The Opener - Issue 171 - Magazine | Monocle
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comment: Open offices

In it together

Tyler Brûlé on why today’s working practices don’t work.

How and when did you become the leader you are today? My most valuable lessons came from teachers, managers, clients and colleagues. I feel that I have done a reasonable job as a business owner and hope that there’s some degree of transmission. Among my senior colleagues, there’s a common understanding about how we report, present, pitch and sell. Time together has helped but our organisation’s rhythm has a lot to do with the work environments we were exposed to.

In an open office, conversations can be overheard and interventions made. New starters have an audience to help them build confidence and improve presentation. Everyone can share in successes or help to pick up the pieces if a deal fails. In short, you have a more switched-on company. But does such a company still exist?

Today, headphones allow colleagues to concentrate but mean that they lose touch with activities around them. Instant messaging makes it easy to type a question rather than walking over to speak in person. The office radio has disappeared as everyone wants their own soundtrack. No one takes a call out in the open.

I get the need for keeping things quiet but has the modern office become too hushed? Isn’t it time to increase the volume, celebrate the wins, share in the joke and simply follow along? As we delve into the world of property, it’s important to consider the places that help us to learn, improve and admire the people around us. –– L

An extended version of this piece appeared inThe Monocle Weekend Edition newsletter. Sign up for free at monocle.com/minute

Reporting from...

Monocle has a network of correspondents in cities around the world. Our brief updates here include news on an unexpected discovery in London, Bangkok’s marijuana U-turn and an arty theme park in LA

London
Buried treasures

A London office-led development, the Liberty of Southwark, has amended its construction plans after the discovery of a Roman mausoleum and mosaics. The building will now integrate these findings into its design to preserve a slice of the city’s varied history.

Bangkok
Up in smoke

The sale of marijuana for recreational use was decriminalised in Bangkok just 18 months ago. But now a new law is expected to ban it again. The U-turn could see weed-dispensary shops disappear in a puff of smoke – or quickly rebrand as medical centres.

Los Angeles
Ride of a lifetime

Canadian singer Drake has helped to rescue the Luna Luna “artist amusement park”, which has been in storage for almost 40 years. Last seen in Hamburg in 1987, it includes a carousel by Keith Haring and a ferris wheel by Jean-Michel Basquiat. It’s now open in LA’s Arts District.


the interrogator

Hoor al Qasimi
Director, Sharjah Art Foundation

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Hoor Al Qasimi is an Emirati art curator, director of the Sharjah Art Foundation and creative director of London-based fashion brand Qasimi. She was recently named as the first non-Japanese director of the Aichi Triennale, which will run its sixth edition in 2025. She tells us about her work, her travel reads and her multilingual listening habits. 

What have you been working on lately?
I’m in Cuba at the moment, curating the third edition of a biennial at Matanzas called Rios Intermitentes, which means “intermittent rivers” in Spanish. It was founded by Cuban artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons. We are preparing to open on 6 April.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Coffee, non-stop. Double espresso, no sugar.

What’s on your magazine stack? 
I used to read a lot of magazines but these days I travel too much to carry things along with me. Now I tend to rely on my Kindle. I’m doing a lot of research reading, since I’m working on many exhibitions at the same time. For this project I’m reading Matanzas: The Cuba Nobody Knows by Miguel A Bretos.

Any movie recommendations? 
When I was working on the Lahore Biennial in Pakistan in 2020 I saw Manto. It’s about the life of the titular poet during Partition. It’s amazing.

A favourite bookshop? 
There’s a place in Lahore in Pakistan called Pak Tea House, where writers such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Manto went during Partition. On the street next to it are rows of bookshops and every Sunday there’s a second- hand book market. It was very special spending time there finding old publications.

Any podcast recommendations?
I’m listening to a lot of language podcasts to refresh my languages, mainly sbs radio – French, Japanese, Mandarin and German. I also hosted a podcast called Biennial Bytes and we have a new one called Speaking of Art.


In the driving seat

Public transport in London is usually something to be endured rather than enjoyed. Among the exceptions, however, are those rare journeys onthe automated Docklands Light Railway (dlr) when a vacant seat behind the windscreen allows you to pretend that you’re driving the train.

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London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, is reportedly considering enhancing this pleasure. As 54 new trains are absorbed into the dlr fleet, the front seats might be fitted with dummy steering wheels, possibly made from cardboard. This suggests that it has been a while since Khan last used any London transport. Any such adornment will need to be made of tougher stuff than cardboard to avoid being destroyed or stolen, to say nothing of the prospect of inciting fights among children – and, indeed, adults – desperate for a go. 

The initiative also misunderstands the appeal of “driving” the dlr. Whether accompanied by “choo-choo” noises from children or occurring furtively in the heads of adults, it’s a playtime for the imagination – and a delight that would only be diluted by the addition of gimmicky props.


Fake woos

Though single people often have to deal with intrusive dating questions, these usually come from their family and friends – not their local government. In Tokyo, however, the love lives of residents has become a top priority for city officials, who are alarmed by the declining birth and marriage rate. 

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Rather than focusing on the financial burden of parenthood, demanding work culture or poor maternity protection, the government has created a dating app, which is expected to launch this year. The developers enlisted an existing Japanese dating app, Tapple, to engineer the algorithm behind finding the perfect match.

The app follows a string of initiatives to tackle the baby-making problem. The most bizarre so far is AI-generated “girlfriend” Koi Suru AI, also created with the help of Tapple, who mimics the intimacy of a relationship, supposedly to encourage men to try the real thing. Though the idea of government-assisted meet-cutes might be a bit dystopian, let’s hope that Tokyo’s efforts can perhaps provide a road map for other countries with declining birth rates.


Heat of the moment

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The sauna is usually thought of as a haven of solemn, silent, sweaty contemplation. Not at the Palac Saturna Rzymskie, a spa in the Polish town of Czeladz. It will be the venue for the second annual Aufguss World Cup Freestyle from 21 to 24 February.

Aufguss is a sauna ritual in which the master of ceremonies wafts heat and scent by flailing a towel, often to the accompaniment of music. The World Cup brings a competitive element to bear, awarding points for such elements as “smooth transitions”, “respect for the stove” and “waving techniques”, deducting them for dropping your towel more than three times.

It is arguable that the event’s billing (“The Battle of the Gladiators”) rather oversells the risks involved.


Howls of derision

Few issues disproportionately inflame electorates like the hunting of wild animals and it seems that it will become an issue ahead of the EU elections in June. In several countries, parties courting the rural vote are keen to make it easier to blast away at wildlife – and wolves in particular. Sweden permitted a wolf hunt earlier this year; Germany, France, the Netherlands and others are contemplating something similar.

Thanks to EU protection laws, Europe’s wolves have multiplied and are now helping themselves to tens of thousands of farmyard animals a year. The vulpine cause wasn’t aided last year by whichever wolf attacked a pony belonging to the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen.


Love letters

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The French bought more than six million romance novels last year: since 2020, sales have almost doubled annually. Though “chick lit” has a long and distinguished history, it has often been dismissed as a second-tier entertainment and given little critical attention. While US author Colleen Hoover dominates the bestseller lists, France is also supporting homegrown talent. The 27-year-old Morgane Moncomble recently dethroned popular bande dessinée series Asterix and Gaston from the top of the charts, selling 60,000 copies of her latest novel, An Autumn to Forgive You , within three weeks. But romance is in the air in other nations around the world too. 

1
South Africa
In September 2023, romance The Thing with Zola by Zibu Sithole made waves. The genre often jostles with poetry for the top spots on the country’s charts.

2
Brazil
More than 16 per cent of the population over the age of 18 – about 25 million people – reportedly bought at least one romance novel in 2023.

3
Hungary
Despite a ban on “inappropriate” books, Hungarian novelist Anita Tomor is topping charts with works such as Sugar Daddy and Now We Dream Together.


Illustrator: Hubert Van Rie

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