Thursday. 15/10/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Genevieve Bates

Home advantage

I live in a seven-storey late-Victorian mansion block of 42 flats in central London. When built in the 1890s, critics fretted about the appearance (“like a spinning mill”) and “monstrous” height of these blocks – the latter point is now laughable as the buildings are dwarfed by nearby skyscrapers. Aesthetics aside, the flats have offered some key advantages over the past few months: the high ceilings, big windows and thick, near soundproof walls meant that my partner, teenage children and I could all work peacefully in separate rooms during lockdown. This is in contrast to friends, particularly in North American cities, who live in open-plan constructs that offer little privacy, no matter how large or luxurious.

A UCL survey released this week of 2,500 UK households contacted during the country’s lockdown, found that people living in housing built in the past 10 years were more likely to report feeling uncomfortable, whereas those in pre-1919 developments were most likely to be comfortable. The report suggests that housing has become steadily less suitable over the past century. “We need to learn from the stress test that lockdown has given our homes,” says its lead author, Matthew Carmona of UCL’s Bartlett School of Planning. “We have let design standards drop and people tend to be less satisfied in new housing. This might be, in part, down to a lack of clear national space standards over past decades, leading to homes that are too small.”

The report also confirms the value of room divisions and “good environmental conditions: fresh air, daylight into the home and good noise insulation were widely seen as fundamental”. Victorian architecture might fairly be criticised as bulky and overly trussed-up with decorative flourishes – but it’s quite nice to live in.

Elections / Northern Cyprus

Divided island

Things are heating up in Northern Cyprus’s presidential election with a run-off vote scheduled for this weekend. The two contenders after Sunday’s initial ballot are incumbent Mustafa Akinci, a moderate championing reunification with the Republic of Cyprus, and Ersin Tatar (pictured, on left), the nationalist prime minister proposing two states and a cosier relationship with Turkey. It’s that relationship with Ankara that is the election’s sticking point; the vote has been billed as a referendum on whether unification is still worth pursuing. Cyprus has been divided into Turkish and Greek ethnicities since the Turkish invasion of the north in the 1970s. Incumbent Akinci has alleged that Ankara has not only meddled in the election but also issued threats to him and his family. Cyprus’s future could well be determined by whether voters feel as uneasy about Turkey’s presence as Akinci does.

Rights / Global

Lip service

The Human Rights Council is supposed to ensure the fair treatment of people across the globe but its validity has been called into question following this week’s admission of both China and Russia to its 47-seat body (some additional blushes were spared due to the rejection of Saudi Arabia’s application). The decision comes as Russia is accused of poisoning opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The country is also known for a poor attitude towards sexual identity, while China has employed vast re-education camps for Uighur muslims in Xinjiang province.

Daniella Peled, managing editor at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, says that it points to wider structural issues at international bodies, particularly the need for regional representation. “In an ideal world, if it was voted on human rights, it would be dominated by Scandinavian countries. But that wouldn’t be representative,” she told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. “It’s very far from perfect. Unfortunately, though, it is irreplaceable. It needs reform but it’s still a very needed body.”

Culture / Hong Kong

Snap judgments

A new exhibition in Hong Kong is set to thrill both photography junkies and fans of the city’s history. Long Shadows, which opens today and runs through January at F22 Foto Space, a gallery and vintage camera shop in The Peninsula Arcade, exclusively showcases selected works by renowned Hong Kong photographer James Chung. It includes prints of Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s from the 12,000 works that Chung left to his children after he died in 2018, which provide an insightful retrospective on his career. The black-and-white silver gelatin prints were specially handcrafted for the exhibition by Stanley Chung, the photographer’s son. “James Chung saw beauty in a time when life was extremely difficult,” says Douglas So, founder and director of F22. “He really had the eye to play with the composition, the light and the shadows to find the perfect recipe for his photos.”

Design / Istanbul

Collective endeavour

The fifth Istanbul Design Biennial launches today with an initial line-up of 50 projects, including exhibitions, outdoor events and digital offerings. Scheduled to take place between now and April, the show’s elongated format is intended to accommodate the restrictions the pandemic has placed on international travel, allow for greater local involvement and create room for projects to develop. “We didn’t want to cancel or postpone the biennial but instead chose to reshape it,” says curator Mariana Pestana. “A longer format helps to open up a space in the city for new ideas to be born.” The event is also helping to fund design research and permanent projects in Istanbul, such as a specially constructed dance stage. A series of design-minded cooking shows will also air on the biennial’s Youtube channel. “It’s opening up a sustained dialogue with the creative industries in the city,” says Pestana.

M24 / Monocle On Design

Design on film

Ever wondered where archive footage is collected for documentaries about designers? Or who designs film sets and props? Hear the answers as we explore the life of furniture-maker George Nakashima, visit backlots in Hungary and talk to graphic designer Annie Atkins.

Monocle Films / St Moritz

The Chiefs conference 2020

The first edition of The Chiefs, Monocle’s high-altitude summit, took place at Suvretta House in the Swiss Alps over a few sunny days in September. After months of being cooped up at home, guests and panellists alike gathered to be together and exchange ideas. We covered everything from assessing risk in these uncertain times and future-proofing our cities to how to turn things around in hospitality or how to design a safe and friendly workspace.

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