Thursday. 12/8/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Andrew Tuck

Higher ground

Before I did the interview, I thought that I might write about the ongoing saga of a piece of public-art-meets-architecture that so far has failed to hit its mark. But after the interview, well, perhaps this is about something more interesting: how to deal with criticism.

For the past few weeks, the Marble Arch Mound, a £2m (€2.4) pop-up construction at the western end of retail strip Oxford Street in London, has been the subject of much ire, variously slammed for being ugly, a waste of money and for bearing little resemblance to the shrubby renders that did the rounds before it opened (including by me).

For Monocle 24’s The Urbanist this week, we thought it was about time to call its designer, Gijs Rikken of Dutch architecture practice MVRDV, to hear his view on the brouhaha. For someone whose project has been heaped with such opprobrium, he was sanguine. He was even keen to get more feedback from my visit with The Urbanist team to the site – because of coronavirus travel rules, he has never been to see the Mound. What I wanted to know, though, was how he had handled being slammed like this?

“In a way, it always affects you, right?” says Rikken. “It’s this way with all the projects that you are heavily involved with; they become a part of you. It is also something that inspires you to listen and see those comments, and to see where things could have been better.” And, yes, he remains convinced that nature will still help to cover up the bald patches on the Mound and help him to deliver a successful project before it is taken down in January. I am not so sure and explained my concerns. Again, he simply took them on board with a calm consideration.

Rikken is not pretending that all is perfect. He knows that this has not been the immediate triumph that he would have hoped for, even if he declined my suggestion that it was a failure. But he comes across as a man who absorbs the hits and manages to move on. “It’s about learning how to deal with these things and taking that on to the next experience,” he says.

And he’s right. Somehow, we have to accept criticism when we fail to deliver and sift the critiques for what’s justified and what’s not. So perhaps the Mound should be marketed not for its view or the promise of a remake of flourishing nature but rather as a place to climb and contemplate how we could do things better next time. And not give in. See, perhaps it does have a purpose after all.

Listen to the interview with Gijs Rikken on tonight’s episode of ‘The Urbanist’.

Image: Getty

Media / Poland

Bad signal

Polish politics was thrown into disarray again on Tuesday as prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki fired Jaroslaw Gowin, his deputy and leader of the Accord party, a junior member of the ruling United Right coalition. His move was prompted by Gowin’s criticism of a proposed law that would outlaw majority ownership of TV stations by any company from outside the European Economic Area. Though Morawiecki claims that the law is a bulwark against Russia and China, the real target is widely believed to be the US-based Discovery Group, which owns TVN, Poland’s premier private network. Coincidentally – or not – TVN is one of the harshest critics of the Law and Justice party, the coalition’s largest party. Gowin’s dismissal throws into doubt the future of United Right, whose draconian laws have come under intense scrutiny from elsewhere in Europe. Yesterday, the Polish parliament approved the new media law, rejecting calls from protestors in dozens of towns and cities across the land to scrap it.

Infrastructure / Italy

After the fall

This Saturday is the third anniversary of the collapse of the Ponte Morandi in Genoa. Though a replacement bridge, designed by Renzo Piano, was built in record time and inaugurated to much fanfare last August, the city still has a long way to go to heal. Many of the areas surrounding the bridge are still languishing; a new plan for a park (pictured) and memorial by architect Stefano Boeri hopes to change that.

The symbolic first stone of the project will be laid this weekend and a commemorative service will honour the disaster’s 43 victims. Work will also commence on several homes that were damaged by the collapse, which will be turned into energy-efficient residences for students and the elderly. But a fundamental reckoning is still to come. The initial trial procedures – an attempt to hold 59 people to account, with charges ranging from manslaughter to negligence – will begin in October. It’s a step that won’t gleam like a new bridge but that could go much further in offering reconciliation in the city.

Image: Alamy

Politics / USA

Life after Cuomo

In his resignation speech on Tuesday, Andrew Cuomo stated that he was stepping down as governor of New York to allow the state’s government to “get back to governing”. But it’s a sentiment that could also apply – in practical and political terms – to New York City, which elects its new mayor in November. Cuomo is often described as having stood in the way of parts of city hall’s agenda, particularly in areas such as public transport infrastructure and the implementation of congestion charges for cars.

Andy Byford, the British former head of New York’s subway system, who resigned in 2020 following reports of clashes with Cuomo, suggested that a long-awaited overhaul of the subway network might be possible now that the former governor is out of the picture. And if frontrunner Eric Adams (pictured, on right, with Cuomo) wins New York’s mayoralty, whichever Democratic candidate runs for governor next year is likely to need his support to win. In principle, that could give Adams significant leverage as mayor. The dust of Cuomo’s resignation may still be in the air but when it settles, his departure could mark the beginning of several positive changes to the way the most populous city in the US governs itself.

Image: Attitude

Print / China

Good ‘Attitude’

International versions of popular publications are a good way for media companies to reach new markets. Despite the uncertain economic climate, this year has already seen the launch of Vogue Scandinavia, the 28th global edition of the magazine, with a UK edition of Rolling Stone hot on its heels. Neither, however, is as newsworthy as the decision by gay magazine Attitude to launch a China version, initially in digital form.

Although there’s certainly a market for the publication, its content is likely to be heavily censored as, despite increasing tolerance among younger people in China, LGBT rights are still taboo in many parts of Chinese society. Nonetheless, Attitude’s presence in the country is to be welcomed and shows that the international magazine market remains robust in some quarters. The project is being handled by Paco Tang from publishing house Xicun Media. Keep up to date with the latest in the world of publishing on Monocle 24's weekly print media programme, The Stack.

Image: Alamy

M24 / Monocle on Design

The Tange family legacy

Architect Paul Noritaka Tange on the challenges of continuing a design legacy with his Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Plus, the team meets Yinka Ilori at his vibrant 3D-printed basketball court in London’s Canary Wharf.

Monocle Films / Japan

Japanese food trucks

These design-forward restaurants on wheels are more than just lunch-hour catering for Tokyo’s hardworking crowds. We visit the talented chefs, as well as a technology start-up kicking the “kitchen car” scene into gear.

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