Wednesday. 16/12/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Words on the street

It might seem obvious but teachers have a responsibility to recommend books that will inform the lives of their students. I write this from experience: while studying at design school in 2012, I was fortunate enough to have a tutor, Simon Kilbane, whose library recommendations have shaped the way that I look at the world for the better part of the past decade. As my studio lead he recommended architect Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language. This in turn led me to other acclaimed urbanists’ works, such as Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities and Jan Gehl’s Cities for People. All three have informed the way that I think about cities – but none more so than Gehl.

Gehl’s work focuses on designing for people (not cars), with an emphasis on walkability and building “human-scale” streets and structures. His books back this approach with real-world examples and hard data that show how such a design ethos leads to people living happy and healthy urban lives. This is why the Danish Embassy in Myanmar’s announcement last week that Gehl’s seminal work will be published vin the Burmese language is so exciting.

The Southeast Asian country is rapidly constructing roads and buildings, so having a design community that’s well versed in what makes a good, human-scale city is critical. A Burmese edition of Gehl’s work means that young urbanists, architects and planners will have access to information that has been instrumental in making beautiful cities for people to live, work and play in. And it means that Kilbane’s Burmese contemporaries will have the opportunity to open up their students to better ways of seeing and designing the world.

Health / UK

Under strain

Much of the southeast of England including London (pictured) enters a more stringent “Tier 3” lockdown today due partly to the emergence of a new and possibly more infectious strain of coronavirus. So you might be surprised to hear some optimism from epidemiologists. “I’m not that alarmed, I’m not that surprised and I’m actually quite reassured,” Chris Smith, our health and science correspondent who is a consultant virologist and lecturer at the University of Cambridge, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. He added that new virus strains were to be expected, and the good news is that it doesn’t seem to have mutated enough to beat a vaccine. Smith also said that he backs the government’s decision to allow limited Christmas gatherings to go ahead. Because, whatever a doctor might say, “Morale is incredibly important: if you rob people of the one thing that they’ve looked forward to at the end of a very dismal year, then this will probably translate into poorer compliance in the long term.” So please do try to enjoy Christmas – responsibly.

Politics / Philippines

Court battle

International law is slowly catching up with Rodrigo Duterte (pictured) and his deadly war on drugs. According to the International Criminal Court’s annual report, issued this week, there is a “reasonable basis” to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed during Duterte’s tenure as president of the Philippines, which started in mid-2016. The ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda will decide in the first half of next year whether to launch a formal investigation into the killings.

Although the ICC’s preliminary findings will come as little surprise to many in the Philippines, the court’s ability to hold the president to account is questionable. Duterte pulled the country out of the ICC in 2019 and his government’s refusal to participate in the process (Manila responded to the report by saying that the ICC had no jurisdiction) would hinder any official investigation, at least until he leaves office in 2022.

Urbanism / Bologna

Living well

Italy’s most liveable city is just a little further south this year, says one Italian newspaper. In the 31st edition of the annual quality of life survey conducted by Il Sole 24 Ore, Bologna (pictured) took the top spot away from usual winners such as Milan, Belluno and Aosta (all close to the Alps). Famous for its red-brick architecture as well as its ragù, the city of 400,000 is home to Europe’s oldest university and a young, vibrant population. This year the pandemic dictated many of the survey’s parameters and with Italy’s northernmost regions struggling to cope, Bologna’s success in keeping infection rates at a manageable level, while supporting businesses and the elderly throughout, saw the city climb 13 spots from last year’s ranking. “Achieving such a result during a pandemic makes me proud,” mayor Virginio Merola tells the Monocle Minute. “It means that we’ve been successful in building a strong and socially cohesive community.”

Culture / Athens

Factory fresh

In another positive step towards the regeneration of Athens, the Greek capital’s vast Lenorman Street Tobacco Factory (pictured) is being transformed into an arts and cultural centre. Neon, an arts organisation funded by collector Dimitris Daskalopoulos, is renovating the famous building to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the country’s liberation from the Ottoman Empire. The former factory currently houses the Library of the Hellenic Parliament and was declared a historic monument in 1989. Half of it has long been unused and will be repurposed as part of the initiative. The project is expected to cost about €1m but this will be at no expense to the government: Neon will fund the renovation in exchange for using the space for its own exhibition and cultural programme in 2021. It’s an artful way to ensure development while keeping government expenditure low.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

‘Winter Light’ at the Southbank Centre

We go for a wander around the outside of London’s Southbank Centre to see its new multimedia exhibition, Winter Light. Robert Bound is accompanied by curator Cliff Lauson and artist David Ogle.

Monocle Films / Global

Japanese gift-wrapping: Lesson 4

Christmas is best enjoyed through a child’s eyes, so remember to add a touch of cheer and enchantment among those practical gifts. This original Viennese snow globe, with Monocle’s mascot [Monochan}(https://monocle.com/shop/product/1849807/original-viennese-monochan-small-snowglobe/) at its centre, will do the job nicely. Let it snow. Find your perfect gift at The Monocle Shop.

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