Thursday 25 February 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 25/2/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Mark Kushimi

Opinion / Josh Fehnert

Clean sweep

I’m deeply suspicious of the folk and firms who overuse the word “sustainable”. As with all clichés, its meaning has been dulled, dimmed, narrowed and sometimes even co-opted by companies that are clamorously keen to seem green. And to be clear, just saying it isn’t a panacea for the world’s problems; that takes action, ideas and inspiration.

That’s the mission behind Monocle’s springy out-today March issue, in which we highlight stories of people and places doing things better (rather than blathering or just rebranding their wastefulness). Here are three things that you’ll learn inside.

1. How to keep an open-minded mission
The French embassy in Nairobi is an expression of soft power built in hard stone, timber and concrete on a hilltop near Kenya’s Karura Forest. As a key player in brokering the Paris climate agreement, France knows that global action requires collaboration and that environmentally minded buildings can be part of that manifesto.

2. Why to recruit fluffy film-stars
Our Culture report delves into the business of nature documentaries to explain why showing the public how our planet is changing (and why it’s important) can help to spark meaningful change and profit more than just the producers.

3. How modernism stayed cool
Mid-century architecture took cues from a typhoid epidemic in the early 20th century (think of all those wipe-clean surfaces and the onus on light and fresh air). While some buildings fall short, we can certainly learn something from those arcades, roof terraces and balconies. There’s a strong case for building with a breeze in mind rather than cranking up the air-con.

Our call to “do it better” is about building businesses, cities and solutions that go beyond rebadging your plans and slipping back into business as usual. It’s also about the little things we can all do: the power of buying once and well, fixing and repairing what we own and creating spaces for nature in our cities. Done properly, this means that products, cities and companies can “sustain” us all in a much broader sense of the word.

Image: ÖBB

Transport / Austria

Sleep mode

The Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) and Siemens have unveiled new night trains that will soon be zipping across Europe in a dashing night-blue livery with a small horizontal red stripe. The Nightjet will comprise two seating coaches, three couchette cars (the seats of which convert to sleeping berths) and two dedicated sleeper cars. The two minisuites offer a new, luxurious way to travel overnight in Europe. It’s all part of an ambitious plan spearheaded by Austria’s rail operator and helped along by a €500m investment from the country’s government to further greener travel options. “We are the market leader for night trains and with this investment we can strengthen our position,” ÖBB CEO Andreas Matthä said at this week’s unveiling. The trains will start departing in 2022, first from Austria to Germany and Italy, and later on more than 20 different European routes. We’re on board.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / South Korea

Working to rule

Voters in South Korea’s two largest cities will choose new leaders in by-elections on 7 April. The high-profile mayorships of Seoul and Busan were vacated last year amid accusations of sexual harassment and the subsequent suicide of Seoul’s incumbent. Both men belonged to president Moon Jae-in’s ruling Democratic Party (DP), which is fielding candidates despite internal party rules suggesting that it should step aside in any by-election brought about by its members’ scandals. Campaigning in the DP primary ends today, with results announced at the start of March.

Park Young-sun (pictured) – profiled in the March issue of Monocle, which is available now – is the favourite in Seoul. A former minister in Moon’s cabinet, she is ahead in primary polls as well as against the main opposition candidates. The eventual winners in both cities will serve the remaining 15 months of the current term before municipal elections in June 2022. Ambitious infrastructure projects are already being talked up but a plan for rebuilding some faith in city hall should be the first order of business.

Image: Getty Images

Fashion / Milan

Race to the top

Milan Fashion Week’s digital showcase opened yesterday with top billing given to a show by Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion, displaying the work of five black designers. It’s the second outing for the collective, which was launched last autumn after designers Stella Jean and Edward Buchanan wrote an open letter to the National Chamber of Italian Fashion, calling on them to address “the taboo topic of race” in the industry. The young designers featured in yesterday’s show – Claudia Gisèle Ntsama (pictured, in centre), Fabiola Manirakiza, Mokodu Fall, Joy Ijeoma Meribe and Karim Daoudi – were mentored by Jean and Buchanan, and partnered with industry specialists to gain access to suppliers, manufacturers and technical advice. Five new talents will benefit from the same programme and space on the fashion calendar in September. “Fashion is avant garde,” said Jean in an interview with Monocle’s sister title Konfekt. “Why should it reflect the retrograde side of Italy’s culture? Fashion, after all, influences – so let’s use that influence for the public good.”

Image: Alamy

Leisure / Iceland

Horse trading

The pandemic has meant hard times for Iceland’s tourism sector but there’s another industry in the small island nation that has a reason to celebrate: last year there was a boom in demand for Icelandic horses as exports grew by more than 50 per cent year on year. Most horses were delivered to Germany, Sweden and Denmark but exports to the US almost tripled and those to the UK nearly doubled. Some 2,300 horses, worth a combined value of ISK1.5bn (€10m), were exported. One factor is the devaluation of Iceland’s currency but the effect of the pandemic shouldn’t be underestimated: many people have been spending more money on their hobbies. And since imports of horses to Iceland have been forbidden for centuries to protect its own breeding stock, its pure-bred horses offer riders a taste of Icelandic adventure to tide them over until tourism restarts.

M24 / The Menu

Food Neighbourhoods 223: Recipe edition, Harriet Mansell

A recipe by the head chef of newly opened restaurant Robin Wylde in Lyme Regis, in the southwest of England.

Monocle Films / Global

The beauty of stairs

Staircases can trigger conversations, provide a sense of arrival and dazzle with ingenuity, so why are they often overlooked?


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