Friday 5 August 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 5/8/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Salva Lopez

Opinion / Carlota Rebelo

Blockbuster sequel

When Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum (pictured) first opened its doors in Bilbao in 1997, few could have predicted that it would unleash a global urbanism phenomenon. About 1.2 million people a year visit the city; in 2021 almost 531,000 people came to see the building, which has also ushered in a wave of development across the region. The “Bilbao effect”, a term used to describe the power of architecture to revive a city’s economy, has been used (and abused) around the world as other urban centres have emulated the Basque city’s success.

Now, 25 years later, Bilbao’s Guggenheim hopes to recreate its own effect. This week the museum announced that it would proceed with a €127m expansion almost 40km away in the Urdaibai area, connected to the main site by a tunnel. While this isn’t the first time that the Guggenheim has touted the idea, a pledge of €40m towards the project by Biscay province is a clear sign that things are finally moving forward. Former industrial sites in Guernica and Murueta will be adapted for the project, which is expected to create at least 900 jobs. Officials predict that there will be some 148,000 visitors a year when the annex is completed.

Successful transformative urbanism is not unique to Bilbao. Architectural marvels have been commissioned around the world in the hopes of reviving cities or neighbourhoods: witness the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Louvre Abu Dhabi or the MAAT in Lisbon. But it will be interesting to watch this city attempt to apply its own namesake effect on itself. Recreating an international phenomenon carries risks, of course, but surely nowhere is better qualified to implement the Bilbao effect than Bilbao itself.

Carlota Rebelo is Monocle 24’s senior producer/presenter and makes the weekly Monocle 24 radio programme and podcast ‘The Urbanist’.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Russia & USA

Rogue trader

US basketball star Brittney Griner (pictured) was handed a nine-year prison sentence in Russia yesterday, following the discovery of cannabis oil in her luggage in February. Make no mistake: this isn’t a simple case of drug possession. According to US media, Russia hopes to exchange Griner for Viktor Bout, an arms trafficker known as the Merchant of Death. Joe Biden said in a statement that the sentencing was a “reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney”. Yet he acknowledged that his administration would “pursue every possible avenue” to bring her and Paul Whelan, another American held in Russia, back home. That his administration might go along with such a prisoner swap has been sharply criticised by some in the US. It also indicates the depths to which Russia, once a country that was welcomed into the international fold, has fallen.

Image: Getty Images

Society / Japan

Perfect storm

Japan will have paid greater attention than most to this week’s meeting between Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, and Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen. Yet while China responded to the visit with military drills in the waters surrounding Taiwan, including in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, most Japanese media outlets were busy reporting on a more immediate threat. Torrential rain caused heavy damage in many parts of the country yesterday: Mogamigawa, one of Japan’s largest rivers, flooded roads and houses in the northern Yamagata prefecture (pictured).

Meanwhile downpours caused landslides in Niigata prefecture and Tokyo experienced stifling heat and thunderstorms. Amid the buzz of China’s jets and military drills, the alarm bells warning of the effects of climate change are ringing just as loudly.

Image: Alamy

Aviation / Switzerland

Spreading wings

It has been another tough summer for airlines, which have had to deal with staff shortages and cancelled flights – but some are faring better than others. Yesterday, Swiss International Air Lines, a subsidiary of Lufthansa, reported profits of CHF67m (€68.6m), moving it out of the red for the first time since the start of the pandemic. That’s thanks to a combination of restructuring and boosted sales. It has even managed to pay back an emergency bank loan granted by the Swiss government. Swiss has transported more than five million travellers this year, a fivefold year-on-year increase; its overall earnings have also surged to CHF1.8bn (€1.84bn) in the January to June period, up from CHF659m (€675m) in the first half of 2021. Though its earnings remain below pre-pandemic levels, strong bookings for the second half of the year suggest that 2022 could be a bright spot for those airlines able to weather the staffing storm.

If you happen to be flying on Swiss from Zürich, be sure to visit Monocle’s pop-up store at the airport – airside, on the way to the A departure gates – where you’ll find a collection of local gifts and familiar Monocle staples.

Image: Alamy

Politics / Hungary & USA

Persona non grata

What to do with a problem like Viktor Orbán? It’s a question biting at the heels of the EU as it watches the Hungarian leader’s assault on the rule of law and press freedom at home, and unsavoury comments abroad. In a rare joint statement from every political party in the European Parliament, Orbán was condemned for an “openly racist” speech that he gave at a Romanian university last week. Despite the fallout in Europe, he continues to find safe haven among Trumpists in the US. This week he met Donald Trump (pictured, on right, with Orbán) in New Jersey – even producing a slick video of the encounter – before appearing yesterday at the hardliner Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas yesterday.

Hungary is among the few countries opposing Finland and Sweden’s Nato accession (though Orbán might relent if other holdouts buckle first) and is still unwilling to take in migrants arriving in southern Europe. The EU might be hoping that his US trip turns into an extended holiday.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle 24 / The Foreign Desk

Why is Serbia irate over licence plates?

Kosovo intends to implement a policy that requires drivers in the country to use Kosovan licence plates but Serbia isn’t happy. Andrew Mueller explains what this is really about.

Monocle Films / Global

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