Tuesday. 8/12/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Tyler Brûlé

Dropping the print

It won’t come as much of a surprise that I grew up in a print household. A trip to the grocery store or corner shop in 1970s and 1980s Canada always meant a couple of magazines for my mom, dad and me. It was my home, where magazine stacks doubled as side tables, that might have sowed the seeds that led to this current media gig but it was the debut of Ikea in Canada and its accompanying catalogue that made me want to launch my own little business. The arrival of the Swedish brand’s catalogue in late summer marked a turning of seasons but also a fresh year ahead. It was a source of huge inspiration and made me think about the possibilities of how to create a space to do my homework, relax, read and generally organise myself.

Yesterday Ikea announced that it’s suspending printing its annual catalogue – for all the predictable and misguided reasons. Yes, the words “digital” and “transformation” have been trotted out. There are murmurs that the company might hang on to some form of print but still, what a shame. For a start, the Ikea digital offer is not nearly as inspiring as the catalogue – clunky and chilly come to mind to describe it. Moreover, print offers a very different experience when considering our spaces and tactile possibilities. The printed page allows the eye to wander in a very different way from looking at a screen, endlessly swiping and scrolling.

If this is also being done for environmental reasons then I have one small question – what powers tablets and phones? In two of Ikea’s biggest markets those grids are largely coal-fired to run servers, charge phones and support the cloud (we can save discussing digital-device landfill for another column). To be clear, we’re fans of Ikea – but this is a misstep.

Economy / Global

Power shift

For 50 years Davos has been synonymous with the World Economic Forum. The annual gathering of the world’s leaders has long been a showcase for business solutions and the merits of globalisation, while it has also served as a soft-power win for Switzerland. Now, for one year at least, that will change. WEF yesterday announced that it will hold a “special annual meeting” in Singapore from 13 to 16 May (a smaller online version will be held at the usual time in January). The move was based on an assessment of where the event could be held safely, in light of coronavirus cases. “If you have a regime like Singapore’s with its different approach to freedoms then you can perhaps create the right level of comfort for the WEF,” a Swiss diplomatic source told The Monocle Minute. “There’s also the question about what kind of cheque they’re writing.” But the decision is also symptomatic of Asia’s renewed relevance, something that the WEF surely hopes to capitalise on. In that vein, in the run up to the event in Singapore a “global technology governance summit” is planned for Tokyo in April.

Health / Global

Calling the shots

Successful vaccine trials have buoyed stock markets and raised hopes of a return to normal but a recent report from consulting firm Eurasia Group warns that the global economy could suffer significant damage if lower-income countries don’t get enough access to them. It’s a real risk given the challenge of transporting the most promising vaccines, most of which need to be stored frozen.

One group that’s seeking a solution is the recently announced Hope Consortium, spearheaded by the government of Abu Dhabi alongside Etihad Cargo and Zürich-based SkyCell, which makes temperature-controlled logistics containers. “The idea was to build a neutral platform that any vaccine maker can distribute to these very populous regions,” SkyCell CEO Richard Ettl tells Monocle 24’s The Globalist. “We need to transport the vaccines very equitably,” he says. “If we don’t reach all patients around the world, the virus might mutate and come back. So it’s very important that we do this as quickly as possible.”

Aviation / Australia

Cash landing

An international passenger flight landed in Melbourne yesterday for the first time in five months. Borders have been closed to non-citizens since March and a coronavirus outbreak stemming from hotels used for quarantining meant that Melbourne’s airports stopped accepting all arrivals in June. The resumption of flights comes with tighter restrictions – residents in the quarantine hotels can no longer leave their rooms and staff are tested daily. Returning citizens must also cover their accommodation costs – a reversal of state policy that brings it in line with the rest of the country, where adults pay AU$3,000 (€1,831) for their two-week stay. Prime minister Scott Morrison says this allows the government to focus resources on strengthening track-and-trace systems. Yet the new measures still appear rather draconian, coming as the UK and Canada experiment with testing to shorten quarantines and other Asian nations explore travel corridors.

F&B / Tokyo

Green guide

The 2021 Michelin restaurant guide to Tokyo, the world’s most starred city, was launched yesterday and includes a new accolade: green stars for the restaurants that do their bit for sustainability. In an online ceremony, Michelin Guides’ international director Gwendal Poullennec described the six recipients as “role-model establishments … whether they are champions of local and seasonal food, pioneers in the fight against food waste or in vegetable growing.” Winners of the new plaudit include Michelin favourites such as Narisawa and Quintessence (pictured), both star-holding establishments. In total, there are 446 restaurants in Michelin’s new Tokyo guide – 53 putting in a first appearance and 12 ranked with three stars. It’s been a difficult year for the hospitality industry and the publishers hope the new launch will give businesses a shot in the arm and, more cynically perhaps, prompt a few headlines. The nod to environmental issues could also help broaden the guide’s appeal beyond its usual audience with a preference for haute cuisine and white tablecloths. We look forward to tucking in. Or as they say in Japan, itadakimasu!

M24 / Tall Stories

Umlauftank 2, Berlin

We stop by the ‘Pink Pipe’, a strange piece of Berlin architecture originally built for naval research.

Monocle Films / Global

Animal architecture

Finding a compromise between an animal’s wellbeing, a farm’s efficiency and local architecture traditions is a fine art and often has to be done with limited resources. For Monocle’s 10-year anniversary issue we pulled on our wellies and went in search of the animal architects who are taking the bull by the horns.

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