Discover innovative, extreme, ingenious urban designs in ‘The Contemporary House’

The Bauhaus, 100 this year, has impacted tremendously on the creative world ideologically and aesthetically. It has transformed how we design our homes, the objects we choose to live with, and urban life. Yet, the 21st century is facing its own unique and hugely urgent challenges – globalisation, rapid urbanisation and rising environmental concerns. Cities are overcrowded, new buildings must meet stringent energy requirements and negotiate a myriad of planning regulations. They need to address their surroundings; form progressive narratives with history – hopefully. Contemporary urban architecture is, therefore, a complex jigsaw-puzzle with invention, innovation and imagination as critical as ever.

The Contemporary House’ takes on this very theme. Written by Jonathan Bell and Ellie Stathaki, both architectural critics and editors at Wallpaper* magazine, and published by Thames & Hudson, this is an insightful study of new city living. It is organised geographically as a way of understanding regional dialogues, and features seventy of the world’s most innovative, extreme and ingenious houses. The book reviews how modern residential design is integrated into the existing urban fabric for a fascinating insight into the variety of contemporary approaches to urban design.

Some of the traditional vernacular forms such as terraced homes, townhouses and isolated villas are being questioned today, as are the repercussions of the 20th century’s suburban sprawls and their poor land use. ‘The Contemporary House’ sees new philosophies of minimalism replacing some of the more indulgent structures of the past. For instance, it refers to a new shape called ‘the stack’ – one that is compact, space-conscious and insulated. Amidst the fear of homogenisation of cities, there is a tendency for more self-expression in the contemporary homes too. Most importantly, the 21st century is defined by the urgency for thinking sustainably and imaginatively in reusing resources.

As cities become ever-congested, as we face the challenges of an ageing population and mass migration, and as we work towards a sustainable future – architects, designers and urban planners will need to continue to expand on the principals laid out by the Bauhaus members one-hundred years ago. To quote the school’s founder, Walter Gropius, ‘To have the gift of imagination is more important than all technology.’

All images are under ©. In order of appearance: Lee-Chin Crystal at Royal Ontario Museum by Studio Daniel © Nikreates/Alamy Stock Photo; Amsterdam’s Inntel Hotel by WAM Architecten © Frans lemmens/Alamy Stock Photo; The Shard in London by Renzo Piano © CW Images/Alamy Stock Photo; Glenn Murcutt’s houses Sydney suburb © Paul Lovelace/Alamy Stock Photo; Via 57 West in Manhattan by BIG © imageBROKER/Alamy Stock Photo

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Japan House London presents ‘Subtle’ to salute paper art

Paper is alive. Paper breathes. Paper is ever-evolving, changing conceptually and physically with time. Paper can be moulded, manipulated, sculpted. It can be decorative, functional, seductive, argumentative. It can even deceive. ‘Subtle: Delicate or Infinitesimal’ at Japan House London explores the possibilities of paper.

The show is curated and directed by Kenya Hara, the gallery’s global chief creative director and art director at Muji. The display is subtle, modest even, set within the building’s clean and clear deco beauty. It begs you to walk up, take an intimate look at these delicate objects and read the accompanying text which adds intrigue. For instance, the Origata Design Institute writes alongside its exhibit: ‘The act of folding paper – once you fold, you cannot return to the original state… but then you create structure and entrust your feelings onto paper.’

‘Subtle’ follows a successful run at Japan House’s other galleries in Los Angeles and São Paulo. The idea originates from the Takeo Paper Show, which began in Tokyo in 1965 as a way of engaging artists, challenging them to find new potentials for paper. Fifteen creatives living and working in Japan are on show here. They come from a diverse set of disciplines too – art, animation, architecture, fashion, graphic design and literature – each introducing their very own unique layer to this intriguing paper narrative. It reminds us of the value of the material, whilst highlighting the delicate craft of paper art in a modern light.

‘Subtle’ is at Japan House London until 24 December.
All images are © Jeremie Souteyrat, Japan House London.

Read about the previous exhibitions at Japan House.

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Classical futurist: the new McLaren Speedtail

The Speedtail is the latest car by McLaren Automotive. A nod to the iconic F1, this three-seater hyper gran turismo is a genuinely accomplished product, returning to the marque a sense of grace and beauty and allure of the automobiles of the past as it takes on the future

Take a closer look

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Chris Bangle talks REDS, a completely new kind of automobile

I met Chris Bangle many many years ago at the start of my career as he gave a passionate speech at the Design Museum in London on car design and the future of transport. And it has been completely fascinating following his thoughts through our marathon conversations – seeing his projects at BMW come alive, and now witnessing his work and ideas develop further through his independent consultancy. He is one of a handful of contemporary car designers who has a broader, more avant-garde take on things.

In a candid interview with him this week, the maverick designer argues for the pressing need to break away from the conventional rules and formulas of car design, as he talks through his latest project REDS, an electric vehicle for Chinese megacities that offers an ‘intellectual discourse, not a collection of tired design dogmas’.

Read my article in Wallpaper* or take a look at the full interview in Forbes Life.

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
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London Design Festival highlights at the V&A

The London creative season is in full swing with London Design Biennale at Somerset House and London Design Festival spread to almost every corner of this great city. The hub at the V&A is possibly the best place to get a feel for the more conceptual work. The festival is celebrating its sixteenth birthday as well as its tenth year collaborating with the museum. For 2018 it is bigger, bolder, more international, and a vibrant start to autumn.

At the V&A’s Exhibition Road Quarter entrance is the striking MultiPly – the clean, clear Sackler Courtyard the perfect stage for this timber structure. One of the festival’s four key ‘landmark’ projects, it is the collaborative work of Waugh Thistleton Architects, the American Hardwood Export Council and engineers Arup who are exploring sustainable materials and modular systems that could help with today’s challenges – namely climate change and housing shortage. MultiPly is nine meters high and made from panels of American Tulipwood to resemble a series of wooden blocks, connected by bridges and stairs, with holes and open spaces throughout – perfect for climbing and seeing new views of the V&A and the surrounding South Kensington.

Sustainability has been addressed in conventional and non-conventional ways throughout the festival. This month, alongside eighteen other cities, London committed to the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Declaration for a carbon free near future. In another V&A festival highlight, London Fountain Co. presents a public drinking fountain, commissioning Michael Anastassiades to design a contemporary public drinking fountain that would replace wasteful plastic bottled water consumption in the city. Installed permanently in the V&A courtyard, this elegant, sculptural piece is made from polished cast bronze to reference historical fountains as well as be hygienic. The Cypriot-born designer wanted his fountain to be an experience, but also blend into London’s furniture. So, the form is an abstraction of a classical column, and the scooped top is a nod to drinking from a bowl. London Fountain Co has plans to install more clean water public fountains throughout the city, each responding to the area and its history.

The V&A is a labyrinth of curiosities, and LDF offers the opportunity to explore its hidden passages and less visited rooms. I have been coming to this incredible space since my childhood, and am amazed at how many rooms have been undiscovered. LDF asks its chosen designers to respond to their allocated room, and the results are often hit-and-miss. Some exhibitors have looked at how to enhance the museum experience by introducing sound to bring life and context to otherwise musical instruments displayed as just ornaments. Others, take us on a virtual journey into other worlds from the museum to create more a bit of an experience. Some, like the Onion Farm by Danish fashion design Henrik Vibskov, have responded to their surroundings in more abstract terms. His long corridor of fabric onions and crude, prickly cash-wash style brushes, running the length of the elegant Tapestries Gallery (possibly the most exciting setting to work within), are, according to the V&A, comments on the ‘hyper-industrialised state of agriculture today’.

Elsewhere, as part of the arts initiative ‘14-18 NOW’ for the First World War centenary, design studio Pentagram has covered the walls, doors and floors of the V&A’s Creative Studio with black and white graphics to dazzle the viewer. This a brilliant concept inspired by ‘dazzle’ ships. Pioneered by the artist Norman Wilkinson, who took aspects of Cubism, Vorticism and animal camouflage, then painted the surface of vessels during the war, it was meant to confuse the enemy as they struggled to make out the dazzle ships against shifting waves and clouds.

See our previous LDF reports here.
Photography © Andy Stagg for the V&A and LDF.

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©