places and other designers for inspiration and validation, in the process remaining a second-rate couturier with a secondrate clientele. Unlike the unforgiving but impassive desert plains and oceans of Anderson’s previous films – inhuman environments to struggle in and strive against – Woodcock’s elegant townhouse almost becomes a character itself. From afar, the grand salons and fitting rooms resonate with chilly perfection; but up close we see the grubby corners and knocked edges, the chipped stone tread on the grand staircase and the rickety electrical wiring around the doorways glued to the old frames with layers of sloppy lead paint. When the cellar door swings open ominously, revealing a steep staircase down to the depths just seconds

before the arrival of an important client, it feels as if the architecture is trying to tell us something. As for the fashion, it is rare to see the craft depicted so faithfully with such little romanticism or artistic licence. Anderson’s genius lies in having observed the garment-creation process, recognising its potential and using such factual mundanity as a framework for complex interpersonal narratives. Much like placing a found object in a gallery space, this kind of presentation helps us see the setting and its rituals anew; the meanings deeply resonant in the snip of a scissor or the prick of a pin. One of the most charged and balletic sequences is built around Woodcock taking Elson’s measurements, after asking her for dinner and then back to his country cottage. There is a perverse pleasure in seeing the cracks emerge in a depiction of skill onscreen:

Review

an incorrect key pressed on a piano overdubbed with a perfect performance, or a tentative dab at the edge of a dry painting clearly done by someone else. Yet here one has the higher, purer delight of watching a job done exceptionally and exuberantly well. In interviews, Day-Lewis claims to have prepared for his role not only by observing tailors, seamstresses and cutters at work, but by attempting to make a Balenciaga dress from scratch. He has never mentioned the result of such a Herculean task, but it seems to have worked. He is pitch perfect. From the blue ribbon he ties around Elson’s stomach (to define her natural waist) to the way he snips it from the roll by holding the blades of the shears rather than the handles (a tailor’s affectation), Day-Lewis’s moves are swift yet still unhurried, unstudied and entirely easy. The man is utterly believable as a master craftsman at work. He’s Reynolds


Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps) is a provincial waitress

Phantom Thread revels in period details: in heavy couture constructions;

with whom Woodcock develops a fraught relationship.

the crunching texture of silks and velvets; and in Woodcock’s foppishness.

Woodcock, couturier, and he knows what he’s doing. We see in Elson’s face the uncomfortable amusement and confusion as her date smoothly changes from dapper dining companion to meticulous dressmaker. He begins to loop his tape measure (correctly, needless to say) around her body and to call out the inches to his sister, who turns up unexpectedly and notes them down, watching Elson with the polite and calculating expression of a predator eyeing prey. As Woodcock takes her bust measurement, his love interest murmurs “I haven’t got any breasts…” “No, no,” he replies, almost Hannibal Lecter-like. “You’re perfect. It’s my job to give you some. If I choose to.” By the time he brings the tape from the nape of her neck to her chest line, staring directly and dispassionately at her nipple through her thin slip as he calls out the measurement,

she looks ready to run from the room screaming. Finally, the end in sight, she worries that her waist measurement is too large. “Don’t worry,” Cyril says of her distracted brother. “He likes a bit of belly.” It is the word-for-word reassurance once given by a fitter to a client of Cristóbal Balenciaga who was fretting she was fat. “I think, from my point of view, the intricacies and intimacies of that work is fascinating because I knew nothing about it,” Anderson explained to Rolling Stone in December 2017. “Doing things like taking measurements, which is very commonplace and boring for someone immersed in that world, I was enamoured up of it in the way that a child would be enamoured of something. So it became very cinematic to me, that way that someone would design a dress. It was like a Frankenstein’s-monster scene to me.” Anderson again relies on this sense of reality later in the film, in the first aid

120

given to a damaged dress when Woodcock falls ill and falls over, taking the just-finished gown down with him. The petites mains carry in tables, set up shop in the grand fitting room and surround the ruined gown on all sides. They take it apart like a car, removing and replacing damaged panels as calmly as expert mechanics, almost surgeon-like in their white coats. There is no drama, not even a raised voice. From the setting up of the trestles at a certain height to the covering of the tabletops in fresh tissue paper, folded under at the corners as neatly as a turned-down sheet, this process and its mundane minutiae are entirely correct and matter of fact; unremarkable within the industry, unknown and frankly dull outside of it. Yet, when seen through the objective and curious vision of such an exacting filmmaker as Anderson and shown with a casual accuracy bordering on the

documentary, these routine and necessary motions take on the air of a formalised ritual. They become as solemnly strange as the setting of an altar before a service or the preparation of a bier before a burial. There is no need to elaborate or invent when you can find such revelation in reality. Equally telling is the expert diagnosis of the damage given by the head of the atelier – who, like the rest of her team, is not played by an actor, but a real seamstress. She lists every stain, tear and hole, and their respective cures, while Reynolds lies in agony in his attic bedroom, entirely forgotten. In this industry – then as now – it seems the clothes are always more important than those who make them. Phantom Thread positively revels in fashion; in the armour-like period correctness of the heavy couture constructions, in the glowing colours

and deep crunching texture of silks and velvets, and in Woodcock’s fastidious foppishness. In one memorable scene he descends to dinner, furious and fabulous in piped lilac pyjamas, a navy-blue paisley cravat, a chunky cardigan and a Savile Row windowpane-check green tweed blazer, earning an appreciative chuckle from my Parisian co-spectators. Yet this film is ultimately not about fashion, despite this being the very warp and weft upon which the story is embroidered. Even in the slow zoom of one of the most pivotal human moments – fashion seemingly forgotten and utterly superfluous – a just-finished wedding dress on a mannequin dominates a third of the frame, a mute, white witness. Rather, the clue is in the title, as revealed by costume designer Bridges in a Deadline interview in January. A reference to an obscure 19th-century superstition, the

Review

“phantom thread” denotes the invisible ingredient: the colossal human effort it takes to make clothes, “and even when [the seamstresses] weren’t sewing it, their energy was there[…] There was some kind of belief that the seamstress’s energy carries on. Because it was all handwork, so human spirits – human energy – was so intertwined with the garment’s creation.” This film knows that clothes, while fascinating, are not everything; that you have to look at who makes them and who inhabits them to find real drama and real life. The industry should take note. Phantom Thread, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is in cinemas now.


Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps) is a provincial waitress

Phantom Thread revels in period details: in heavy couture constructions;

with whom Woodcock develops a fraught relationship.

the crunching texture of silks and velvets; and in Woodcock’s foppishness.

Woodcock, couturier, and he knows what he’s doing. We see in Elson’s face the uncomfortable amusement and confusion as her date smoothly changes from dapper dining companion to meticulous dressmaker. He begins to loop his tape measure (correctly, needless to say) around her body and to call out the inches to his sister, who turns up unexpectedly and notes them down, watching Elson with the polite and calculating expression of a predator eyeing prey. As Woodcock takes her bust measurement, his love interest murmurs “I haven’t got any breasts…” “No, no,” he replies, almost Hannibal Lecter-like. “You’re perfect. It’s my job to give you some. If I choose to.” By the time he brings the tape from the nape of her neck to her chest line, staring directly and dispassionately at her nipple through her thin slip as he calls out the measurement,

she looks ready to run from the room screaming. Finally, the end in sight, she worries that her waist measurement is too large. “Don’t worry,” Cyril says of her distracted brother. “He likes a bit of belly.” It is the word-for-word reassurance once given by a fitter to a client of Cristóbal Balenciaga who was fretting she was fat. “I think, from my point of view, the intricacies and intimacies of that work is fascinating because I knew nothing about it,” Anderson explained to Rolling Stone in December 2017. “Doing things like taking measurements, which is very commonplace and boring for someone immersed in that world, I was enamoured up of it in the way that a child would be enamoured of something. So it became very cinematic to me, that way that someone would design a dress. It was like a Frankenstein’s-monster scene to me.” Anderson again relies on this sense of reality later in the film, in the first aid

120

given to a damaged dress when Woodcock falls ill and falls over, taking the just-finished gown down with him. The petites mains carry in tables, set up shop in the grand fitting room and surround the ruined gown on all sides. They take it apart like a car, removing and replacing damaged panels as calmly as expert mechanics, almost surgeon-like in their white coats. There is no drama, not even a raised voice. From the setting up of the trestles at a certain height to the covering of the tabletops in fresh tissue paper, folded under at the corners as neatly as a turned-down sheet, this process and its mundane minutiae are entirely correct and matter of fact; unremarkable within the industry, unknown and frankly dull outside of it. Yet, when seen through the objective and curious vision of such an exacting filmmaker as Anderson and shown with a casual accuracy bordering on the

documentary, these routine and necessary motions take on the air of a formalised ritual. They become as solemnly strange as the setting of an altar before a service or the preparation of a bier before a burial. There is no need to elaborate or invent when you can find such revelation in reality. Equally telling is the expert diagnosis of the damage given by the head of the atelier – who, like the rest of her team, is not played by an actor, but a real seamstress. She lists every stain, tear and hole, and their respective cures, while Reynolds lies in agony in his attic bedroom, entirely forgotten. In this industry – then as now – it seems the clothes are always more important than those who make them. Phantom Thread positively revels in fashion; in the armour-like period correctness of the heavy couture constructions, in the glowing colours

and deep crunching texture of silks and velvets, and in Woodcock’s fastidious foppishness. In one memorable scene he descends to dinner, furious and fabulous in piped lilac pyjamas, a navy-blue paisley cravat, a chunky cardigan and a Savile Row windowpane-check green tweed blazer, earning an appreciative chuckle from my Parisian co-spectators. Yet this film is ultimately not about fashion, despite this being the very warp and weft upon which the story is embroidered. Even in the slow zoom of one of the most pivotal human moments – fashion seemingly forgotten and utterly superfluous – a just-finished wedding dress on a mannequin dominates a third of the frame, a mute, white witness. Rather, the clue is in the title, as revealed by costume designer Bridges in a Deadline interview in January. A reference to an obscure 19th-century superstition, the

Review

“phantom thread” denotes the invisible ingredient: the colossal human effort it takes to make clothes, “and even when [the seamstresses] weren’t sewing it, their energy was there[…] There was some kind of belief that the seamstress’s energy carries on. Because it was all handwork, so human spirits – human energy – was so intertwined with the garment’s creation.” This film knows that clothes, while fascinating, are not everything; that you have to look at who makes them and who inhabits them to find real drama and real life. The industry should take note. Phantom Thread, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is in cinemas now.


Revisiting Postmodernism Words Darran Anderson

When I was a child, I received a postcard from what appeared to be a fictional world. A relative was passing through Bavaria and sent back a picture of Neuschwanstein castle. The towers, high above the forests, defied reality. I didn’t know then that Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle was based on this. If anything, it seemed the other way around; that a cartoon had suddenly impossibly become material. Neither did I know about the Swan King, Ludwig II, or anything about kitsch, pastiche, revivalism or fairy-tale set design. It was the first time, naive as I was, that I felt genuine awe about architecture. I wondered how such a thing could exist long before I got to the age, betraying my initial innocence, when I wondered, should such a thing exist? It’s tempting to approach Revisiting Postmodernism, a new book by architects Terry Farrell and Adam Nathaniel Furman, with a sense of hungover dread and clarity; to think of the style as the frivolous night-before the merciless morning-after. Except it’s not really over. The buildings featured are still very in much in use. Some retain the power to be contentious. Many are, however, under threat, given they don’t look the way architecture that should be preserved ought to look (the products of recent movements rarely do; that’s the danger in losing them forever). If PoMo teaches us anything, it’s that supposedly outdated architecture – buildings whose moment has passed – is not over, regardless of

how many styles supplant it. It is merely our view of the architecture that changes. With a topic as wilfully slippery as postmodernism, it’s worth asking what you’re actually reviewing. Is it the book, the spirit and legacy of the movement, the buildings or the contributors’ work?

If PoMo teaches us anything, it’s that supposedly outdated architecture is not over, regardless of how many styles supplant it. It is merely our view of the architecture that changes. In Farrell, we have an architect who was once at the forefront of the movement, and in his co-author Furman, we have a talented young designer inspired by the style. Both have an enthusiasm that sweeps the reader along. The dynamic vibrancy fits the subject, but there is rigour here too, in the way the authors delve into a complex and mercurial subject. Given its amorphous nature, asking what postmodernism is is an exercise in masochism. You know PoMo when you see it. You know it by what it’s not. It is playful rather than stern, diverse rather than uniform. It is colour in the face of dour concrete and glass. It is Robert Venturi’s “Less is a bore” as opposed to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s “Less is more”. There are many touchstones throughout Revisiting Postmodernism, but it is Venturi’s 1966 book Complexity

122

and Contradiction in Architecture that is, in the authors’ view, “the manifesto of these times and indeed our times today”. This is primarily because Venturi – and Venturi’s partner Denise Scott Brown – saw value in the devalued. They “looked at ordinariness and saw beauty in it as ‘great’ architecture, just as pop artists had seen artistic merit in comics and soup cans”. The authors’ contention is that PoMo was anti-snobbery, antimonumentality, anti-Messianic. Instead, they say, architecture could be anywhere, anything. It could even – heaven forbid – be fun. Given the wide sweep of buildings discussed in the book, it’s clear PoMo was catholic in breadth as well as Catholic in kitsch. When it works, it is an expansive style that can bring surprise and delight. John Outram’s “Temple of Storms” pumping station (1988) on the Isle of Dogs turns something utilitarian into something glorious. So too, though on a much grander scale, Farrell’s Charing Cross station (1990). The magic realist chapel of A House for Essex (2015) by FAT and Grayson Perry makes curious sense. Even the initially horrific Inntel Hotel (2010) by WAM, an assemblage of Dutch houses slotted Tetris-like on top of one another, has a certain surreal charm, stirring up the long-buried childhood question of “how did they do that?” rather than “why?” The authors make a compelling case that the “enablingly neutral” architecture of modernism could

Photographs courtesy of Peter Barnes; Xinai Lang; Michael Graves Architecture; and RIBA Publishing.

A new book by Terry Farrell and Adam Nathaniel Furman re-examines postmodernism in architecture. Royally reviled in its time and long thought passé, its tenets seem to have lingered. Did PoMo ever really go away?

The Intel Hotel Zaandam in the Netherlands, designed by Delft-based WAM Architecten and completed in 2010.

Review


Revisiting Postmodernism Words Darran Anderson

When I was a child, I received a postcard from what appeared to be a fictional world. A relative was passing through Bavaria and sent back a picture of Neuschwanstein castle. The towers, high above the forests, defied reality. I didn’t know then that Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle was based on this. If anything, it seemed the other way around; that a cartoon had suddenly impossibly become material. Neither did I know about the Swan King, Ludwig II, or anything about kitsch, pastiche, revivalism or fairy-tale set design. It was the first time, naive as I was, that I felt genuine awe about architecture. I wondered how such a thing could exist long before I got to the age, betraying my initial innocence, when I wondered, should such a thing exist? It’s tempting to approach Revisiting Postmodernism, a new book by architects Terry Farrell and Adam Nathaniel Furman, with a sense of hungover dread and clarity; to think of the style as the frivolous night-before the merciless morning-after. Except it’s not really over. The buildings featured are still very in much in use. Some retain the power to be contentious. Many are, however, under threat, given they don’t look the way architecture that should be preserved ought to look (the products of recent movements rarely do; that’s the danger in losing them forever). If PoMo teaches us anything, it’s that supposedly outdated architecture – buildings whose moment has passed – is not over, regardless of

how many styles supplant it. It is merely our view of the architecture that changes. With a topic as wilfully slippery as postmodernism, it’s worth asking what you’re actually reviewing. Is it the book, the spirit and legacy of the movement, the buildings or the contributors’ work?

If PoMo teaches us anything, it’s that supposedly outdated architecture is not over, regardless of how many styles supplant it. It is merely our view of the architecture that changes. In Farrell, we have an architect who was once at the forefront of the movement, and in his co-author Furman, we have a talented young designer inspired by the style. Both have an enthusiasm that sweeps the reader along. The dynamic vibrancy fits the subject, but there is rigour here too, in the way the authors delve into a complex and mercurial subject. Given its amorphous nature, asking what postmodernism is is an exercise in masochism. You know PoMo when you see it. You know it by what it’s not. It is playful rather than stern, diverse rather than uniform. It is colour in the face of dour concrete and glass. It is Robert Venturi’s “Less is a bore” as opposed to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s “Less is more”. There are many touchstones throughout Revisiting Postmodernism, but it is Venturi’s 1966 book Complexity

122

and Contradiction in Architecture that is, in the authors’ view, “the manifesto of these times and indeed our times today”. This is primarily because Venturi – and Venturi’s partner Denise Scott Brown – saw value in the devalued. They “looked at ordinariness and saw beauty in it as ‘great’ architecture, just as pop artists had seen artistic merit in comics and soup cans”. The authors’ contention is that PoMo was anti-snobbery, antimonumentality, anti-Messianic. Instead, they say, architecture could be anywhere, anything. It could even – heaven forbid – be fun. Given the wide sweep of buildings discussed in the book, it’s clear PoMo was catholic in breadth as well as Catholic in kitsch. When it works, it is an expansive style that can bring surprise and delight. John Outram’s “Temple of Storms” pumping station (1988) on the Isle of Dogs turns something utilitarian into something glorious. So too, though on a much grander scale, Farrell’s Charing Cross station (1990). The magic realist chapel of A House for Essex (2015) by FAT and Grayson Perry makes curious sense. Even the initially horrific Inntel Hotel (2010) by WAM, an assemblage of Dutch houses slotted Tetris-like on top of one another, has a certain surreal charm, stirring up the long-buried childhood question of “how did they do that?” rather than “why?” The authors make a compelling case that the “enablingly neutral” architecture of modernism could

Photographs courtesy of Peter Barnes; Xinai Lang; Michael Graves Architecture; and RIBA Publishing.

A new book by Terry Farrell and Adam Nathaniel Furman re-examines postmodernism in architecture. Royally reviled in its time and long thought passé, its tenets seem to have lingered. Did PoMo ever really go away?

The Intel Hotel Zaandam in the Netherlands, designed by Delft-based WAM Architecten and completed in 2010.

Review


disposable and demeaning in some eyes, while tragedians are taken seriously even when guilty of bathos. PoMo’s argument that authenticity was overrated and could stifle creativity clashes with our innate fears that we are somehow inauthentic compared to the past. What is Aldo Rossi’s floating Teatro del Mundo compared to the fixed grandeur of the Venetian buildings behind it? Yet life is as real as it’s always been – if considerably less brutal. And these are no more or less buildings than any before; if anything, the very ephemerality of the Teatro del Mundo Catholic in breadth as well as kitsch: the Team Disney building by Arata Isozaki, 1990 (left), and the Denver Central Library by Michael Graves Architecture, 1995 (right).

be slightly inhuman; a tendency unwittingly acknowledged by the largely anonymous modernist architects who enlivened their renderings with “endless people in bright clothing gambolling around with kites and balloons, surrounded by luscious planting, flags and banners and so on”. Farrell believes, by contrast, that “it is the architect’s job to be able to raid the dressing-up box when needed, like films, opera sets, musicals and pop concerts. Architecture itself is on occasion required to be the actual entertainment, particularly when on a giant scale.” Again and again, we find the question of perception to be the key to postmodernism. It is self-reflexive, having the welcome or unwelcome effect of calling attention not just to the buildings, but the viewer. You ask yourself, “Why do I feel so intensely about this building?” And you may go further to consider why taste matters so much at all. You might even see taste not only as an overrated quality but, in some cases, a tyrannical one. This personal questioning carries right through Revisiting Postmodernism. Farrell charts his work in relation to his peers’ and where he sees the various players. The hostility to his creations is revealed in asides: “British Puritanism was always there haunting me off-stage.” He rails against modernism “turning the world ever more one-dimensional. As a reaction against it, the ‘post’-age

is a celebration of uncertainty, plurality, diversity and, above all, ‘choice’.” This is admirable, but there is a case to be made that modernism was not as cyclopean, nor was postmodernism quite as diverse, as some like to imagine. In celebrating the “glorious period of pluralist taste” in Victorian times and lamenting “a purge towards Bauhaus modernist conformity”, the authors run the risk of espousing false dichotomies (Bauhaus, in its first incarnation at least, was a far weirder assortment than is often acknowledged). Pitching Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia against Gropius’s Bauhaus school is as intriguing but ultimately futile as asking, “Which is better – an octopus or an ant?” The question fails to recognise that each has contrasting strengths in relation to different environments. Travelling too far down this route ends in the dubious assertions we see of technology versus “the soul”; order versus freedom; machine versus human; as if all of these were not intricately linked. Thankfully, the authors are as open as their declarations. “Flexibility, eclecticism and choice were all positive things,” Farrell writes, “and I saw in the Scandinavian architects, as well as Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Buckminster Fuller and Richard Neutra, all kinds of reinterpretations of modernism in an individual and regional way.” Likewise, many of his criticisms of the static nature of certain strains of modernism are well placed. ‘Form follows function’ cannot be

124

entirely sacrosanct when change happens so frequently these days and it can be pretty difficult to create modular spaces from steel and concrete. “Modernism searched for and celebrated certainty,” the authors point out – but we are uncertain beings living in uncertain times. Why then was there such opposition to postmodernism? One reason concerns the nature of architecture itself, which may be art but is also an imposition. Any building that demands attention on the skyline invites judgement. This is amplified by postmodernism’s extravagance and deliberate frivolity. Michael Graves’s Swan and Dolphin resorts might work in Orlando, but place a similar building elsewhere and the response might be incandescent. It goes beyond taste and aesthetics through into moralism. However unfairly, PoMo can easily be framed as decadent excess or a society in slow-motion nervous breakdown. The book’s references to the Reformation are insightful; there is something of the puritan to its opponents (and the Counter-Reformation in the “exuberant excess”, as well as the power-play, of PoMo). The underlying assumption is that there should be something tragic or melancholic to great architecture. If PoMo was “modernism without anxiety”, as American novelist Jonathan Lethem put it, this was anathema to those who saw anxiety as a natural condition of being. Comedy, like fashion and entertainment, is cheap,

PoMo’s argument that authenticity was overrated and could stifle creativity clashes with our innate fears that we are somehow inauthentic compared to the past. gave it a power other structures lack. There was continually a sense, even amongst scholars, that the childlike joy of PoMo might actually be a senile deterioration: “Is post-modernity the pastime of an old man who scrounges in the garbage-heap of finality looking for leftovers[…]?” Jean-François Lyotard asked in his 1983 book The Differend: Phrases in Dispute. The escape from the grand narratives of modernism and PoMo’s treatment of history as a scrapyard to be raided and re-contextualised could be suggestive of the approach of someone who believes themselves to be free and healthy, but who is actually a compulsive hoarder or even a nihilist. What if the energy that postmodernism undoubtedly displays is a giddiness that comes from vertigo? What if its nerve is actually a collapse of nerve? Some might take issue with the style’s tendency to derive “inspiration” from history, removing the original meanings and adding new ones. This trait, however, is crucial in placing it. PoMo didn’t emerge from a vacuum. There are precedents that appear postmodernist even before modernism – Yury Felten’s Ruin Tower (1773), Peter Behrens’s Crematorium in Hagen-Delstern (1907), John Nash’s Brighton Pavilion (1822), even entire movements like Moorish revival. In the ‘Image Gallery’ section of Revisiting Postmodernism, you can spot

certain features that have been appropriated and transformed. Rather than being ahistorical, the style plugs into tradition via curious routes. Hans Hollein’s Retti candle shop (1966) bears an almost keyhole arch. There is something of the Colosseo Quadrato of the Esposizione Universale Roma in Aldo Rossi’s San Cataldo Cemetery (1971), or even the exquisite eeriness of a De Chirico painting. Furman’s arches in his Gateways installation (2017) are architectural history made brilliantly new. The critical difference seems to be sincerity. Modernists meant it, so we’re assured without ever really being told what ‘it’ is. Maybe PoMo means it too (if we take architecture to be the sculpting of space for people to exist in), but disguises this with a smirk. Occasionally, the otherwise commendable openness overreaches. Ricardo Bofill’s superlative Taller de Arquitectura renovation seems after-modernist rather than postmodernist, while Jean Nouvel’s innovative buildings, which the authors admit are “hard to place” (and the Torre Agbar is certainly borderline PoMo), feel too considered to be included. And yet one of the successes of the book is in demonstrating that postmodernism was genuine after all. That was perhaps its final joke. Aided by a cavalcade of startling images, Farrell and Furman argue convincingly for the democratic – even revolutionary – aspect of postmodernism. It could be claimed however that there is a darker tone at work, that PoMo could be just as reactionary as any style, perhaps even more so by hiding in plain sight. Colour can be camouflage. Things can be hidden behind fun. Nothing is just a style, and nothing in the built environment is entirely apolitical, whatever it claims. It’s notable that the most iconic buildings presented in the book house the intelligence services (Farrell’s SIS Building) and a consumer showroom (BEST Store, Houston), or are owned by a Saudi conglomerate (the AT&T Building). Farrell puts the “loss of the style’s momentum” down to “the big commercial firms trying to appeal to planning officers and uninformed politicians with a nicer, friendlier, cuddlier architecture”. It became the wacky tie in the otherwise monochrome

Review

boardroom. Yet the authors are right in pointing out that for every monstrous postmodernist-influenced tower of insincerity that goes up in megacities, there are exceptional outlying heirs too, like the vibrant Andean buildings designed by Bolivia’s Freddy Mamani, which are a joy to behold. If postmodernism was a revolution as the authors suggest, where has it left us? A cynic might say it added to the ‘Be different’ homogeneity we’re swimming in today, but cyberspace and advertising have much more to answer for in that regard. Instead, postmodernist architecture did escape “highly restricted formal elements” and the celebration of “restraint and severity”, as the authors claim. It did “re-enrich the by-then stagnant language of modernity”. Revisiting Postmodernism is a testament to that spirit, threading a visually dazzling and erudite path through a complex history. Questions of poetry, art, the vernacular, architecture as experience, and even romanticism have a vital place in architecture but so too do other needs. “Whereas Modernists always sought to actively build solutions to society’s ills,” the authors write, “[postmodernist] architects were primarily inspirational artist-poets, using their work to highlight problems and tell stories about the contemporary world, without in any way proposing viable tools for achieving a better world.” As insecure narrativefixated creatures, we certainly require stories and inspiration but we also need tools when facing the colossal challenges around us. These ambitions are not mutually exclusive. We might look back nostalgically at an era of indulgence and imagination, and a style that was, in the words of an earlier mad, doomed king, Shakespeare’s Lear, “more sinned against than sinning”. Whether such tales help us remains to be seen but, in a time of gathering nightmares, it may do no harm to dream. Revisiting Postmodernism by Terry Farrell and Adam Nathaniel Furman is published by RIBA Publishing, price £35.


disposable and demeaning in some eyes, while tragedians are taken seriously even when guilty of bathos. PoMo’s argument that authenticity was overrated and could stifle creativity clashes with our innate fears that we are somehow inauthentic compared to the past. What is Aldo Rossi’s floating Teatro del Mundo compared to the fixed grandeur of the Venetian buildings behind it? Yet life is as real as it’s always been – if considerably less brutal. And these are no more or less buildings than any before; if anything, the very ephemerality of the Teatro del Mundo Catholic in breadth as well as kitsch: the Team Disney building by Arata Isozaki, 1990 (left), and the Denver Central Library by Michael Graves Architecture, 1995 (right).

be slightly inhuman; a tendency unwittingly acknowledged by the largely anonymous modernist architects who enlivened their renderings with “endless people in bright clothing gambolling around with kites and balloons, surrounded by luscious planting, flags and banners and so on”. Farrell believes, by contrast, that “it is the architect’s job to be able to raid the dressing-up box when needed, like films, opera sets, musicals and pop concerts. Architecture itself is on occasion required to be the actual entertainment, particularly when on a giant scale.” Again and again, we find the question of perception to be the key to postmodernism. It is self-reflexive, having the welcome or unwelcome effect of calling attention not just to the buildings, but the viewer. You ask yourself, “Why do I feel so intensely about this building?” And you may go further to consider why taste matters so much at all. You might even see taste not only as an overrated quality but, in some cases, a tyrannical one. This personal questioning carries right through Revisiting Postmodernism. Farrell charts his work in relation to his peers’ and where he sees the various players. The hostility to his creations is revealed in asides: “British Puritanism was always there haunting me off-stage.” He rails against modernism “turning the world ever more one-dimensional. As a reaction against it, the ‘post’-age

is a celebration of uncertainty, plurality, diversity and, above all, ‘choice’.” This is admirable, but there is a case to be made that modernism was not as cyclopean, nor was postmodernism quite as diverse, as some like to imagine. In celebrating the “glorious period of pluralist taste” in Victorian times and lamenting “a purge towards Bauhaus modernist conformity”, the authors run the risk of espousing false dichotomies (Bauhaus, in its first incarnation at least, was a far weirder assortment than is often acknowledged). Pitching Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia against Gropius’s Bauhaus school is as intriguing but ultimately futile as asking, “Which is better – an octopus or an ant?” The question fails to recognise that each has contrasting strengths in relation to different environments. Travelling too far down this route ends in the dubious assertions we see of technology versus “the soul”; order versus freedom; machine versus human; as if all of these were not intricately linked. Thankfully, the authors are as open as their declarations. “Flexibility, eclecticism and choice were all positive things,” Farrell writes, “and I saw in the Scandinavian architects, as well as Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Buckminster Fuller and Richard Neutra, all kinds of reinterpretations of modernism in an individual and regional way.” Likewise, many of his criticisms of the static nature of certain strains of modernism are well placed. ‘Form follows function’ cannot be

124

entirely sacrosanct when change happens so frequently these days and it can be pretty difficult to create modular spaces from steel and concrete. “Modernism searched for and celebrated certainty,” the authors point out – but we are uncertain beings living in uncertain times. Why then was there such opposition to postmodernism? One reason concerns the nature of architecture itself, which may be art but is also an imposition. Any building that demands attention on the skyline invites judgement. This is amplified by postmodernism’s extravagance and deliberate frivolity. Michael Graves’s Swan and Dolphin resorts might work in Orlando, but place a similar building elsewhere and the response might be incandescent. It goes beyond taste and aesthetics through into moralism. However unfairly, PoMo can easily be framed as decadent excess or a society in slow-motion nervous breakdown. The book’s references to the Reformation are insightful; there is something of the puritan to its opponents (and the Counter-Reformation in the “exuberant excess”, as well as the power-play, of PoMo). The underlying assumption is that there should be something tragic or melancholic to great architecture. If PoMo was “modernism without anxiety”, as American novelist Jonathan Lethem put it, this was anathema to those who saw anxiety as a natural condition of being. Comedy, like fashion and entertainment, is cheap,

PoMo’s argument that authenticity was overrated and could stifle creativity clashes with our innate fears that we are somehow inauthentic compared to the past. gave it a power other structures lack. There was continually a sense, even amongst scholars, that the childlike joy of PoMo might actually be a senile deterioration: “Is post-modernity the pastime of an old man who scrounges in the garbage-heap of finality looking for leftovers[…]?” Jean-François Lyotard asked in his 1983 book The Differend: Phrases in Dispute. The escape from the grand narratives of modernism and PoMo’s treatment of history as a scrapyard to be raided and re-contextualised could be suggestive of the approach of someone who believes themselves to be free and healthy, but who is actually a compulsive hoarder or even a nihilist. What if the energy that postmodernism undoubtedly displays is a giddiness that comes from vertigo? What if its nerve is actually a collapse of nerve? Some might take issue with the style’s tendency to derive “inspiration” from history, removing the original meanings and adding new ones. This trait, however, is crucial in placing it. PoMo didn’t emerge from a vacuum. There are precedents that appear postmodernist even before modernism – Yury Felten’s Ruin Tower (1773), Peter Behrens’s Crematorium in Hagen-Delstern (1907), John Nash’s Brighton Pavilion (1822), even entire movements like Moorish revival. In the ‘Image Gallery’ section of Revisiting Postmodernism, you can spot

certain features that have been appropriated and transformed. Rather than being ahistorical, the style plugs into tradition via curious routes. Hans Hollein’s Retti candle shop (1966) bears an almost keyhole arch. There is something of the Colosseo Quadrato of the Esposizione Universale Roma in Aldo Rossi’s San Cataldo Cemetery (1971), or even the exquisite eeriness of a De Chirico painting. Furman’s arches in his Gateways installation (2017) are architectural history made brilliantly new. The critical difference seems to be sincerity. Modernists meant it, so we’re assured without ever really being told what ‘it’ is. Maybe PoMo means it too (if we take architecture to be the sculpting of space for people to exist in), but disguises this with a smirk. Occasionally, the otherwise commendable openness overreaches. Ricardo Bofill’s superlative Taller de Arquitectura renovation seems after-modernist rather than postmodernist, while Jean Nouvel’s innovative buildings, which the authors admit are “hard to place” (and the Torre Agbar is certainly borderline PoMo), feel too considered to be included. And yet one of the successes of the book is in demonstrating that postmodernism was genuine after all. That was perhaps its final joke. Aided by a cavalcade of startling images, Farrell and Furman argue convincingly for the democratic – even revolutionary – aspect of postmodernism. It could be claimed however that there is a darker tone at work, that PoMo could be just as reactionary as any style, perhaps even more so by hiding in plain sight. Colour can be camouflage. Things can be hidden behind fun. Nothing is just a style, and nothing in the built environment is entirely apolitical, whatever it claims. It’s notable that the most iconic buildings presented in the book house the intelligence services (Farrell’s SIS Building) and a consumer showroom (BEST Store, Houston), or are owned by a Saudi conglomerate (the AT&T Building). Farrell puts the “loss of the style’s momentum” down to “the big commercial firms trying to appeal to planning officers and uninformed politicians with a nicer, friendlier, cuddlier architecture”. It became the wacky tie in the otherwise monochrome

Review

boardroom. Yet the authors are right in pointing out that for every monstrous postmodernist-influenced tower of insincerity that goes up in megacities, there are exceptional outlying heirs too, like the vibrant Andean buildings designed by Bolivia’s Freddy Mamani, which are a joy to behold. If postmodernism was a revolution as the authors suggest, where has it left us? A cynic might say it added to the ‘Be different’ homogeneity we’re swimming in today, but cyberspace and advertising have much more to answer for in that regard. Instead, postmodernist architecture did escape “highly restricted formal elements” and the celebration of “restraint and severity”, as the authors claim. It did “re-enrich the by-then stagnant language of modernity”. Revisiting Postmodernism is a testament to that spirit, threading a visually dazzling and erudite path through a complex history. Questions of poetry, art, the vernacular, architecture as experience, and even romanticism have a vital place in architecture but so too do other needs. “Whereas Modernists always sought to actively build solutions to society’s ills,” the authors write, “[postmodernist] architects were primarily inspirational artist-poets, using their work to highlight problems and tell stories about the contemporary world, without in any way proposing viable tools for achieving a better world.” As insecure narrativefixated creatures, we certainly require stories and inspiration but we also need tools when facing the colossal challenges around us. These ambitions are not mutually exclusive. We might look back nostalgically at an era of indulgence and imagination, and a style that was, in the words of an earlier mad, doomed king, Shakespeare’s Lear, “more sinned against than sinning”. Whether such tales help us remains to be seen but, in a time of gathering nightmares, it may do no harm to dream. Revisiting Postmodernism by Terry Farrell and Adam Nathaniel Furman is published by RIBA Publishing, price £35.


The White Book Words Crystal Bennes

A series of prose poems split between Warsaw and South Korea serves as an entry point to a cultural history of the colour white across art, architecture, design and literature. cultures, but perhaps especially so in Korea. Unlike its near-neighbour China, where white holds many of the same sinister associations as that of black in Western cultures, white for Koreans has traditionally signified innocence, nobility and respect for the heavens. Consequently, as Bong-Ha Seo writes in the Journal of the Korean Society of Clothing and Textiles, historically, Koreans wore white “all throughout their lives: from the moment of their birth until their death”. In the 19th century, R.V. Laguerie, a French reporter for L’Illustration, visited Korea and later wrote in his 1898 book, La Coree, that “everyone walked slowly and heavily, all in white”. Following the Japanese-imposed protectorate of 1905, white dress took on revolutionary undertones, according to Bong-Ha. When the Japanese banned white-coloured clothing, “the Koreans wore white clothes more than ever,” writes Bong-Ha. “White clothing united all Koreans into one nation, regardless of their class or occupation, symbolizing Koreans’ anti-Japan movement.” In its use of meditations on a single colour as a lens through which to approach personal grief, Han’s The White Book bears some resemblance to Maggie Nelson’s 2009 Bluets. Where Nelson’s openly autobiographical narrative displays both rawer emotion and a seemingly stronger personal attachment to blue, Han’s more oblique approach to white and to grief is quieter and more plaintive. If Nelson’s blue is an earth-bound heap of ultramarine powder that can change everything (“You might want to reach out and disturb the pile of pigment, for example, first staining your

126

fingers with it, then staining the world”), Han’s white is the “vast, soundless undulation between this world and the next”. White for Han, as for the Japanese graphic designer Kenya Hara, is seen as something elemental and so pure that it is not altogether earthly. “White is the most singular and vivid image that arises from the centre of chaos,” wrote Hara his 2010 book, White. For Hara, as for Han, the colour is a kind of whispered fragment of a barely remembered dream: “Life comes into this world wearing white, but it begins to acquire color the instant it assumes concrete form and touches the earth, like a yellow chick emerging from a white egg. White can never be made manifest in the real world. We may feel that we have come into contact with white, but that is just an illusion. In the real world, white is always contaminated and impure.” And yet, it is here, at the intersection of purity and impurity where white so often runs into trouble. Yes, white is the “swaddling bands, salt and moon” of Han’s narrator’s list of, perhaps elemental, perhaps comforting, white things. But it is also the misinformed cultural superiority of 18th-century art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s reading of ancient statues. White is the troubling argument for the biological superiority of certain races, posited by French writer Arthur de Gobineau in his 1853 ‘Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines’. Admittedly, white is not the only colour with tricky cultural connotations, and the argument that hues are more importantly understood as perceptual and cultural rather than purely scientific is one expressed by Goethe in his Zur Farbenlehre

The White Book uses the meditation on a single colour as a lens through which to approach personal grief.

Image courtesy of Granta.

Snow falls. A woman walks the streets of a European city, probably Warsaw. Here, in a metropolis almost entirely destroyed during the Second World War, she wanders amid “the white glow of stone ruins” where “the fortresses of the old quarter, the splendid palace, the lakeside villa on the outskirts where royalty once summered – all are fakes”. During a self-imposed absence from her Korean homeland, she reflects on the family stories of the fleeting existence of her mother’s first child, who died shortly after being born. “I was told that she was a girl, with a face as white as a crescentmoon rice cake.” It is along these two parallel axes – historical memory and personal grief – that South Korean writer and Man Booker International Prize-winner Han Kang’s meditation on the colour white unfolds. Ostensibly a novel, The White Book is more a series of thematically linked prose poems, each with its own enigmatic title: ‘Sugar cubes’, ‘Perpetual snow’, ‘White dog’, ‘A thousand points of silver’. The sequence of short vignettes ranges across destruction and effacement, the grief of loss and, finally, rebirth. Amid images of fog and melting candle wax, snow and salt and sticky white rice, Han’s narrator conflates the fate of the city with that of her long-dead sister – a person, she writes, like the city, “who had painstakingly rebuilt themselves on a foundation of fire-scoured ruins”. That Han turns to white in her exploration of memory, being and grief is perhaps no surprise: Koreans are known as baek yi minjok, the “white-clad people”. White has been an emblematic, symbolically important colour in many

(Theory of Colours). Refuting Newton’s notion that colour was determined purely by light, Goethe attempted to approach a kind of scientific analysis of the concept as being shaped by perception, including moral associations. “Since colour occupies so important a place in the series of elementary phenomena,” he wrote, “we shall not be surprised to find that its effects are at all times decided

and significant, and that they are immediately associated with the emotions of the mind.” After all, scarlet in the ‘Book of Revelation’ is not merely visible light with a wavelength of 625-740nm; it is the shade of the harlot and of the beast. White, unsurprisingly, is the colour of Christ. Indeed, according to University of Pennsylvania historian Kathleen

Review

Brown, this union of white and purity – specifically in Western culture – probably has its roots in religion. In an interview with Nautilus magazine, Brown explained that, “historically, white is one of the ways men of the cloth signified their calling.” These associations with religious purity ultimately evolved into bodily purity, a pre-occupation which continues in


The White Book Words Crystal Bennes

A series of prose poems split between Warsaw and South Korea serves as an entry point to a cultural history of the colour white across art, architecture, design and literature. cultures, but perhaps especially so in Korea. Unlike its near-neighbour China, where white holds many of the same sinister associations as that of black in Western cultures, white for Koreans has traditionally signified innocence, nobility and respect for the heavens. Consequently, as Bong-Ha Seo writes in the Journal of the Korean Society of Clothing and Textiles, historically, Koreans wore white “all throughout their lives: from the moment of their birth until their death”. In the 19th century, R.V. Laguerie, a French reporter for L’Illustration, visited Korea and later wrote in his 1898 book, La Coree, that “everyone walked slowly and heavily, all in white”. Following the Japanese-imposed protectorate of 1905, white dress took on revolutionary undertones, according to Bong-Ha. When the Japanese banned white-coloured clothing, “the Koreans wore white clothes more than ever,” writes Bong-Ha. “White clothing united all Koreans into one nation, regardless of their class or occupation, symbolizing Koreans’ anti-Japan movement.” In its use of meditations on a single colour as a lens through which to approach personal grief, Han’s The White Book bears some resemblance to Maggie Nelson’s 2009 Bluets. Where Nelson’s openly autobiographical narrative displays both rawer emotion and a seemingly stronger personal attachment to blue, Han’s more oblique approach to white and to grief is quieter and more plaintive. If Nelson’s blue is an earth-bound heap of ultramarine powder that can change everything (“You might want to reach out and disturb the pile of pigment, for example, first staining your

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fingers with it, then staining the world”), Han’s white is the “vast, soundless undulation between this world and the next”. White for Han, as for the Japanese graphic designer Kenya Hara, is seen as something elemental and so pure that it is not altogether earthly. “White is the most singular and vivid image that arises from the centre of chaos,” wrote Hara his 2010 book, White. For Hara, as for Han, the colour is a kind of whispered fragment of a barely remembered dream: “Life comes into this world wearing white, but it begins to acquire color the instant it assumes concrete form and touches the earth, like a yellow chick emerging from a white egg. White can never be made manifest in the real world. We may feel that we have come into contact with white, but that is just an illusion. In the real world, white is always contaminated and impure.” And yet, it is here, at the intersection of purity and impurity where white so often runs into trouble. Yes, white is the “swaddling bands, salt and moon” of Han’s narrator’s list of, perhaps elemental, perhaps comforting, white things. But it is also the misinformed cultural superiority of 18th-century art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s reading of ancient statues. White is the troubling argument for the biological superiority of certain races, posited by French writer Arthur de Gobineau in his 1853 ‘Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines’. Admittedly, white is not the only colour with tricky cultural connotations, and the argument that hues are more importantly understood as perceptual and cultural rather than purely scientific is one expressed by Goethe in his Zur Farbenlehre

The White Book uses the meditation on a single colour as a lens through which to approach personal grief.

Image courtesy of Granta.

Snow falls. A woman walks the streets of a European city, probably Warsaw. Here, in a metropolis almost entirely destroyed during the Second World War, she wanders amid “the white glow of stone ruins” where “the fortresses of the old quarter, the splendid palace, the lakeside villa on the outskirts where royalty once summered – all are fakes”. During a self-imposed absence from her Korean homeland, she reflects on the family stories of the fleeting existence of her mother’s first child, who died shortly after being born. “I was told that she was a girl, with a face as white as a crescentmoon rice cake.” It is along these two parallel axes – historical memory and personal grief – that South Korean writer and Man Booker International Prize-winner Han Kang’s meditation on the colour white unfolds. Ostensibly a novel, The White Book is more a series of thematically linked prose poems, each with its own enigmatic title: ‘Sugar cubes’, ‘Perpetual snow’, ‘White dog’, ‘A thousand points of silver’. The sequence of short vignettes ranges across destruction and effacement, the grief of loss and, finally, rebirth. Amid images of fog and melting candle wax, snow and salt and sticky white rice, Han’s narrator conflates the fate of the city with that of her long-dead sister – a person, she writes, like the city, “who had painstakingly rebuilt themselves on a foundation of fire-scoured ruins”. That Han turns to white in her exploration of memory, being and grief is perhaps no surprise: Koreans are known as baek yi minjok, the “white-clad people”. White has been an emblematic, symbolically important colour in many

(Theory of Colours). Refuting Newton’s notion that colour was determined purely by light, Goethe attempted to approach a kind of scientific analysis of the concept as being shaped by perception, including moral associations. “Since colour occupies so important a place in the series of elementary phenomena,” he wrote, “we shall not be surprised to find that its effects are at all times decided

and significant, and that they are immediately associated with the emotions of the mind.” After all, scarlet in the ‘Book of Revelation’ is not merely visible light with a wavelength of 625-740nm; it is the shade of the harlot and of the beast. White, unsurprisingly, is the colour of Christ. Indeed, according to University of Pennsylvania historian Kathleen

Review

Brown, this union of white and purity – specifically in Western culture – probably has its roots in religion. In an interview with Nautilus magazine, Brown explained that, “historically, white is one of the ways men of the cloth signified their calling.” These associations with religious purity ultimately evolved into bodily purity, a pre-occupation which continues in


today’s obsession with ever more dazzling teeth and skin-whitening products. Similar links between purity and white were key arguments in Winckelmann’s writings. At a time marked by the rediscoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and a vogue for all things Ancient Rome, Winckelmann’s 1764 Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums revolutionised the understanding of stylistic changes in Greco-Roman art. And yet, one of Winckelmann’s most influential arguments helped to bury the excesses of baroque aesthetics in favour of the “edle Einfalt und stille Grösse” (noble simplicity and quiet grandeur) of neoclassicism. Rediscovered after being buried or weathered or otherwise aged, the marble statues and sculptures of classical antiquity were taken to have originally existed in the same state in which they were found: white. Winckelmann, like others before him, chose to view the unadorned stone figures as pure, almost austere, forms. “The whiter the body is, the more beautiful it is as well,” he wrote. “Colour contributes to beauty, but it is not beauty. Colour should have a minor part in the consideration of beauty, because it is not [colour] but structure that constitutes its essence.” Although subsequent research has demonstrated that many ancient sculptures and temple friezes were painted a variety of colours, the idea of the white statues shaped generations of Western cultural aesthetics. These won’t be easily overturned. When archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann’s garish copies of antique statuary, which first appeared at Munich’s famed Glyptothek in the 2003 Gods in Color exhibition, went on tour across Europe and the US, they were met with shock and occasionally outrage. “You have completely ruined the image we had of antiquity,” said Nikolaos Kaltsas, the director of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, when asked to reactions to Gods in Color when it toured there in 2007. Removing the noble purity of white from the artistic works of our Greek and Roman forebears was somehow tantamount to removing the noble purity of every intervening cultural endeavour. It was Bernini’s David painted green, red and gold. In other words, the reintroduction of colour was a disaster, a kind of destruction.

By contrast, the image of cultural destruction as a glittering whiteness is deployed by Han to powerful effect in her description of the city of Warsaw in 1945: “I saw some footage of this city, taken by a US military aircraft in the spring of 1945 […] The subtitles said that over a period of six months, starting in October 1944, 95 per cent of the city was obliterated[…] When the film opened, the city seen from far above appeared as though mantled with snow. A grey-white sheet of snow or ice on which a light dusting of soot has settled, sullying it with dappled stains. The plane reduced its altitude, and the city’s visage sharpened. There was no snow covering it, no soot-streaked ice. The buildings had been smashed to pieces, literally pulverised. Above the white glow of stone ruins were blackened flecks as far as the eye could see.” In 1925, 20 years before Warsaw was reduced to glowing white rubble, Le Corbusier declared, in inimitable fashion, that whitewashed walls had a spiritual and moral cleansing power. His Law of Ripolin (so-called after the popular brand of household paint) declared that every citizen should “replace his hangings, his damasks, his wall-papers, his stencils, with a plain coat of white Ripolin. His home is made clean[…] Everything is shown as it is. Then comes inner cleanness for the course adopted leads to refusal to allow anything which is not correct.” Although more frequently appearing in his rhetoric than in his practice, white for Le Corbusier and his contemporaries was a portal to a renewed era; with a single sweep of a paint brush, its perceived rationality, morality and functionality could erase the tarnish of the past. If Le Corbusier’s and modernism’s obsession with the formal purity, moral rectitude and cleanliness of white was later called into question within architecture and design (a marvellous anecdote in Jeremy Till’s Architecture Depends has James Joyce saying, “You don’t know how wonderful dirt is” in riposte to Sigfried Giedion’s praise of some Marcel Breuer houses), in the West at least, white’s symbolism continues to reign over birth, marriage and dentistry. In Japan, Korea and certain other East Asian countries, the colour’s associations with purity, innocence and nobility of spirit continue to hold

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great importance in cultural rituals, artistic aesthetics and spiritualism. Han’s The White Book thus draws on a tradition in which white is associated with the fragility of life and the Weltschmerz of things too good for harsh reality, a tradition beautifully encapsulated in a short 15th-century poem by Korean poet Sǒng Kan (1427-1456): “Mountains rise over mountains and smoke from valleys; / The dust of the world can never touch the white gulls. / The old fisherman is by no means disinterested; / In his boat he owns the moon over the west river.” Echoes of this ideal of white as an elegy for the transient beauty of life – surely a more palatable cultural association than de Gobineau’s racial superiority or Le Corbusier’s tightly bound tyranny or Winckelmann’s expression of perfection of form – permeate Han’s narrative. Her unnamed narrator’s meditations on her ghostly twin, her too-fragile-for-this-world sister, and her reflections on the destruction done by men to each other and themselves are filtered through white. Not Le Corbusier’s white, nor Winckelmann’s, but the “billowing whiteness within us” which recognises the inviolate in “our encounters with objects so pristine [and] never fails to leave us moved”. Throughout The White Book, this sense is reinforced by a series of stills shot by artist Choi Jinhyuk, which document a performance in which Han interacts with white objects, their colour becoming interlinked with the author, while around her tones of grey predominate. As Han writes, “there are times when the crisp white of freshly laundered bed linen can seem to speak. When that pure-cotton fabric grazes her bare flesh, just there, it seems to tell her something. You are a noble person. Your sleep is clean, and the fact of your living is nothing to be ashamed of.” The White Book by Han Kang, translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith, is published by Portobello on 3 May 2018, price £8.99.


The Restrictions of Industry Words and image Paul Lukas

— What is an egg? What does it represent? It’s... It’s life! And what is life? It’s Woman! So I thought that an eggcup should represent Woman. Woman who lays the egg, who carries the egg, who brings it up and gives it life and love. Which is why for your big anniversary I have designed a Woman eggcup, so that from chicken to egg, we’ve come full circle. And there’s more! I’ve also tried to show eggs in all their glorious diversity – loved and borne as they all were by their mothers, whatever the colour of their skin. So it’s not a one-cup eggcup, it’s a multi-cup Woman eggcup – it holds three eggs, like cosy triplets. You’re going to have to play along for the metaphor to work and make sure that there are as many different shades as possible in each box of eggs. There are almost as many as there are skin colours: beige, pink, ginger, grey-brown, hazel, pale taupe, brown and even albino – white-white!

— Mr Lukas, how long have you lived here in the States? — Oh, I live in England, but I come over a lot, at least to Brooklyn. — OK, never mind. How often have you seen eggs that aren’t white in our supermarkets? — It depends on the shop, doesn’t it? — At Eggs-On, we lay white. — Right, but I think it’s important to bring in a bit of diversity. — Our 137m chickens all lay white. — Are they being fed the right diet? Do they get enough betacarotene? It really effects their mood and... — Mr Lukas, we asked you to design a promotional eggcup, not to reassess the entire industry on the eve of its centenary. — Right. But my idea is based on the powerful symbol of a Woman triple eggcup that celebrates the diversity of eggs: it’s a metaphor for your multi-ethnic country. I really think it’s worth considering. It would be a powerful message 184

from Eggs-On to all the different communities you serve. — Our sales show that our eggs aren’t suffering from any kind of anti-white racism. — But it ruins the symbol of the mother with her tri-colour eggs. — And why wouldn’t Mrs Eggcup be proud to carry three virginal Eggs-On eggs? — It would just ruin it. Isn’t there some kind of coating we could put on the shell afterwards? — Oh sure, in April we’re opening a special building where Mexican workmen will paint stripes onto the Easter eggs. It’s very cute. — Obviously I was thinking of something more organic. I have a friend who dyes her white sheets with tea; depending on the strength of the tea she can get colours from pale beige to deep brown. — Well sadly we don’t yet offer hard-boiled eggs. I see this as a powerful symbol: thanks for your project, Paul, but I think we’ll drop it.


Disegno #18  

Freddy Mamani and the New Andean Architecture of El Alto; an analysis of memes as a future design form; Franklin Till’s efforts to bring rig...

Disegno #18  

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