Monday. 11/3/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Nolan Giles

Stairway to heaven

Building a new landmark in a city of landmarks is brave work. Enter British designer Thomas Heatherwick who on Friday will unveil a grand vision at New York’s Hudson Yards development and spark what’s sure to be a media frenzy. Named Vessel, the work is a 16-storey, cyclonic shaped structure of hexagonal platforms that spirals up into the air. It’s dubbed an “infinite staircase” and encourages visitors to meander between its multiple storeys for hours on end, no doubt snapping the myriad views it offers from their smartphones in the process.

Vessel is new, shiny and daring and no doubt will garner many different opinions from many different places on its divisive design. Yet what’s most important is the impact it will have on the city. Borrowing a few tricks from the nearby (and mega successful) High Line, its ability to elevate its users and offer multiple spots for respite helps form a piece of place-making that feels democratic. It’s a work of starchitecture that’s for sure, but its emphasis on sharing space rather than being a space to stare at should satisfy many New Yorkers.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Finland

Power vacuum

Finland’s reputation for political stability took a knock last week when prime minister Juha Sipilä handed in his government’s resignation. The decision came after the leader failed to get his healthcare and social-services reform through parliament just a month before the country’s general election. The plan was designed to mitigate the spiralling cost of keeping Finland’s welfare state afloat as the population ages but Sipilä’s strategy to increase the role of the private sector didn’t land with opposition parties. This week government ministries will continue to operate, although the country is sleepwalking towards a welfare-budget crunch. As Sipilä prepares for the 14 April election, he’ll need to act more like a statesman and less like a CEO: concessions on his plan to privatise will yield better results than hard bargaining.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / Canada

Fresh-faced frontline

The Canadian special forces – the country’s shadowy military branch of elite soldiers – may soon start recruiting off the street, moving away from a long-held policy requiring its soldiers to spend at least two years in the military first. The policy shift, which is currently being debated, is a response to the changing nature of warfare: it’s less about traditional combat, more about hybrids of misinformation campaigns, cyber attacks and counterinsurgency operations. “It’s a good idea to recruit off the street,” says Alexis Amini, research analyst at the Nato Association of Canada. “The regular rank-and-file military is focused on hard skills like direct combat against enemies. But warfare today is more about counterinsurgency. To be successful at mediation and winning over populations requires soft skills – like language, and anthropological and cultural knowledge – that the traditional military tends to minimise.”

Image: Getty Images

Finance / Switzerland

Counting the cost

Switzerland has issued a new design of its CHF1,000 banknote (worth €880) as part of a scheme to increase the security of its currency. The note is the latest in a new series which has moved away from featuring well-known figures in favour of illustrating “typically Swiss characteristics” – in this case the country's “communicative flair” is depicted by a handshake. The CHF1,000 note is already controversial, though that has nothing to do with its design. Organisations such as Transparency International have called for such high-denomination notes to be scrapped, as there is some suspicion that they are withdrawn in bulk at the end of the year to lower tax bills. The Swiss government, however, says that evidence is limited. In case you’re wondering, the CHF1,000 note is not the world’s most valuable; that would be the 10,000 dollar notes in Brunei and Singapore, each worth €6,551.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Mexico

Amlo riding high

One hundred days since his landslide win, Mexico’s left-wing president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as Amlo) hasn’t seen his popularity slide in the polls: his approval rating is a staggering 78 per cent. But it’s not all roses: suspect pronouncements, such as his declaration that the war on drugs was over, have muddied his name abroad. Then there’s the debacle with a proposed new airport in Mexico City: in a referendum last October, Mexicans voted to cancel the project even though the construction was 35 per cent complete. But the vote itself was flawed: it was organised by Amlo’s party with no external oversight, and only a million citizens participated. With the central bank downgrading growth forecasts, and foreign investors wary, Amlo will need to combine shrewd economics with his for-the-people approach if he wants his popularity to endure.

Image: Mark Ruwedel, Hells Canyon, 1999

M24 / The Monocle Weekly

Anna Danneman, Mary Timony and Soumik Datta

London Photographers Gallery curator Anna Danneman discusses the nominees for the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation prize. Plus: Ex Hex’s Mary Timony musician Soumik Datta discusses the sarod.

Monocle Films / Leipzig

Leipzig’s artist studios

Dubbed the new Berlin, Leipzig is home to an increasing number of galleries and project spaces – but the city still has lots of space for inexpensive artists’ ateliers.

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