Currently viewing the tag: "Design Matters"


We recently read an article in the NY Times about designer’s frustrations with a lack of appreciation for good design. Its a common complaint by architects and designers that the subjective value of their work is overlooked. The risk and reward of design comes from its personal nature – taking a piece of your soul, putting it out there for the world and hoping it moves people. Architecture is about a creating an experience or emotion through the built environment. If you are a designer and need a reminder about why you got into this field read the full article.

Sometimes you stumble on a space that surprises you. We are notoriously addicted to boutique hotels. They offer cutting edge and modern design that you might not want to live with everyday (like a shower in your bedroom) but are fun experiments for a few days. At the Acta Mimic we came for the location and the playful architecture. What will brings us back though is little sunken courtyard at the back of the building, squished between its neighbours.

After sleeping in (as one does in Spain) or returning to rest your feet after a day of hiking the city, guests make their way to the basement for espresso. The heart of this space is the outdoor courtyard, tucked below ground, acting like a giant light well for the adjacent buildings. Perched in a simple chair in this space you are surrounded by Barcelona and not the built city but the people of Barcelona. The hotel side of the courtyard is shielded from view by a large graphic screen, with a pop-art, cartoon image reminiscent of a Gorillaz video. The other three sides of the courtyard surround you with the heart of the city, its people. From one balcony, the sounds and flashing lights of spanish cartoons flicker, a cat winds its way in and around the balcony rails. Overtop the white noise of whirring fans and rustling laundry, snippets of conversation, laughter and maybe even a morning disagreement echo into the courtyard. Windows are opened or closed depending on the time of day. Laundry is shaken and hung to dry from any surface available.

The smooth, almost sterile, simplicity of the modern architecture perfectly juxtaposes the pixelated fineness of real life. If you’re lucky, and we were, its sunny and warm. The mass of the buildings shield out most of the city sounds, creating a calm, serene space to do nothing but soak in the sights, sounds and smells of living in Barcelona.

Architect EQUIP Xavier Claramunt.

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Location: Spain – Laxe
Designer: Ensamble Studio
Completion: 2010

Sometimes you stumble on a piece of architecture that has a beautiful simplicity. The truffle house by Ensamble Studio is one of these. It has an organic feel that is perfectly at home in it’s surroundings. Using topsoil from the site combined with concrete the exterior ‘stone’ walls were mounded atop a pile of hay. A calf named Paulina was brought in to eat her way through the interior mass of hay and unveil the interior space. The building’s skin emulates mineral formations creating the illusion of a runaway boulder whose cave like hollow makes way for a rustic and simple abode. We love the whimsy of the singular highly stylized window.

To this hobbyist it looks like the perfect place to escape the city. Just cozy up and grab a book to read by the fire.


The Alegna line of sinks and tubs is exactly what this column is about – over the top design objects you want and great hobbyist finds you really shouldn’t live without. Alegna is the former. Nobody needs an Alegna sink or tub, the ones we have at home work just fine. But wouldn’t a bath be better in one of these gorgeous wooden tubs?

We are huge fans of natural materials and we drool over meticulous craftsmanship. The Alegna tubs and sinks are both of these things. Using techniques perfected over time in yacht building, wood is manipulated into smooth organic shapes that echo the hull of a boat. The seamless joints form a monolithic surface. The natural grain of the wood is used like a paint brush for careful pattern making. We are particularly infatuated with the Laguna Pure tub and sink, the meticulous graining swirls water down the drain – and all your troubles with it.


We love Charles and Ray Eames and apparently so does Ice Cube – so much so that he made this great video for the Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980 exhibit organized by the Getty Institute. Not many people know that Ice Cube trained in architectural drafting – watch his tour of LA and the Eames Case Study House circa 1949 (a personal faveorite). Enjoy…

For a little more info on this project check out this great article in the NY Times or via Pacific Standard Time.

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Every now and then, even designers are blown away by the magnitude of what design can do to enhance people’s lives. People associate design with aesthetics – art, architecture, fashion – a way to make things beautiful. Nearly every object you buy (right down to your bottle opener) has been designed in some way by someone. Sometimes the power of design goes beyond beauty to enrich people’s lives. One of these is Dyslexie a font designed by a dyslexic designer Christian Boer in the Netherlands to do something people have been trying to do for years – make it easier for people with dyslexia to read. By developing a font to accentuate the often small differences between letters (think h and n) the designer (and researchers) found dyslexic people made fewer errors reading. Now that is design that matters!

Check out the video below to see how it works.

Video by Studio Studio

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On a recent Friday evening walk through downtown Vancouver we stopped by Picnurbia – Vancouver’s newest inhabitable public art installation designed by our friends over at the Loose Affiliates. As any Vancouverite will attest, when the weather turns sunny and summery we flock outdoors to take advantage of this far too short lived season. The are few places better in the world than Vancouver in the summer. After what seems like months of rain and a very fashionably late summer season Picnurbia arrived at just the right time. It is the perfect place to sit and soak in a summer night with the energy of the city buzzing around you. One of the things we loved about this piece was its ability to engage all sorts of passerbys. We saw young children log rolling over the brightly coloured yellow waves, older couples sitting on one of the benches enjoying an evening tea and tourists wondering ‘what the heck is this thing?’. Our group nestled into a curve to lounge and soak up the last minutes of a beautiful summer evening. The curves, soft turf and umbrellas were a great contrast to the lights and hard surfaces of the city. As we chatted away the evening, wave after wave of people walked by and climbed on to interact with this new, giant piece of lawn furniture. This piece does exactly what a piece of public art should. It got neighbours and strangers chatting with each other and gave people a taste of what great design can do to make our cities better.