"No architect today is capable of buildings like Luis Barragán's"

The sensual and autobiographical qualities of the house Mexican architect Luis Barragán built for himself are rarely found in today’s buildings, says Aaron Betsky.

If you are going to make real architecture today it better be damn real. In a world of instant images whose truth you can never ascertain, delicate structures just won’t do. You need something that will convince and persuade, stand and deliver.

While you can make such forms by engaging in all kinds of acrobatics (cantilevers and off-kilter, stacked boxes), or by making super clean and empty boxes for super thin and the empty-brained, you can also achieve a sense of here- and now-ness by heightening the effect of every element, every detail, and every surface to the point that the building stands as refutation of the evanescence of our society.

But how? A recent visit to see Luis Barragán’s House and Studio in Mexico City, Casa Barragán, reminded me of the power of pieces over whole, effect over means, and the beauty of what Robert Venturi called “the difficult whole”. It also made me realise that I can think of no single architect working today who is capable of such architecture. Does that mean it cannot be done? I certainly hope not.

The architecture of the difficult whole (let’s call it ADW, as opposed to either ADD or the so-fashionable OOO, or Object Oriented Ontology) lacks a certain set of qualities. The first is appearance. Walk up to Barragán’s structure and you will find a stucco-covered wall, or rather several of them, that have no particular focus, rhythm, or pretention.

Casa Barragán’s lack of presentation is striking. ADW buildings aren’t usually this lackadaisical – the facades of Adolf Loos, for instance, work very hard to appear to be a mess. In this case, the facade is the result of a growth over time of the complex, as well as the narrowness of the street.

Casa Barragán’s lack of presentation is striking

The second characteristic of ADW is a lack of monumentality or even impressive massing. Again, the Casa Barragán is an extreme example and, again, the blame for much of this lies in the fact that the house – which Barragán started to build in 1948 and worked on for the next few decades – kept evolving right up to his death, to encompass both his changing perceptions of its spaces and his business.

Some of my favourite buildings, however, share an inability to be “good” in a traditional way in how they impress you with their size, importance, and erudition. Think, for instance of the rambling work of Eliel Saarinen or HP Berlage or, more recently, that of Frank Gehry or even David Chipperfield‘s best work.

Third, ADW does not do good plan. One of the secret pleasures of architecture nerds is the beauty of a plan that not only lets you envision how the spaces follow one another, but also contain jokes of geometry and composition akin to the most arcane JS Bach partitas. Here, Venturi himself was a master at such plan games. Barragán will have none of this. His plans are resolutely boring.

Finally, ADW consists not just of floors, walls, and ceilings, but includes the furniture and furnishings, as well as the art in the house. In Casa Barragán, the effect of the large living room has as much to do with the movable partitions and the oversized furniture, but also with Mathias Goeritz’s paintings of solid gold leaf, as it does with the scale and proportions of the room.

In a world of instant images, delicate structures just won’t do

This is even more true in the smaller spaces, where moving a small shutter to flood a bedroom with light, or how the placement of a table turns the whole room into a pinwheel of masses, can take your breath away.

Then, there is the garden, which Barragán invites in with windows both huge and tiny, allowing it to sneak into the territory of the human-made to overwhelm, and yet somehow strengthen the solid walls, cross-mullioned windows, and straight-backed chairs.

The result of all this difficulty is to make the simple things come out. The floor in the house’s foyer, its volcanic stone burnished to a sheen that removes it from the rough-hewn role of sculpture it plays just outside the window; the light bouncing off coloured planes to suffuse a space with pink and yellow mists; the gold paintings casting back that glow as a geometric whole; the staircase, just planes of ascension to the private realm cantilevered off the wall; the mark of the body on the treads or the chairs, their smoothness telling a story of occupation within what could be empty grandeur. All of that focuses not just your eyes, but your whole body on the particularity of these moments in time and space.

The result is a profound sense, at least for me, of queerness. The Casa Barragán is too sensual to be the home of a monk, and to peculiar to be the house inhabited by a nuclear family, or even a man secure in his place in the world.

Whether or not the architect was queer (he never married, claiming he would be forever in love with a woman who died in a car crash, but was certainly part of a gay circle), I would argue that ADW is queer in a broader sense. It composes moments of belonging – anchors, if you will – but also places of occlusion – closets – within an environment that keeps slipping away from any attempt to make sense of it as a whole or to category. It queers architecture.

Perhaps this is why it is difficult to find such architecture today. There are certainly architects who have moments of such strangeness combined with a fetishism about materials, light, and details – Peter Zumthor comes to mind – but few who pursue such work with such skill, idiosyncrasy, and rigour.

Yet, I would argue that such an approach is exactly what we need if we are going to make an argument for the building as a focus of architecture. There is no need today for monuments, and architects cannot afford to masturbate in form or plan.

We can construct our social identities through architecture

What we need from our real world is a reminder that we ourselves are the ultimate difficult wholes, sensuous and confused, but very real, and that we need to find ways to find ourselves reflected and at home in a wider, equally difficult, world. We can construct our social identities through architecture.

ADW at its best is therefore autobiographical. It is rare to find examples where architects have succeeded in extending their talents in this area to other clients, let alone the public. The Brion Cemetery or Loos’ Villa Muller are examples of the latter, and perhaps some of Josep Plecnik’s work exhibits it too.

In the contemporary world, the closest I can think of in this sense are the house Jose Oubrerie spent decades building outside of Louisville, Kentucky, and which now stand abandoned, or Amateur Architecture’s campus of the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou.

None of such work comes close to ethereal solidity, the crafted incompleteness, and the sheer challenging beauty you will find in the Casa Barragán. I took my students from the School of Architecture at Taliesin there to look and learn. Perhaps someday one or more of them will find a way to continue and refresh the “difficult whole”.

Image is of James Casebere’s model photograph of Casa Barragán, titled Vestibule, 2016.

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Ivy Studio uses simple furnishings to create a "barbershop unlike all others" in Montreal

A dark green marble counter and a grid of tiny circular shelves are among the minimal details chosen by Ivy Studio for the Crisp barbershop in Montreal.

Crisp by Ivy Studio

Located in the city’s Pointe Saint-Charles neighbourhood, Crisp was designed in response to a brief from the owner for a “barbershop unlike all others”.

“His ambitions were to create a unique experience in a minimalistic environment that put the spotlight on the barbers and their stations, without compromising on the spaces functionality,” said Ivy Studio, which is based locally.

Crisp by Ivy Studio

To start with, the designers chose to strip back the space as much as possible. Existing flooring was stripped out to expose rough concrete beneath, while the walls were painted white to to create a neutral backdrop.

Crisp by Ivy Studio

Grooming stations are arranged along one one wall, featuring tall arched mirrors that run up from the floor.

Beside each are slatted white oak chests that Ivy Studio custom made to store the barber’s products.The cabinets can also be moved to open up the space for Crisp to host events.

Crisp by Ivy Studio

A set of mint-coloured pendant lights hang above each of the customer’s chairs, are intended to subtly pick up on the hues of the dark green marble reception desk at the centre of the salon. Planting provides additional touches of greenery.

“This dark green monolithic block acts as a central pillar to the barbers as well as the clients,” said the designers.

Crisp by Ivy Studio

A wall behind the reception desk provides a screen to the washing stations and storage units at the back of the salon. It is adorned with a neon sign that spells out the name of the salon.

A grid of small, round, white shelves decorates one wall, creating space for showcasing products for sale, while wooden benches provide seating for waiting customers.

Crisp by Ivy Studio

Ivy Studio, formerly known as Obiekt, is led by architects Gabrielle Rousseau and Philip Staszewksi. Among its previous projects is a pared-back interior for a fashion brand in Montreal.

The minimally designed Crisp joins a host of paired-back hairdressers completed recently, including a stark white salon in Mexico and a hairdressers in Osaka that can fit just one customer at a time.

Photography is by Jack Jerome.

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Martin Fenlon completes expansion of his own Los Angeles home and studio

Expanding a remodelled bungalow in Los Angeles and connecting it to an adjacent commercial building has allowed architect Martin Fenlon to create more living spaces for his family and offices for his studio.

Fenlon House by Martin Fenlon Architecture

Completed over the course of almost five years, the architect conceived the Fenlon House in three phases, and built it with a team of just two other people to keep costs down.

Fenlon House by Martin Fenlon Architecture

First, Fenlon renovated an ageing home in LA’s Hermon district. The attic was converted into inhabitable spaces, and a new staircase was added to the exterior.

“The ascent up the new spiral staircase is flooded in natural light from the skylight above while connecting to the new exterior deck below,” said Fenlon.

Fenlon House by Martin Fenlon Architecture

The upper floor now contains a seating area, roof deck, and small bedroom. The public areas are configured as mezzanine levels, allowing residents to peer into the main home below.

The second phase was to clear some space taken up by unauthorised additions made to the neighbouring commercial building over the years.

Fenlon House by Martin Fenlon Architecture

“The storefront building, with its several bootleg additions, previously took up half of the site, exceeding the allowable floor area for the property and leaving little open space,” said Fenlon.

“In order to make space for the new yard and the 620 square feet [57.5 square metres] of additions to the house, over 600 square feet [55 square metres] of the storefront was demolished.”

Fenlon House by Martin Fenlon Architecture

The final step was to insert a new volume between the home and commercial building that connects the two, acting as a buffer between the home and office. Part of the regained area serves as a family room.

The reconfigured ground floor now has three bedrooms, a kitchen with a breakfast island, and a dining area next to the new living room. “The expansion transitions the original house to the new yard and existing storefront, making one integral with the other,” Fenlon said.

Fenlon House by Martin Fenlon Architecture

On the office side, an open-plan work space connects to the home’s shared back yard. A conference room allows Fenlon to host private meetings as well.

Fenlon House by Martin Fenlon Architecture

The expansion takes full advantage of Southern California’s characteristic warm weather. Sliding glass doors allow the family room to open fully, providing direct access to the new garden.

Fenlon House by Martin Fenlon Architecture

For new additions, Fenlon maintained a palette similar to the original home. “The family room and stair hall are clad in the same materials as the original house remodel; torched cedar, clear cedar and white plaster,” he said.

The interiors have Acacia wood floors that complement reclaimed elements such as the roof structure from the original bungalow.

Fenlon House by Martin Fenlon Architecture

Fenlon set up his eponymous architecture firm in 2004, and has since completed projects that include a house in LA with that merges the styles of local 1920s bungalows and 1950s modernist buildings.

Photography is by John Linden.

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Original Set of 176 Emojis Designed by Shigetaka Kurita

En 2016, le Museum of Modern Art a reconstitué l’ensemble original de 176 emojis pour sa collection permanente : de minuscules dessins de visages, d’objets et de lieux, illustrés chacun sur une grille de 12×12 pixels. Conçu à l’époque par le jeune artiste Shigetaka Kurita, à l’âge de 25 ans. Suite à la création de l’emoji, il lance en 1998 une extension de clavier, en collaboration avec le développeur new-yorkais W & CO, disponible en téléchargement sur l’App Store et sur Google Play qui permettra aux utilisateurs d’envoyer ces emojis, les rendant disponibles sur smartphones dans le monde occidental pour la toute première fois. Il fait partie actuellement des personnes qui ont changé notre façon de communiquer.



Standards Manual's New Book Graphically Explains the History of the Emoji

At its core, Emoji is a supplement language designed to accompany our own languages to give the appearance of human emotion during digital conversations. Weird, right? When MoMA announced that they had acquired the original set of emojis from Japan, people were confused for understandable reasons. Its often difficult for people operating outside of the design world to think of graphic systems we use on a daily basis as design. Are emojis design? Where did they come from? Why are they here? What have they become? With their new book, Emoji, Standards Manual aims to explore those valid questions through graphic design and extensive research.

What we find particularly fascinating about this book is that learning about the history of Emoji is nothing like reading about hieroglyphics or other image-based languages from thousands of years ago. Emoji is more like studying our own personal language behavior, which is difficult to do objectively. To learn more about the peculiar topic of emojis and why they chose to address it from a design standpoint, we sat down for a chat with Hamish Smyth and Jesse Reed of Standards Manual:

Core77: Can you give us a base level “History of Emoji 101” lesson?

Hamish Smyth: In the 90’s, Japan was very much ahead in terms of mobile phone technology. Mobile phone were invented in the United States, but they really leap-frogged in Japan, and they had a really sophisticated network in the 90’s. They had data transfer before anyone else really had a reliable system for that, which means they had a primitive mobile email system on phones in the 90’s. They also had beepers at this point, but their beepers included this thing that DOCOMO, the AT&T of Japan, called i-mode. i-mode was this primitive email and data transfer system, and one of the features of i-mode was that you could, on your beeper, write a little message and then press a button and put a little pixelated heart on the end of a message. Essentially it was an emoji heart, but you could only do a heart, just one thing. 

People really liked it, but then for some reason, they updated i-mode, I think around ’98, and they took the heart away. Apparently people hated that. They were like, “bring back the heart! We love it.” And so they said, “okay, give us a second.” They went away, they figured out how to bring the heart back, but they also designed a whole suite of these little graphics. And that’s what the first emoji set was—it was this set of 176 little graphics that you could attach to phone messages or emails using DOCOMO phones. They were designed by Shigetaka Kurita.

DOCOMO was ahead of everyone else with this, so it was a great marketing tool for them. It eventually became so popular that all of the other phone carriers adopted the same system in Japan. Everyone in Japan was using emoji since ’99, 2000 and the early-2000’s, but we didn’t have anything like that in the West until Apple and Google adopted the Unicode standards for emoji in 2011. I think they were working on it from around 2009-2010, but 2011 is when it was released. Of course, by then, screen technology was way, way better, so the emojis were different-looking. But they used the same principles as the original ones, and the original ones are the ancestors of the ones we have today. If you sent a heart back in 1999, that’s the same heart that we use today.

Jesse Reed: Emoji was invented to enhance the complexity of digital communication. When you’re not face-to-face this is the replacement of us looking each other in the eye. It adds an extra layer. If you text someone “Thanks”, and there’s no exclamation mark or period, it’s either “Thanks!” or “Thanks.” Are you being sarcastic? Give me a little bit more emotion.

What made you decide to compile this information into a book?

Jesse: We know the emojis in our phones very well. They’re all silly, but the history of them hasn’t been told at great length yet. As with most things, it appeared and people think it came out of thin air. We’re trying to tell the story of why they were created, where they came from and who designed them a little bit more.

What are some interesting, unexpected design details within the emoji system?

Jesse: One interesting thing is that nothing can be centered. The grid is symmetrical, but that means there can’t be this middle stem in any of the images. So everything ends up being somewhat asymmetric because you can’t center anything within the grid. We learned little things like that from interviewing Shigetaka and talking about his process. 

In graphic design these days, the underlying grid is a feature that people add to logos and identities, but a lot of the time it’s just bullshit. The do it after the fact and are like, “look at the structure that we created.” But with emoji, it was truly an architecture that had to be followed no matter what. You couldn’t cut corners. You couldn’t add anything. You couldn’t even make diagonally cut pixels. You had to make these recognizable images appear out of a 12×12 pixel grid. It’s the right way to use an angular end grid, and it’s important for people to see that process.

Each individual emoji has so much information behind it. How did you decide to put all of this information together in your book?

Jesse: Most of the book is one spread per emoji. Every spread has an enlarged emoji with the grid kind of overlapping it and then a one-to-one scale in the very top on the left-hand page. Then on the top of the righthand page is all of the technical data like the unit code, the hex color, the number it was assigned and everything like that. It’s interesting seeing them so blown up because they become abstract when they’re small, so when you see them at full size they become more clear.

“Various things influenced emoji. One was the pictogram. Pictograms are used as signs in many places in Japan like stations and public places. The second was the Japanese art of Manga, which uses graphics to express emotion. Lastly, it was Japanese magazines. All of these things that organize and communicate information came together to influence the creation of emoji.” —Shigetaka Kurita, designer of emoji

This exercise in distilling a complex object down to a form like this is really hard. Shigetaka doesn’t even consider himself a designer. He’s not a trained graphic designer, in fact, her’s a game designer now. But this is such a graphic design challenge—it’s not a normal thing that we deal with. Even when designing a corporate identity, the goal is to have some sort of complex form and distill it down to the bare essentials of productive design. I don’t think people equate emoji with that practice because what we see now are really like photographs.

You ended up taking a research trip to Japan for this project. What were your main objectives while on this trip?

Jesse: There were many reasons why it was important to go there, obviously to meet Shigetaka and the team at DOCOMO, but you’ll see in the video that we shot a lot of B-roll of Japanese life because all of the emojis are based on Japanese culture. The initial set were just everyday objects that people encountered in Japanese life that aren’t necessarily the same in the US or in Europe or anywhere else in the world. It’s very interesting to see their environment and what they pulled from. One example is that the emoji for mail is the logo of the mail service in Japan. It doesn’t look like a mailbox, it’s just a logo that’s a Japanese character that only they would equate with mail. If you saw it you would have no idea. 

Can you talk about the book’s unique cover design?

Jesse: Oh yeah, It’s awesome. A black print of the emoji is on a board below this bright green vinyl so you can see the graphics through the vinyl. The different layers and the way the book lights up from the green vinyl is supposed to look like an old flip phone screen. 

The cover graphics are a crop of the full set of original emoji sketches. Shigetaka scanned this particular page and gave it to us. Not all of them ended up being made. We didn’t even know the sketches existed, but when we interviewed him, I think we just asked, “do you have any sketches?” and he was like, “Oh yeah, I have this sheet that I did all my ideas on” And then he just photocopied it for us. I don’t even think MoMA had it on display or included it anywhere. He acted very nonchalant about it. He’s very humble, and when we interviewed him he talked about how no one at DOCOMO ever intended this to be a global phenomenon. It was just a very one step at a time transition from i-mode. 

There’s also a keyboard component to this project. Can you explain what that will be like?

Jesse: It’s going to be a keyboard extension with the original set of emojis so that you can use them on your own phone, more or less like stickers. That was kind of the impetus of the project. They wanted to make a keyboard extension in the States, and we got involved and said, “that’s cool, but we don’t really do that. We make books. Could you get us some original sketches?” So they did, and now we’re doing the whole package deal. The keyboard will be included for free during the Kickstarter campaign, and then it will be sold afterwards. 

What do you think the principal of emoji and the system’s history says about each respective culture?

Jesse: Emoji is highly organized information that is just so thoughtful, and it has to be. From the selection of objects to the way that they’re designed to the way that they were deployed is kind of just like Japanese culture. That type of organization is normal. Looking at the Apple emojis, they’re so complicated and overdecorated, which probably says something about our culture. 

Hamish: In the mid-2000’s, Japan moved on from emoji even before the West had adopted it. They had stickers, and they invented all these way more complex ways to express emotion. We’re so far behind.


Emoji is available now on Kickstarter here.

Copper screen stretches across front of Memphis ballet school by Archimania

A metal brise-soleil and a sculptural rooftop block allow a new performing arts centre by Tennessee studio Archimania to stand out in a revitalised district in Midtown Memphis.

Ballet Memphis by Archimania

The project, called Ballet Memphis, is situated on a corner site in Overton Square – a neighbourhood that has been rejuvenated in recent years. The building was envisioned for a ballet company that had outgrown its old home in a suburban location and wished to relocate to a more urban setting.

Ballet Memphis by Archimania

Encompassing 44,270 square feet (4,113 square metres), the arts centre accommodates a professional dance company, a dance school for over 200 children, and classes for the community.

Ballet Memphis by Archimania

The facility is designed to embody the company’s focus on uplifting the community through “transparency, connectivity and education”. Its design also takes cues from the “character of a music box”, said local studio Archimania.

Ballet Memphis by Archimania

The site formerly contained a hotel fronted by parking spaces. The architects inverted the original scheme, placing the new building against the street, with car parking in the rear.

Ballet Memphis by Archimania

Rectilinear in plan, the building is topped with a sculptural, metal-clad volume that rises high above the roof. Another distinctive feature is a perforated copper screen that wraps the front facade.

Ballet Memphis by Archimania

The screen was placed several feet away from the building envelope, forming open-air passageways where people can circulate.

“The copper screen sits at the historic street edge – enhancing the urban experience within an entertainment district – while complying with current city codes and setbacks,” the team said.

Ballet Memphis by Archimania

Portions of the brise-soleil are cut away to reveal large stretches of glass, which provide views into dance studios. The cutouts also reveal pocket courtyards.

“The courtyard spaces offer opportunities for the community to engage with the school, and also break the scale of the large building down to suit the context,” the team said.

Inside, a central double-height corridor runs the length of the ground floor, from the main entrance on the west to a loading dock on the east. A long clerestory brings soft natural light down into the building.

Ballet Memphis by Archimania

A series of dance studios and dressing rooms line the central spine, with the largest studio doubling as a performance venue. The ground floor also contains an oval-shaped cafe and a costume shop. White walls are paired with polished concrete flooring and colourful furniture.

Ballet Memphis by Archimania

The mezzanine level houses offices, meeting rooms, storage areas and a break room. Wooden slats were used to form a stairwell and to line the walls and railings that enclose the upper level.

Ballet Memphis by Archimania

Other projects by Archimania in Memphis include the transformation of a warehouse into a teacher training centre, and the design of a tall family home clad in weathering steel and charred wood.

Photography is by Hank Mardukas Photography.

Project credits:

Structural and civil engineering: SSR
Mechanical engineering: Innovative Engineering Services
Electrical engineering: DePouw Engineering
Theatre planner: Schuler Shook
Acoustical designer: Talaske
General contractor: Grinder, Taber & Grinder

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Burning Man founder Larry Harvey dies aged 70

Larry Harvey, the man who founded Burning Man festival, has passed away after suffering a stroke.

Harvey, 70, died in San Francisco on Saturday 28 April, after failing to recover from a “massive stroke” earlier this month.

“Burning Man culture has lost a great leader and an inspiring mind,” said festival CEO Marian Goodell, who revealed the news in a blog post on the Burning Man website.

“He adeptly interpreted the manifestation of what became a movement,” she said. “I have lost a dear friend who I’ve known, loved, and worked beside for nearly 22 years.”

Larry Harvey
Larry Harvey established Burning Man in 1986

Harvey established Burning Man in 1986. Initially it was a small gathering on San Francisco’s Baker Beach. But it later moved to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, where it evolved into a huge temporary settlement, called Black Rock City.

The festival now attracts 70,000 visitors for one week every year, and its community is responsible for building an array of elaborate structures.

These are laid out on a horseshoe-shaped grid system that Harvey developed with help from late architect and urban designer Rod Garrett. The layout surrounds the “burning man” – a giant effigy that is set alight at the climax of the festival.

In an interview with Dezeen in 2014, Harvey described his pride at creating a car-free festival in a remote and inhospitable landscape.

He said the aim was to “induce social interactions that would in turn generate a sense of community and a culture”.

Harvey grew up on a farm outside Portland, Oregon. He had no college education, but had a keen interest in history, philosophy and psychology, according to close friend Stuart Mangrum.

Heavily influenced by The Gift, a book by American scholar Lewis Hyde, Harvey’s philosophy for Burning Man centred around the celebration of culture and moral values. These were laid out in the text 10 Principles of Burning Man, written in 2004.

The Burning Man Temple by Marisha Farnsworth
The most recent Burning Man centred around a temple designed by artist Marisha Farnsworth

“Larry was never one for labels. He didn’t fit a mould; he broke it with the way he lived his life. He was 100 per cent authentic to his core,” said Goodell.

“For all of us who knew or worked with him, he was a landscape gardener, a philosopher, a visionary, a wit, a writer, an inspiration, an instigator, a mentor, and at one point a taxi driver and a bike messenger,” she continued.

“He was always a passionate advocate for our culture and principles that emanate from the Burning Man experience in the Black Rock Desert.”

Burning Man now hosts 85 regional events across six continents. Some of the impressive temporary structures it has spawned are currently on show in an exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC.

Last year’s event centred around a temple designed by artist Marisha Farnsworth.

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Belén presents textile-based alternatives to "harmful" sunscreens

Dutch design studio Belén has created a line of all-natural, textile-based products that are designed to be used in place of sunscreen lotions and polyester sunshades. 

Designed to harness the positive effects of exposure to the sun, the textile-based products include clothing, accessories, parasols and tents. They were all conceived as part of SUN+, a research project into sun protection.

The products were presented at Alcova, a design show in a former panettone factory, during Milan design week.

Bélen’s textile-based products include clothing, accessories, parasols and tents that were all conceived as part of  SUN+, a research project into sun protection

“Overexposure to sunlight is harmful, but so is overprotecting,” explained Belén founders Brecht Duijf and Lenneke Langenhuijsen. “Sunscreen products currently on the market, however, come with serious disadvantages that outweigh their usefulness in the long run.”

“Chemical suncreams and lotions can damage the skin and are bad for the environment,” they added, highlighting that empty bottles of sunscreen often end up in the ocean where they form a plastic soup on the water’s surface, blocking the UV that is needed to support local maritime ecosystems.

Factor 8 is collection of ultra-light wearables. It includes the SUNveil hat, which explores different cultural attitudes towards sun protection

The studio’s SUN+ research project aims to come up with design-based solutions for these problems.

“We have started out with taking stock of the alternative ways — and alternative materials — we can use for a healthy and clean life in the sun,” said the studio.

Also part of the Factor 8 collection, the lightweight SUNtent is inspired by tents used by nomads in the desert

“Our planet and our body are the concerns that lay at the core of this project, which already has generated a number of products, including wearables, a tent and a UV translucent parasol.”

The sunscreen products include a hat, veil and tent made from lightweight fabrics such as linen. Belén calls this collection Factor 8.

“The ‘ideal’ factor is UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) eight,” the studio explained. “It provides protection and keeps the vitamin D production going.”

Prosol D is made from a specially developed biopolymer fabric designed to block harmful radiation from the sun while letting UV light pass through

The standout Factor 8 design is SUNveil, a wide-brimmed hat with a sheer veil that envelopes the body. The featured print explores different cultural attitudes towards sun protection while also offering the wearer a degree of privacy

Langenhuijsen told Dezeen: “We studied the openness of fabrics. Nowadays they make everything from synthetics which are all the equivalent of factor 50, which blocks put the sun completely. We want to play with natural materials and transparency so that you can play with how you protect yourself.”

Other pieces presented included a parasol called Prosol D, which is made from a biopolymer fabric specially developed by the studio. “As much as possible, the biopolymer fabric lets good UV in, and blocks bad UV,” Duijf told Dezeen.

“We can also play with thickness of the fabric,” she continued. “So you can choose a very thin fabric which, for example, is good for getting your vitamin D in a two-minute lunch break, whereas a thicker fabric would be good for a long lunch when you have more time at the weekend. You can plan your time around your fabric.”

Overlapping cut-outs in the shape of human hands create areas of dappled shade beneath the Shade Cloth Handy

In addition to the Factor 8 and Prosol D collections, the studio presented Shade Cloth, a series of shade sails that can be strung up to create areas of shade.

“The shades are playing with the light, creating patterns – a portable tree in a sense,” Langenhuijsen told Dezeen.

While the Shade Cloth Handy features overlapping cut-outs in the shape of human hands, the second Shade Cloth, Sisally, is made from thick sisal fibres. Its voluminous, open construction is designed to recall a cloud that offers shade on a summer’s day.

Shade Cloth Sisally features an voluminous but open construction designed to recall a cloud offering shade on a summer’s day

The studio’s research has resulted in two books that explore the relationships different cultures all over the world have with the sun, and how they expose and protect themselves.

“Rethinking the physicality of sunscreen is key, as the sun is the source of our life,” concluded the studio.

Alcova was open from 17 to 22 April as part of Milan design week 2018.

Also showing at Alcova was British designer Lara Bohinc, who presented her first collection of chairs, and Royal College of Art graduate Christophe Machet, who uses a huge custom-built CNC machine to transform sewage pipes into chairs.

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Architects reveal ideas for £15 million refurbishment of Grenfell Tower estate

Architects including Adjaye Associates have presented ideas for the refurbishment of the Lancaster West Estate in London, site of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Cullinan Studio, Maccreanor Lavington, Murray John Architects, Levitt Bernstein and Penoyre & Prasad also contributed concepts to the report produced by Lancaster West Residents Association.

A book of ideas was created for each of the estate’s blocks along with a overarching report that covers the public walkways and communal areas.

The solutions suggested by architects were informed by a series workshops and ideas days, where residents of the estate were invited to raise problems and suggest potential improvements.

Ideas for Lancaster West Estate regeneration
Benches and raised flower beds have been suggested as improvements at Camelford Court, a block where the creation of an idea book was led by Adjaye Associates

“These books are the next steps in our work with architects and the Council to design the future of the Estate,” said the Lancaster West Residents Association in the report.

“This work gives us a major voice on the future of our own homes. After the tragedy last June, this is fundamental step for residents to begin the process of rebuilding their lives.”

Grenfell Tower Ideas
MccreanorLavington envisaged how the outdoor spaces by Treadgold House could be turned into a public garden

Kensington and Chelsea council has promised a resident-led project, with no demolition of people’s homes and residents’ ideas for improvements taken into account. The council has faced criticism for ignoring residents of the tower’s concerns that refurbishment work done before the fire had made it unsafe.

A report leaked earlier this month concluded that “deficiencies” introduced in the renovation work fuelled the deadly fire, which killed 71 people. The tower and the area immediately around it will remain a crime scene until the summer as the police investigation continues.

Of the £28 million promised by the British government to aide the recovery effort, £15 million has been set aside for the regeneration of the wider estate, which was built in the 1970s and is home to 1,000 households.

Ideas for Lancaster West Estate regeneration
At Camelford Court the architects suggested adding open plan areas and replacing poorly maintained kitchens and bathrooms

Issues to address in the refurbishment project identified in the report included poor accessibility and layout in individual flats, as well as problems with ventilation and damp.

Wider issues affecting the estate as a whole were also identified. These included flooding in the streets, a deficit of safety and security measures across the estate, and a lack of green spaces.

The architects responded with concepts tailored to specific parts of the estate, which has been separated into nine areas for the purpose of the refurbishment.

Visualisation of a suggestion for Camborne Mews, the second block where the idea book was led by Adjaye Associates

A proposal for re-landscaping of a pedestrianised street for Camelford Court includes raised flowerbeds and benches that could give ground floor flats privacy and produce a more pleasant environment. Another suggestion is for a small pavilion set in the green space surrounded by Talbot Grove House that could provide extra community facilities.

Ideas mooted for redesigning the entrances to some of the blocks suggested removing dark corners by opening them up to the street,  adding private gardens to some of the flats and adding key-fob secured gates. In the interim, the report suggested adding CCTV and extra lighting to heighten security before major works go ahead.

Internally, the layout of the flats could be re-worked to introduce open plan living and dining areas, as well installing new kitchens and bathrooms and general redecorating.

Double glazed windows would help with the damp and ventilation problems, although the report admitted that bigger problems with leaking pipes would be harder to fix. Overcrowding was also listed as an issue, although the architects suggested that extensions could be made at rooftop and basement level.

In the next part of the process, residents will be asked to select which designers they want to carry out the proposed plans.

Images sourced from Book of Ideas via Lancaster West Residents Association.

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Kensa’s Writing Instruments Want to Look Classic, but Feel Completely New

There are two sorts of people in the world. Traditionalists/purists, who love the classics, and Neophiles, who are excited by the groundbreaking and the innovative. Kensa is a writing instrument that’s surprisingly for both.

It innovates but stays true to its roots, being a modern interpretation of the classic hexagonal-bodied Biro ballpoint pen. Made in a ballpoint/roller-ball pen as well as a mechanical pencil variant, Kensa appeals to traditionalists who want a writing instrument that captures their old-is-gold philosophy, and the neophiles, with its metal construction and no-nonsense mechanism that was designed to delight and to perform.

Available in three different metals, Kensa comes machined from Brass, Stainless Steel, or Aluminum, differing in weight as well as color. The lighter Aluminum comes with an anodized black finish to look positively cutting-edge, while the Stainless Steel showcases its classic metallic look. The Brass variant, however, patinas with time, looking different after years of possession, a finish that makes it look like an heirloom keepsake, or a period piece.

Kensa is available as a ballpoint/roller-ball pen or even a mechanical pencil, looking absolutely identical with their classic hexagonal body, with the exception of the mechanism on top which requires being twisted in the case of the pen, and pressed in that of the mechanical pencil. The pen is designed to work with a variety of refills, although the company swears by Schmidt’s products, while the pencil works best with Schmidt DSM 2006 lead. Both the pen and the pencil come with a detachable, fully-machined clip that adds to the pen’s metallic flair. What’s rather marvelous is the pen’s unique packaging too which was designed to be different yet employ unconventionally vintage materials. An aluminum tube with cork-stops at the end, the packaging is probably the yang to the pen/pencil’s yin, combining old and new, but in a way that seems to contrast the writing instrument’s cutting edge, contemporary appeal. Either way, as a stationery-nerd, I’m absolutely intrigued!

Designers: Tom Cowell & Phoebe Gilbert of Apt Studio

Click here to Buy Now: $35.00


Slim, durable, balanced, and timeless in style; Kensa is a set of high quality writing tools designed for a lifetimes use.



  • Pen: 12g / 0.42oz            Pencil: 13g / 0.45oz
  • Minimal, lightweight and strong; the black aluminium edition has been anodised for a scratch proof surface with a minimal satin finish.



  • Pen: 28g / 0.98oz            Pencil: 30g / 1.05oz
  • Well weighted, durable and nostalgic; the brass edition will develop a unique patina with use. It has been stone tumbled for a consistent satin polish. The finish can either be left to develop, or restored with brass polish .


Stainless Steel

  • Pen: 27g / 0.96oz            Pencil: 29g / 1.02oz
  • The same well weighted feel as the brass edition without the patina; the stainless steel edition is for a clean unfading colour and stone tumbled for a consistent satin polish.



Standing out from the crowd in more ways than one, their packaging is unique and not at the expense of the environment. They designed limited edition aluminium tubes to protect Kensa while it’s in transit. Labels on the outside give you plenty of information as to what’s contained inside, with corks sealing each end. This makes it an exciting gift to give and receive. The aluminium and cork components are durable and sustainable, so can be used as a carry case or alternatively recycled.




Click here to Buy Now: $44.00