Wednesday 10 May 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 10/5/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: HKS/Wilson Tower

Opinion / Nic Monisse

The tall and short of it

Things are looking up since Austin blocked the construction of what would have been the Texan capital’s tallest residential building. Developers behind the Wilson Tower (pictured), a proposed 80-storey glass and steel skyscraper that would have housed 450 apartments, have been forced back to the drawing board. The decapitation of the too-tall tower has local support and the current plans have now been lopped down to a still-sore-thumb-sized 45 floors.

So why is this scuppering a cause for celebration in a city that still badly needs new homes? The answer is twofold. First, the regulations that come with high-rise buildings mean that tall towers don’t always add to housing density. In fact, they often need significant amounts of space left around them to save some sunlight for those walking on the streets below. For proof, look at what Paris, Europe’s most densely populated capital, has achieved with a relatively humble building height, in most areas, of between five and eight storeys.

The second, and perhaps more significant, point is that tall towers can be good investments for property speculators but tend to have a lower yield when it comes to quality of life and creating a meaningful connection between a city and its residents. “We should make cities six to seven storeys high,” says Danish urbanist Jan Gehl, who quipped that anything higher than this should be the remit of air-traffic controllers rather than city planners. Gehl’s point? Too-tall buildings ruin the relationships between homes, streets and neighbours.

Those in Austin seeking a precedent can take heart from Heartwood, an eight-storey timber building set to open in Seattle this spring. Designed by Atelier Jones architects, it will provide 126 apartments in a building scaled appropriately for the city. Raising standards of living in US cities involves setting our collective sights a little lower.

Nic Monisse is Monocle’s design editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Nathan T. Beard

Defence / Norway

Ready for anything

Norway is playing host to Formidable Shield, one of Nato’s largest exercises of the year in the country’s High North and the north Atlantic. The exercise involves about 4,000 Nato personnel, more than 20 warships and 35 aircraft, as well as ground units such as rocket systems and surface-to-air missiles. The exercise, the aim of which is to train the organisation’s air and missile defence in the Arctic, has not gone unnoticed in Russia, whose Northern Fleet is based just 110km from Norway. In the run-up to Formidable Shield, Russia dispatched seven warships to the area. Norway was quick to point out that, while Russian military activity in the region is the highest it has been in years, the country’s vessels have every right to sail in international waters. Alongside military preparedness, it’s exactly this pragmatism and poise that’s needed to keep this increasingly geopolitically important region from spiralling into conflict.

Image: Shutterstock

Design / Indonesia

Top marques

Indonesia might not be known for its graphic design but president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has an eye on changing that. Among other responsibilities, Jokowi has been involved in creating the visual identity for the Association of Southeast Nations (Asean) summit, which Indonesia is hosting this week. The “Asean 2023” logo, designed by Adji Herdanto of Studio Akronim, is the product of a partnership between the government and the Indonesian Association of Graphic Designers (ADGI).

The body finds the talent and the president provides input on everything from the imagery to the colour palette and the weight of the fonts. “You can call the president a natural art director,” ADGI chairman Ritchie Ned Hansel tells The Monocle Minute. The collaboration started with last year’s G20 summit and the next project is already live: designing a fresh identity for Indonesia’s new capital, Nusantara. Jokowi has narrowed down the proposals to his five favourites and will announce the winner of a public vote at the end of this month. This is a president keen to leave his marque on the nation’s design industry.

Image: Alamy

Demographics / Italy & USA

Rome is where the heart is

Applications by US citizens for Italian passports have increased fivefold since 2016, as many Italian-Americans whose ancestors crossed the Atlantic consider a return ticket. In March the Italian consulate in New York alone had a waiting list of 3,700 applications, while agencies specialising in Italian citizenship law say that there has been a spike in interest. Applications can be made through the principle of jus sanguinis (right of blood), so potential returnees must prove a direct, unbroken lineage with an Italian citizen.

“Our organisation has grown exponentially in the past few years,” says Veneto-based lawyer Marco Permunian, who founded Italian Citizenship Assistance to help prospective citizens clear the regulatory hurdles. Being Italian has advantages including being allowed to live and work anywhere in the EU and having access to healthcare and education. This said, Americans seeking to escape the culture wars and divisive debate in the US might find an equally lively brand of politics in Italy.

For more unlikely finds, insights and ideas from our global network of reporters, buy a copy of the May issue of Monocle, which is out now, or subscribe so that you never miss a story.

Image: Alamy

Privacy / France

Red tape

France’s Data Protection Agency is strongly advising motorists to ditch dashboard-mounted cameras in cars by warning that the footage falls into a legal grey area. While a growing number of drivers use dashcams, many enticed by insurance companies offering lower premiums for doing so, there is currently no law in France governing the deployment of such footage in court. “French laws are complicated and can prevent easy use of any video data as evidence,” says Monocle’s technology correspondent, David Phelan.

“Users need to declare that they are filming and transmit footage to authorities or insurance companies quickly to avoid suggestions of manipulation.” While the Data Protection Agency is right to flag France’s legal loopholes, a broader debate is accelerating ahead of the Olympics in Paris next summer. The Olympic Games bill, which was passed in March, rubber-stamps the rollout of surveillance powered by artificial intelligence on an “experimental basis”, much to the chagrin of those keen to protect the right to privacy in France.

Monocle Radio / The Global Countdown

Cape Verde

Monocle Radio’s Fernando Augusto Pacheco listens to the top songs in Cape Verde.

Monocle Films / Greece

Keeping the faith

In this digital age, do we need more forgiveness and sacrifice in our lives? And where can we look for direction? Monocle Films sits down with Archbishop Elpidophoros of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America to find out how the church strives to address contemporary needs and remain relevant.


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