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Tower struggles

Sweden

Stockholm markets itself as the capital of Scandinavia, but when it comes to architecture, it is getting tough competition from Copenhagen, Oslo and Helsinki. Copenhagen is seeing a veritable building boom, Oslo boasts a new opera house and Helsinki is getting a hotel by the Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron.

In Stockholm, innovative architectural projects have often run into difficulties due to opposition from the public or the city, and local architects often complain about a conservative atmosphere. If you ask Mikael Söderlund, head of Stockholm’s Planning and Traffic Division, all that is about to change.

Söderlund has launched a controversial plan to allow the construction of 34 skyscrapers, which he says will be needed over the next 20 years as the population is expected to swell from the current 780,000 to an estimated one million.

The development would change Stockholm’s low skyline considerably and the suburbs will gradually be joined with central areas. Entrances, such as bridges and harbours, will get new buildings that welcome visitors and raise Stockholm’s profile internationally.

Not up, but coming:

  1. The city plans to build 12 apartment blocks to the south and another 12 to the west, plus 10 more in the centre, all between 20 and 40 storeys high.
  2. The building nearest completion is a 140m tall hotel designed by architect Gert Wingårdh, financed by the Norwegian businessman Arthur Buchardt and set to open in 2009.
  3. The Swedish Centre Party will build a 200m-high skyscraper in central Stockholm. The building, designed by architect Peter Hallén, would be entirely powered by solar and wind power.

Coughing up

Russia

More than half of Russian men and over a third of women smoke, which contributes to the low life expectancy (under 59 for men) in the country. In April, Russia signed up to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The next few years will see non-smoking sections in restaurants and bars, an advertising ban, and more space for health warnings (currently 4 per cent of packet space – under the WHO guidelines it’s 30).

Drag race – favourite Russian brands:

  • Treasurer (€25) – Made in Britain, and marketed as the world’s most expensive cigarette. The oligarch’s puff of choice.

  • Parliament (€1.35) – Popular with young professionals. Made by Philip Morris.

  • Vogue Slims (€1.20) – Aimed at women, produced by BAT, and available in blue, lilac and menthol varieties.

  • Peter the First (€0.45) – “Patriotic” brand actually produced by Japanese giant JTI.

  • Prima (€0.13) – Filterless, cough-inducing and still popular in poverty-stricken villages.

Let’s join lands

Germany

If Arne Weber has his way, Germany is about to overcome another great historical division. This time, though, it’s not political. In 1720, a violent Baltic Sea storm raged over the island of Heligoland, 160km from Hamburg, and sliced it in two. It has remained that way ever since.

Generations have mourned the loss, but now Hamburg developer Weber wants to reconnect the island and turn it into a holiday paradise. For a mere €80m, which he says he could finance himself, he wants to build an artificial reef to break the waves, fill in the gap between the two islands and make room for hotels and a larger airport. Reactions range from “euphoria to those who say the guy is a kook”, says Heligoland’s mayor Frank Botter. “It’s do-able,” Weber says.

Election facts: women last

Liechtenstein

Alpine nations were reluctant to give women the vote: in 1971 the Swiss agreed; Liechtenstein held out until 1986.

Use it or lose it

Belgium

Don’t vote in four elections over a 15-year period in Belgium and you can be disenfranchised. Voting is also compulsory in Italy.

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