Monday. 16/9/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Robert Bound

Why renders are rendered useless

I’m not Monocle’s Design editor but I’m on the mailing list for many an architecture practice and design PR firm and I’m glad to read things that aren’t my speciality; to look without professional prejudice can be pure pleasure. The buildings, details and finishes are often beautiful, radical and mould-breaking, I’m sure. What gets me, though, is the people.

Not the architects themselves (imagine, readers!). I mean the people in the renders: the fakes, the cut-outs, the stiffs, the supposed cross-section of society that might be hanging out around that new gallery, apartment block or shopping centre. Pieter Bruegel’s paintings are morality plays awash with characters – and they look a lot like my inbox.

The problem is twofold. Firstly, there’s always a dude in a singlet and boardshorts, acting suspiciously and drinking a can of lager. He is probably supposed to represent, say, ethnic diversity, or be a student, or be cool or something. But he singularly fails to embody any aspiration or archetype beyond, “Where can I score around here?” And then there is my imagination. Why is that lady wearing a woollen hat and mittens when the development is in Bangkok? Does she have a rare illness? Why is that large group of schoolchildren the same size as that postman? He should be in a circus. Are that couple – intimately leaning into each other next to a suggestion of woodland – workmates? And will they be going for a quickie in that not-yet-dense-enough coppice? I fear for their reputations.

Constantly fantasising about the inner lives of fictional characters dotted in architectural renders is wearying and it significantly detracts from a precise critique of the buildings. I can no longer see a gallery space flooded with natural light – I can only see men who look so normal that they clearly work for the FBI, the chorus from a musical and… hang on, is that Bruce Lee? My prescription is simple, people: no people.

Diplomacy / Global

Trump’s long game

The 74th UN General Assembly kicks off tomorrow at the organisation’s New York HQ, where 193 member countries will convene for debates about global issues ranging from climate policy to international trade. All eyes will be following US president Donald Trump, long a critic of the UN, not least because it’s rumoured that he is courting a meeting with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani to discuss the loosening of economic sanctions. There’s also speculation that he’ll use his 24 September speech to highlight threats against religious freedoms across the globe; he likely hopes that the move will prove politically fruitful. “This is clearly designed to shore up support among conservatives heading into what will be a very difficult re-election bid [in 2020],” says UN expert Martin Edwards.

Transport / Ottawa

Light rail, heavy investment

After six years of construction and countless delays, Ottawa’s new light-rail-transit system, the Confederation Line, welcomed riders aboard for the first time on Saturday. The CA$2.1bn (€1.4bn) LRT spans 12.5km and replaces much of Ottawa’s existing bus network. The new Confederation Line is expected to reduce both congestion and emissions, while also encouraging development along its edges. “I expect the downtown will become much more vibrant than it is today,” says professor Ata Khan, a transport expert at Carleton University. But with the city’s population expected to balloon by 30 per cent by 2031, Ottawa isn’t satisfied: construction has already begun on the next phase of LRT expansion. “This city deserves a complete network fit for being the nation’s capital.”

Fashion / China

Style with added substance

China-based ready-to-wear brand Icicle will herald the soft opening of its first international flagship in Paris today. The popular label (known as Zhi He in China) gained global traction when it fought off luxury retail bidders to buy Parisian label Carven last October. Carven had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May of 2018 and has since been strategically used by its new parent brand as a gateway into the European luxury market. A flagship in the French capital will give Icicle’s Chinese designers access to European design expertise. And the label isn’t the only Chinese brand acquiring overseas labels to bulk up their fashion portfolio; Chinese conglomerate Fosun Group, for example, is a majority shareholder at French couture label Lanvin.

Geopolitics / Western Sahara

Harbouring concerns

The reign of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has been one of infrastructure projects, from high-speed trains to brand new airports. One nascent scheme, however, has proven highly contentious: a port in Dakhla – a peninsula popular with bohemian sorts – in the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Though Morocco holds de facto control of most of the region, it has been in dispute since the 1960s and the UN considers the native Saharawi people to have a legitimate claim. The port is part of a larger coastal construction project in Morocco but Dakhla carries special weight; nothing says permanency like infrastructure. It has echoes of Vladimir Putin’s Crimean Bridge, which linked mainland Russia with the annexed peninsula in 2018. It boils down to the fact that, project by project, Rabat hopes to eradicate any competing claims to Western Sahara.

M24 / The Monocle Weekly

Jay Rayner, Shana Moulton and Mark Radcliffe

Journalist, broadcaster and food critic Jay Rayner joins us to discuss the epic feast that would constitute his last meal on Earth – and forms the basis of his latest book, My Last Supper. Plus: artist Shana Moulton on the New Age ideas that have informed her latest exhibition and we hear from one of the UK’s best-loved broadcasters, Mark Radcliffe.

Monocle Films / UK

Hackney Revival

Monocle's editor in chief, Tyler Brûlé, ventured to Wilton Way – a small thoroughfare in east London's Hackney, to get a read on the ingredients that underpin a community.

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