Tuesday. 29/6/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

OPINION / Christopher Cermak

Poles apart

Governing by consensus is hard – even harder today when “compromise” has become a dirty word and so many political parties (and the voters who back them) are obstinate in their demands. That reality was made painfully obvious to Sweden’s Stefan Löfven (pictured with Angela Merkel), who resigned as prime minister yesterday over the mundane matter of housing policy; Löfven couldn’t reconcile the opposing views on the subject of two smaller parties in his left-right coalition government.

Löfven’s fate offers a reminder: such fragile “unity” governments can be decent managers in a time of crisis – Löfven’s coalition survived pandemic-related policy-making that drew heavy international criticism – but they struggle once the pressure is off and fissures on other issues are exposed. That doesn’t bode well for Israel’s new anti-Netanyahu coalition – the clock is already ticking on how long Israel’s eight factions can make nice – or Italy’s Mario Draghi-led unity government as the pressures of the pandemic ease.

Sweden’s troubles also make the almost 16-year reign of Germany’s Angela Merkel, who likely celebrated her final EU summit last week, all the more impressive. In that time, she has never governed alone but instead managed competing interests throughout – often in a coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats. Yes, she’s known as a crisis manager but it’s notable that she survived the quieter times between crises as well. Merkel the ultimate pragmatist seems like something of a dying breed; steadfast in her beliefs but willing to compromise, heeding the opinions of the average voter rather than those on the dogmatic extremes. And while it’s nearly time for Merkel to go, it’s hard to imagine another politician (including her possible successors) walking that same line successfully. Germany’s next leader will need some of that Merkel sensibility to avoid the fragile government and polarising election cycles that plague so many other countries.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Japan

Breaking point

Tokyo residents were surprised when the city’s governor, Yuriko Koike (pictured), was hospitalised with severe fatigue last week. Koike was expected back yesterday morning but the city announced on Sunday that doctors had advised her to stay in hospital for a few more days. It’s a tough time to be absent: not only do the Olympics start in slightly more than three weeks but campaigning began on Friday for city elections on 4 July. Koike’s workload has been relentless: she’s been prominent throughout the pandemic, often taking a tougher stance than the government. Rumours are also swirling that she’s looking to move back into national politics. Politicians are generally last in the queue for public sympathy but Koike’s enforced time out is a reminder that the past 18 months have taken their toll on everyone. For all their faults, our leaders occasionally need a break too, ideally before they reach their physical limits.

Image: Getty Images

Design / France

Tower of strength

A new Frank Gehry-designed arts space has opened among a series of old factory buildings surrounded by public gardens, in a former rail yard at Luma Arles, a creative hub in the southern French city. But it’s the tower that has attracted the most attention. Gehry’s glittering centrepiece is covered in 11,000 cascading stainless-steel sheets; the Canadian-American architect says it serves as an homage to the nearby Les Alpilles mountain range and to renderings of it by Van Gogh.

While Gehry’s building might be in stark contrast to the traditional architecture of the city, it has raised little objection from residents, who are hoping it will boost tourism in Arles where nearly a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. Attracting visitors all year round is a challenge for much of Provence. With any luck, this project could make Arles a perennial destination for culture trippers and architecture spotters. And Gehry has a good track record: his design for the Guggenheim Bilbao is widely credited with aiding the turnaround of the Basque city.

Image: Shutterstock

Transport / Morocco

Deep routes

The longest urban traffic tunnel on the African continent, Casablanca’s 2.2km-long, $96m (€80m) Almohades Hopper, is now open. Located beneath dense urban neighbourhoods in the centre of Morocco’s largest metropolis, the tunnel will carry some 53,000 vehicles every day and it’s hoped that it will ease congestion in and around the historic Old City. And while some critics will argue that the existing gridlock will simply be moved to the new underground thoroughfare (studies have shown that building more roads often creates more traffic, not less), the Hopper should nevertheless take pressure off surface-level streets. By providing an alternative route for cars, city officials should also be encouraged to improve the Old City’s liveability by introducing traffic-calming measures, bike lanes and more pedestrian infrastructure. In a metropolis that doesn’t score well when it comes to providing dedicated cycle infrastructure, here’s hoping that’s a route they choose to follow.

Image: Sean Fennessy

Design / Australia

Suburban thrall

After most of the country experienced relative normality for much of the year, Australia’s sudden lockdowns this week will once again shine a spotlight on the importance of home – and having room to enjoy the great outdoors. And while suburban living has always been an option in Australia’s sprawling metropolises, the renovation of a 1960s dwelling on the outskirts of Melbourne, featured in Monocle’s out-now Quality of Life issue, shows a more sensitive approach to design in a vernacular that is typically associated with unnecessarily large dwellings (read: McMansions). Sat on a bushy block, its owners commissioned Melbourne architect Adriana Hanna to renovate the small timber-and-brick property in a way that pays homage to its original designer, Aussie modernist Alistair Knox, who is celebrated for his use of local materials and understanding of the countryside. The result offers sustainable small-footprint living, bathed in natural light and with plenty of outdoor space. “The design really enhances the way you live,” says Hanna. “It’s a rare thing and something worth celebrating.”

Read more of our take on thoughtful housing renovations, from Málaga to Melbourne, in Monocle’s July/August Quality of Life issue, on newsstands now.

M24 / The Menu

Cookery books for the summer

We speak to two authors of new cookery books: Ben Tish, who has just released Sicilia, and Mariana Velásquez, whose new book is called Colombiana.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle Design Awards

Monocle launched its inaugural Design Awards in early 2021 to celebrate the world’s best and brightest talents in architecture, graphic design and industrial design. We invite you to meet a global cast of winners as we celebrate pioneering design projects that make our lives healthier and happier, our cities smarter and our work more creative.

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