Wednesday. 22/7/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Getting reel

The Architects’ Journal once published a survey showing that a majority of people in the UK have little idea of what architects do: 15 per cent of the 2,031 people polled were unaware that they even designed buildings (exactly what else they think architects are up to, I’m unsure). But it points to a wider issue – one experienced by the profession globally – that discourse around architecture tends to belong only to those who practise or commission it.

Perhaps part of the problem is that most people don’t realise that they’re directly affected by the design of buildings – that everyone can be an expert on how it makes them feel; we might, for instance, choose to walk down one street and not another based on the look of its homes. And so they don’t see the need to involve themselves in planning decisions or discussions about new public buildings.

This is something that Prague’s Centre for Architecture and Metropolitan Planning is trying to challenge through its newly launched lecture and film series, City to City. For the next two months it will hold weekly talks by designers from the likes of Tokyo, Copenhagen and Paris. These will then be followed by a film, set in the corresponding city: Godzilla, The Danish Girl and Midnight in Paris (pictured) will all be screened in the coming weeks.

By using pop culture and the silver screen as a way to frame a discussion about architecture, more people beyond the professional world are likely to join in. It’s a clever move by the centre and one that similar design organisations would be wise to copy. Here’s hoping that it will inspire residents to become advocates for good architecture and good design too.

Finance / Hong Kong

Compliance quandary

Banks in Hong Kong are increasingly finding themselves between a rock and a hard place. Already facing pressure from China to close the accounts of anyone raising money for the pro-democracy movement, banks are reportedly reviewing their client lists this week for ties to Chinese government officials. They are doing so to prepare for the introduction of US sanctions – approved earlier this month – that target senior figures in response to China’s controversial national security law. If any connections to Chinese officials are found, the banks could find themselves in a doubly tricky position. “They have to figure out a legal way through two sets of compliance,” David Schlesinger, head of the independent China consultancy Tripod Advisors and former editor in chief of Reuters, told The Globalist. “Under Article 29 of [China’s] new national security law, it’s actually an offence for banks to deal with the US sanctions themselves. So the banks are in a very difficult place. Their lawyers are making thousands of dollars an hour, round the clock.”

Diplomacy / Turkey & Togo

Into Africa

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, met Togo’s president, Faure Gnassingbé, and its minister of foreign affairs, Robert Dussey (pictured, on right, with Cavusoglu), on Monday as part of a three-day diplomatic tour of west Africa that ends today. During the trip, the countries laid out plans to establish a Turkish embassy in Togo and develop stronger bilateral ties. Though the economic gains from closer relations with Togo – a developing country of 7.9 million people – are limited, the move is in keeping with Ankara’s policy toward Africa under Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Since the Turkish president’s party took power in 2002, the number of Turkish embassies in Africa has almost quadrupled to 42; Erdogan has voiced intentions to raise this number to 54. “Simply put, Erdogan is playing a numbers game and Togo is an easy win,” says Fadi Hakura, manager of Chatham House’s Turkey programme. “More embassies will secure two valuable assets for Erdogan on the continent: presence and prestige.”

Culture / Taiwan

Creative accounting

Millions of Taiwanese entered a special lottery earlier this week in the hope of winning a voucher, worth about €17, that can be spent on arts and culture. Yesterday’s draw handed out some €35.5m in prizes and the winners will be able to start spending their vouchers from today. Hard-hit bookshops and publishers are expected to be among the beneficiaries of this targeted stimulus, which is backed by the country’s ministry of culture. Any lottery losers have a second – and more assured – chance to support the economy. The government is also offering shoppers the chance to buy vouchers that can be used to claim a third off the price of purchases in their favourite restaurants and shops. It’s a smart way of stimulating Taiwan’s post-pandemic economy.

Urbanism / Toronto

Roll camera

The future of Toronto’s Ontario Place (pictured), a modernist lakefront amusement park that was built in 1971 and closed in 2012, has long been uncertain. But this week the Ontario government announced a temporary resolution: the space will be turned into a drive-in arts and entertainment hub for physically distanced concerts and film screenings. Plans include an Italian film festival, a jazz concert series and, in September, the much anticipated 10-day Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The cornerstone of the city’s CA$2bn (€1.3bn) film industry, TIFF is adapting its format for 2020: star-studded downtown red carpets are out in favour of physically distanced drive-in film premieres and online screenings. The festival typically generates CA$200m (€130m) in economic activity every year; TIFF expects 2020 revenues to be halved compared with 2019. Still, it’s good to see the government investing in a physical home for TIFF: it is one of the film industry’s most important festivals and a highlight of Toronto’s cultural calendar.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

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Robert Bound is joined by guests from the film, publishing, art and music industries to talk about the future of the arts, how they have been affected by lockdown and whether this is an opportunity for positive change.

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Bean and gone: Tokyo cafés

Look past the dominance of the big chains in Tokyo and you will find a world of fiercely independent coffee shops. Monocle’s Fiona Wilson pays tribute.

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