Friday. 22/5/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Nolan Giles

Building hope

If you were to have asked me three months ago where I’d be writing this column from, I’d have smiled and shared some details about the terrace of a lovely little hotel in Venice that I don’t want to name. It’s the regular Venice Architecture Biennale base of a friend, the film-maker Gillian Dobias, who has been kind enough to share the location of the sunny harbourside pensione with me. It’s a short walk from where the architecture industry’s biggest and most beautiful event takes place every other year.

I’d also have been highlighting what’s happening at the biennale’s press and VIP day, which would have taken place today: sunglasses and shorts would be donned and we'd leave the hordes of tourists in our wake to wander into the grand Giardini and enjoy curator Hashim Sarkis’s approach to this year’s theme, “How Will We Live Together?”

That hope was clearly dashed with the pandemic-related postponement of the biennale for another year. That Sarkis’s focus was on a subject so relevant for now makes that all the more frustrating. And the event’s delay is an obvious blow for Italy’s creative industries, which global architects and interior designers covet considerably.

Thankfully those same architects and designers will be finding inspiration in Italy much sooner than May 2021. The reopening of the country’s furniture showrooms is a welcome boost for Italy’s creative reputation, with major brands such as Cassina planning public launches of new designs in showrooms as early as next month. There are also discussions about a design industry showcase in Milan as early as September. Perhaps the dream of enjoying breakfast on a terrace in a nice northern Italian city isn’t too distant after all.

Politics / Europe

Court battle

Róbert Spanó assumed his new role as president of the European Court of Human Rights this week at the age of 47, becoming the court’s youngest ever president. The Icelandic judge (pictured) takes over from predecessor Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos and inherits a highly testing set of challenges. Spanó faces a backlog of more than 60,000 cases, while the court has come under increasing fire from critics who accuse it of too much interference in national rulings. But the new man is unlikely to back down, according to Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, professor of international law at Birkbeck College in London. “Spanó has made it clear that the court will distance itself from interventionism but will not be afraid to weigh in if the legal processes of a country are not deemed strong enough,” says Guardiola-Rivera. “He has warned that at a time of rising nationalism, we can’t assume the good faith of all politicians.”

Urbanism / Tel Aviv

Stretch your legs

As Israel starts to gradually reopen following months of lockdown, Tel Aviv has joined other cities in improving life on its streets. The municipality announced this week that it will be converting 11 roads into pedestrian zones, not only to allow for safer distancing but also to help businesses expand their outdoor seating areas.

Similarly, Jerusalem has announced that it will be restricting car access to several central streets for a few hours in the evenings, enabling pedestrians and businesses to roam free. The plans are part of a trend that predates the pandemic: earlier this year Tel Aviv implemented car-free zones on the bustling Sheinkin Street. But this larger, newly pedestrianised area is more ambitious; it could reshape the landscape of downtown Tel Aviv for the better.

Retail / Thailand

Pedal to the level

Shops in Thailand reopened last Sunday but the public is cautious about returning to public spaces to spend their cash, even though the country has fared better than many in confronting the pandemic. This week the Seacon Square indoor shopping mall in Bangkok developed a smart solution to ease its customers’ concerns by installing foot pedals to operate the elevators rather than standard buttons. The hands-free system will help to avoid the spread of viruses by allowing patrons to avoid touching a much-thumbed surface. It’s a simple solution that could, in theory, be rolled out in other shopping centres or even office blocks as white-collar professionals get back to work. And with the Thai economy recording its sharpest contraction since 2012 in this year’s first quarter, retail innovations such as this are needed to get the country back on the front foot.

Culture / USA

Turning the page

Like most of us, the culture industry is learning how to adapt to a radically altered landscape. Songs have been penned about the pandemic and works painted from inside artists’ home studios. But certain art forms have a longer gestation period. “Everybody who is working on a contemporary novel has to rethink it,” says US writer Dave Eggers (pictured) in Monocle’s June issue, which is out now. “The human race has been fundamentally changed and we don’t know how permanently.” By the time that any books written today make it to print, not everyone will want to read about or remember the time that they spent in lockdown – and the balance between escapism and relevance will become ever harder to strike. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more utopian, rather than dystopian, books,” says Eggers, who is also the founder of publishing house McSweeney’s. “It’s a theme I’ve been obsessed with for 20 years: if you could start over, how would you build it?”

M24 / On Design

Branding crisis: Part II

Josh Fehnert is joined by Monocle’s creative director, Richard Spencer Powell, to discuss a UN brief for designers to respond to coronavirus and review the current crop of public-health posters.

Monocle Films / Italy

Gaja: the next generation of winemakers

Five generations after Giovanni Gaja founded his eponymous winery in the Piedmont town of Barbaresco, the family continues to produce some of Italy’s best vintages. Their uncompromising commitment to quality is helping to maintain one of the world’s finest vintners.

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