The summer design-fair calendar and is Zagreb’s new cable car the height of folly?
Zagreb’s Sljeme cable car endured a rough ride before it finally opened to the public in February. Legal challenges, arson attacks and the death of the larger-than-life figure who championed the project all threw spanners in the works. But now, 15 years after the previous service closed for business, residents of Croatia’s capital have a swish new way of reaching the top of Mount Medvednica, more than 1km above the city.
The first departure of the black-and-orange gondolas received a send-off that was pitched somewhere between muted and grudging. At the opening ceremony, mayor Tomislav Tomasevic described the new cable car as “an inherited, megalomaniac project” that “will never return on its investment”.
Tomasevic took power last year, after the death of Zagreb’s long-serving former mayor Milan Bandic. He left behind a mountain of corruption allegations and unfinished court cases, and cleaning up the mess has fallen to the green-left Mozemo! (“We Can!”) coalition that Tomasevic leads. The completion of the long-gestating project was among the most pressing items in his in-tray. It’s fair to say that he could think of other ways to spend the €72m that it cost.
“We need this service. It will bring a lot more in the future than we can imagine today”
But judging by the smiling faces of school parties, elderly hikers and foreign tourists at the base station on a sunny spring afternoon, those concerns will not trouble the cable car’s users. After all, the full fare for a one-way 5km ride, which lasts about 20 minutes, is just €4. And regardless of the costs and delays, the new facilities are impressive. The roomy, 10-person gondolas are a far cry from the cramped old pods that only had room for four. The base station is now lower down the mountain, with the ride taking an entertaining left turn before dipping, then rising, to the magnificent summit at Sljeme.
Crucially, the airy new terminus is part of a transport hub with a direct connection to the number 15 tram, in the hope of encouraging Zagreb residents to ditch their cars and embrace the cable car as part of the city’s public transit network.
Marko Bogdanovic, the new boss of municipal operator zet, is happy that the gondolas have joined his fleet of buses and trams. “We need this service,” he says. “It will bring a lot more in the future than we can imagine today.” Even now it brings passengers from the smog of Zagreb to the mountain cafés, forest trails and ski slopes of Sljeme. For these leisure-seeking city dwellers, it’s just the ticket.
By the time you read this column, my bags will be packed for a busy month on the road assessing the state of the design industry. In June the world’s pre-eminent design weeks and fairs in Basel, Copenhagen and Milan intersect, sandwiched between industry events in New York and London. It’s the first time in two years that designers, architects, property developers and journalists from across the globe (notwithstanding those from Russia and the still locked-down parts of Asia) will be able to get a proper sense of where the industry stands today. Expectations are high.
After enduring two years of restrictions and reopenings our view on what the modern workplace should be has changed significantly, while many have finally realised the value of equipping their homes with furniture that improves their quality of life. The latter point has not been missed by the high-end European furniture companies that lead the design narrative. Many of these capitalised on high demand and sailed through the pandemic largely unscathed, selling comfortable pieces in quality materials to enhance our enjoyment of life at home. But I worry that amid the chaos of the past two years, these big brands have been too stretched to collaborate with designers and architects on new products. I fear that it might be more of the same: pieces that sell safely and don’t push the envelope in terms of design.
What these companies will be conscious of – and what will almost certainly affect their showcases at Milan’s Salone del Mobile, Copenhagen’s Three Days of Design and Basel’s Design Miami – is that the way they manufacture needs to change. Consumers are considerably more conscious of the carbon footprint of the products that they buy, from emissions to the longevity of the materials and whether they can be recycled. Big furniture-makers are also dealing with major supply-chain issues. It’s a unique conundrum: buyers want cosiness and comfort, while producers need to be smarter, more thrifty and environmentally focused in the way they make their wares. monocle will be reporting on how they have fared in the weeks and months ahead, so stay tuned.
Images: Alamy, Goran Kekic