April 17 2007

The skeptics that we are, we get a bit suspicious when talk of big plans starts sounding a bit too promising. Words like word-class, cutting-edge, sensational and head-turning just doesn’t do it for us. But we’d like to make an exception with the dreamers in Middlesborough (in North East of England) whose grandiose plans to revive the Middlehaven docs and the redundant waterfront are actually starting to become reality.

Practically gushing at their own daring, the town leaders unveiled an agreement between the Tees Valley Regeneration  and BioRegional Quintain, one of the UK’s biggest developers. The agreement will apparently bring £200m of investment to Middlesbrough plus 1,000 new jobs; 750 homes designed by top architects, shops, stylish bars, cafés and restaurants and a luxury hotel.

This will also - or so we hope - mean that the master plan of the daring architect Will Alsop will start to materialize in the form of some of the crazy “Meet-the Robinsons-esque” new buildings we’ve seen in the plans.

Alsop is the man who has designed, for example, the Palestra Building, the Peckham Library and the Ben Pimlott Building at goldsmith College — all in London — Hotel du Department des Bouches du Rhone in Marseille, and the Sharp Centre for Design in Toronto. He’s known for fun, playful building with strong colors, unusual shapes and angles.

And we are not the only ones noticing the Middlehaven plans. In March, a team led by Tees Valley Regeneration, developer BioRegional Quintain and its architects Studio Egret West emerged as winners in the “big urban projects” category at the MIPIM (Architectural Review) Future Projects Awards, against other short-listed projects Plot-Scape in Bursa, Turkey and the massive redevelopment of the King’s Cross Station area in London. By Tuija Seipell


April 17 2007

How much fun can you have around a product as un-fun as a radiator? Lots, apparently. Just check the Jaga Radiator Factory website. From the amazing chocolate sculptures at Zona Tortona Design 07 in Milan to massive desert art at Burning Man to the latest Jaga Experience: The Jaga Experience Truck, Jaga is really taking the concept of product promotion to another world.

Built on a Mercedes Actros platform, and designed by Arne Quinze the truck looks somewhat like a milk truck that’s about to become a massive light fixture. Inside, a VIP lounge with white leather furnishings by Moroso, a projections room, kitchen and shower will take care of your comfort. Quinze designs furniture for Moroso in addition to designing under his own label. He’s known for example, for his first collection, Primary Pouf, of 1999 that still sells more than 15,000 pieces annually.

Through the Experience Truck’s 182 windows, the magic of the multicolor LED lighting system (of one mile of LED strips) creates an ever-changing collage. A Dolby surround sound system inside and 4000 Watts of Bose sound power outside guarantee that your ears will have an experience, too. To find out what goes on inside the truck, you just need to leave your computer screen and go where it is (in Milan at the moment) and have a Jaga Experience. By Tuija Seipell

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April 12 2007

This years Geneva Auto Show stunned audiences with a car which teeters on the edge of an optical illusion. Exasis, is a transparent Rinspeed creation has an insect like body, transparent high tech plastic and yellow trim. At first glance it looks like a large scale Meccano set, upon closer inspection the image is literally transparent! Perfect for someone with a Wonder Woman fetish who wants to re-enact the invisible plane routine. How did that poor woman ever find where she parked that damn thing? We suggest adorning it with beaded seat covers ala Taxi Drvier style to help it stand out in the crowd. by Andy G


April 9 2007

My first thought when asked to review a ‘boutique’ hotel, was something along the lines of ‘God help me’. It seems this new breed of hotel was designed purely for city boys and city girls to pour money into for the duration of yet another pointless business trip.  Overpriced, understaffed, and all because people want a kooky carpet in every room. 

So it was with a strange recalcitrance that I walked into London’s Zetter hotel for my Sunday night stay. The former 19th century warehouse sits on the Clerkenwell Road amidst design houses and refurbished blocks in the increasingly trendy Farringdon. Opened in 2004 by Michael Benyan and Mark Sainsbury — the pair behind acclaimed restaurant Moro in nearby Exmouth Market — the focus is strongly on cutting edge-design and eco-friendly living. Natural light floods in from the building's five-storey semi-elliptical atrium, while a borehole drilled beneath the property provides water purified and bottled for drinking.

The tiny lobby is dominated by its chandelier of pink glass calla lilies, and offers three options. To your right, a wood panelled, cork stooled bar, with the Mediterranean themed restaurant beyond. To your left, a small, perfectly formed reception desk. And straight ahead, the red mirrored, boudoir themed lifts. 

Reaching the fifth floor, the aspects of design suddenly become more apparent. The large atrium pushes natural light through the building, and the artwork from local artists breaks up the slightly drab pastel décor. My room for the evening didn’t feel like your bog-standard abode. The eclectic mix of original Penguin Classics, wide screen TV and soft furnishings felt more like an affluent teenagers bedroom than twenty something playground. The enormous wood decked balcony matched the room in size, while London’s newly emerging skyline provided the perfect backdrop.

Add to this ambient mood lighting, free wireless broadband, DVD player and access to a 4000-track music library, my preconceptions of ‘trendy’ hotels suddenly seemed a bit archaic.  The hotel has done away with the outdated amenities that characterise so many other establishments. Most rooms don't have a mini-bar or tea-and coffee-making facilities. Instead, coffee and vending machines on each floor dispense everything from champagne to disposable cameras. Greeting fellow travellers in matching robe and slippers while buying a bottle of champagne is surprisingly relaxing.  

What started out as another over priced, poncy auberge, became a well thought out, modest getaway for the design orientated traveller. But then again, there’s nothing worse than a pretentious critic being proved wrong. By Matthew Hussey


April 9 2007

A new week, a hot new bar: Melbourne.

Some cities put their drinking holes on bold display. All glass frontage and brazen invitation. Some don't. Melbourne is certainly in the latter camp and, so not surprisingly, its latest bar offering, New Gold Mountain - is a hole-in-the-wall affair found down a cobble-stoned laneway and somewhat reminiscent of a womb. Or the inside of I Dream of Jeannie's bottle.

New Gold Mountain, is brought to us by a team of four locals who've worked in leading bars in Melbourne and London. They've teamed with young Australian architect Cassandra Fahey, who for those who follow such things, designed the controversial house for Australian football sensationalist Sam Newman back in 2000... the one with the two story glass frontage imbedded with Pamela Anderson's face. For this project, Fayey took the old tailor's studio on the outskirts of the city's Chinatown district and created a space that works to a distinct opium den theme. Downstairs speaks of colonial-era Shanghai, with two fireplaces decorated with the Chinese zodiac. Upstairs is the Poppy Room featuring plush pink fabrics suspended from the ceiling. And nana-esque furniture. Pretty and comforting. Just as Jeannie would like it.
And the drinks? They specialize in sours. The music? Something described as "nouvelle-vague-Joy Division revisions". Which certainly pegs the clientele into a certain age bracket. A space you might have to track down yourself, but will certainly envelope you once you're in. Sarah W

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April 8 2007

To the relief of many, a visit to a winery no longer has to resemble an agricultural outing with the mandatory trudging along dirt paths and in dark cellars listening to winegrowers go on and on about the terroir of their cru. Wineries — and not just in the newer wine-producing regions — are starting to wake up to today’s design sensibilities.

With winery buildings now often designed by famous architects, and with spectacular winery hotels, wineries with luxurious spas, cool wine-tasting bars, and imaginative wine shops popping up everywhere, the once stuffy wine culture is beginning to feel a bit more like something that even someone without a burning interest in either viti- or viniculture could enjoy.

Wineries are now full-blown brands, where everything from the buildings all the way down to the towels used in the winery’s spa reflects the brand story and the brand identity. This is not to say that the wine itself no longer matters. On the contrary. Most often, the more passionate the wine growing and the more distinctive the qualities of the wine, the more attention is paid to the overall brand. Of course, money plays a role here as well. If the wine is no good and nobody buys it, there isn’t likely to be a designer spa on the property.

An early example of a winery that took the winery visit idea a bit further is the Wilson Daniels estate winery Pegase di Domaine Clos in California’s Napa Valley. It’s often touted as a place of pilgrimage and “America’s first monument to wine as art.” Designed by Michael Graves and completed in 1987, the intriguing winery structure with its 20,000 square feet of caves now houses 1,000 works of art including Salvador Dali, Henry Moore and Francis Bacon.

A more recent example of winery-as-design-destination is the Frank Gehry-designed Hotel Marques de Riscal in the medieval Spanish village of Elciego. The startling Gehry building, located at one of the oldest vineyards in Spain, has 43 rooms, a cooking school and two elite restaurants. The spa offers specialized wine therapy treatments that with the help of the wine’s antioxidant properties are said to relieve stress and slow ageing.

So although we are duly impressed with those who are fluent with appellations, terroirs and crus, we must admit that we are more drawn to all things beautiful to the eye. So we’d love to see more of the world’s most amazing wineries, wine-tasting bars, wine showrooms and winery hotels. Let us know where they are, so that we can share the joy with the world. Send your tips to [email protected] or via here . By Tuija Seipell\

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April 2 2007

Crystal Castles, the Toronto two-piece, are the remix artist of now.  The first sniff of their mastery came in the remix of The Klaxons’ Atlantis to Interzone’ - a blippy, abrasive entry into their electronic wonderland.

Then came the Castles’ remix of the Goodbooks’ ‘Leni’ which turned the original guitar pop goodness into a future-pop masterpiece.  ‘Leni’ hinged on the pitch-shifted central vocal, reminiscent of Karin Dreijer from The Knife. Underneath the vocal, the track chugs along on the back of a hi-res synth loop and Super Mario keyboard squelches. It’s the sound of a couple, madly in love, freebasing orange sherbet. 

The nadir of the Castles’ discography is the remix of The Little Ones’ ‘Lovers Who Uncover’. Opening with the desperate cry of, ‘Where do all the lovers, meet with one another?’, the track again centres on a haunting central vocal and a driving low end. The arpeggio makes you feel like a kid staring through a kaleidoscope and the voice rattles up and down, building intensity then releasing into the distance with an ecstatic ‘ooooh’. 

While their original work is yet to reach its potential, their remixes are enough to make you dream of a future musical world ruled by Crystal Castles. I Heart CC. By Nick Christie


March 28 2007

Every once in a while, a song comes along that flattens you.  The kind of song that make you pull the car over, turn the engine off and wrench up the volume. Right now, Gui Boratto's 'Beautiful Life' is that song. 

Gui Boratto is a Brazilian architect/musician/composer/producer and his new album 'Chromophobia' will likely be the first you've heard of Brazilian electronic music. In short, it's bliss.

'Beautiful Life' is the album's clear standout, the kind of song that's as much pure pop as it is electronic. As the female vocal repeats, 'What a beautiful life, what a beautiful life', Boratto brings a heartbeat to the often metronomic precision of synthesizers, lifting them up euphorically as the song builds in pulsing, melodic waves.  Running at over eight minutes, you might imagine things dragging on too long. But as the beat whirrs to a close, you'll be reaching for the repeat button, wishing that the 'Beautiful Life' would never end. By Nick Christie

March 28 2007

Do not let the IKEA-yellow exterior fool you — the multifunctional Agora Theatre, is not displaying home furnishings, but bustling with performances and new media works. It is located in Lelystad, the capital of the province of Flevoland in the Netherlands. The city, established as recently as 1967 and known for its controversial and forward-thinking city planning, is boldly building its center, the Centrale Zone, according to a master plan by West 8. In turn, West 8 is known for planning a vast array of exciting 'cityscapes', including a luxury village near Moscow and the waterfront revitalization project in Toronto.
The Agora Theatre building is the work of UN Studio, a group with theater, museum and art establishment expertise. The building itself is worth a visit, even if no performances were taking place (previews are already taking place). The tranquil cafe, open during the day, offers beautiful views of the square outside. The startling pink curving walls of the staircases resemble magnificent silk ribbons. And the deliciously red concert hall with its unusual wall surfaces will give you something to look at, even in the rare case that the performance doesn’t interest you. This is one building that will change the vibe of the city, both day and night. By Tuija Seipell.


March 27 2007

Isbank in Turkey have created this billboard ad which has passers-by literally stopping in their tracks. From a distance one sees what appears to be a cop car hiding behind a billboard, which automatically makes the passer by slow down enough to read the small text on the board. "Pay your traffic tickets on time without waiting in line -". To ad insult to injury, it then becomes apparent that the cop car is a fake cut out. Advertising bastardry at its best. By Andy G

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