Monday. 22/5/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Material considerations

The Venice Biennale’s international architecture exhibition is the agenda-setting event for practising architects around the world. This year’s event is curated by Ghanaian-Scottish architect Lesley Lokko and opening weekend attendees were treated to a showcase of works by 89 participating practitioners and studios. Some of the big names included Pritzker Prize winner Francis Kéré, Sumayya Vally (of Serpentine Pavilion fame) and Alexandra Hagen of powerhouse Scandinavian design practice White Arkitekter. Each was encouraged to respond to this year’s theme, “The Laboratory of The Future”, which, while open-ended, did reveal a number of common threads. Efforts to engage the public in design discourse and reevaluate our relationships with existing heritage architecture were prominent, while the thickest discussion thread concerned how we use materials.

One only has to look at the German pavilion, which featured materials rescued from landfill. Francis Kéré’s contribution spoke to the power of using locally sourced materials and the US pavilion, whose Everlasting Plastics display looked at new approaches for addressing a global dependency on polymers in both products and architecture. All were looking to find materials that had low carbon footprints, a sentiment that Hagen summed up best when Monocle visited White Arkitekter’s stand in the Arsenale. Here the practice presented different perspectives on the construction of the firm’s all-timber Sara Cultural Centre, ranging from industry professionals supporting the use of timber in construction for its carbon-sequestering potential to indigenous Sami representatives on the need to protect forests.

“Our contribution to the exhibition is very much about how we make better use of the materials we already have,” Hagen tells The Monocle Minute. “In Europe, for instance, we shouldn’t be building much more; we should be repurposing both the architecture and materials that we already have. Many architects will be discussing materials, especially how they are extracted.” It’s a conversation that we certainly hope continues beyond the biennale.

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

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Taiwan

Polls apart

G7 leaders gathered over the weekend to discuss (among other topics) China’s growing military threat to Taiwan. The latter is set for elections in January that will define its future policies. Voters are due to elect a replacement for the term-limited incumbent Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who has led Taiwan at a time when relations have strengthened with Washington and tanked with Beijing.

Last week the main opposition party Kuomintang (KMT) picked New Taipei City’s mayor, Hou Yu-ih (pictured), as its candidate. Hou has demonstrated his star power at city level but he has yet to articulate his views on China. The DPP, which is the strong favourite to win a third term, has selected its current vice president, William Lai, to lead its ticket. But a third candidate, ex-Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People's Party, could disrupt the traditional battle between the two frontrunners and steal votes from both sides. How Beijing decides to interfere could be even more decisive.

Image: Reuters

Diplomacy / Armenia & Azerbaijan

Conversation peace

This week Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev (pictured, on right, with Pashinyan, centre) will be travelling to Moscow for peace talks between the two countries. The announcement follows last week’s summit between the two leaders in Brussels, hosted by European Council president Charles Michel. According to analysts, Moscow’s invitation aims to prevent a westward diplomatic shift in peace brokering in the region.

Russia’s historic influence in the Caucasus has long been bolstered by its hostility, frozen conflicts and weak ceasefires, which have encouraged an Armenian dependence on Russia – something that the West is keen to end. As the war in Ukraine rages on, Russia has been accused of neglect by the Armenian leader, who believes the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has ignored aggressive Azerbaijani posturing in Nagorno-Karabakh. For Europe and the US, a peace brokered from the West has the dual benefits of weakening the Russian presence while strengthening future energy security, thanks to oil and gas supplies from Azerbaijan. While these competing mediators vye for different degrees of peace, Yerevan and Baku should focus on how a lasting peace will benefit their respective countries.

Image: Miami International Airport

Aviation / USA

Suite dreams

Private luxury terminal service PS (formerly known as The Private Suite) announced plans last week for an expansion of its services to Miami International Airport (MIA) in 2025. The company plans to convert Pan Am’s former flight training academy building into a private terminal for affluent travellers. The move follows a year of significant growth for the brand. This summer PS plans to expand its luxury offerings in Atlanta airport and another at Dallas Fort Worth in spring 2024.

To avoid congestion at one of the world’s busiest airports, PS MIA promises to offer travellers “an elevated lounge experience” featuring a salon and suites equipped with private balconies and a landscaped courtyard “for some final moments in Miami’s sunshine.” The transformation of Pan Am’s historic modernist building, which was welcomed by Miami authorities, will be led by Florida-based architect Richard Heisenbottle, whose previous work has been focused on preserving some of the state’s cultural buildings such as the Vizcaya Museum and the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts.

Image: Getty Images

Art / Global

Artist formerly known for prints

Last week Andy Warhol’s estate lost its copyright tussle with the celebrity photographer Lynn Goldsmith (pictured, on right). The US Supreme Court ruled that the pop artist infringed on Goldsmith’s copyright when he made a series of silk-screen prints based on her photograph of the late musician Prince for Vanity Fair magazine. “The repercussions for this are going to be manifold,” curator and writer Francesca Gavin tells The Monocle Minute. “And there’s going to be a lot of pickiness around what galleries can reproduce outside of art content.”

The decision will likely make most artists working with found imagery nervous and, while the case happened in the US, the implications of it will inevitably reverberate around the globe. “We’re living in a very globalised art world,” says Gavin, who stresses that art is often taken across country lines and shown, bought and exhibited around the world. “What’s happening in the US will undoubtedly influence not only the art market but also European and international laws.”

Image: Ritika Shah

Monocle Radio / Monocle on Design

‘The Offbeat Sari’, ‘Styled by Design’, ‘Moon Jar’

We head to a new exhibition at London’s Design Museum to find out how the sari has had a makeover and visit a showcase of 20th-century modernist textiles. Plus: we learn how contemporary potters are reimagining Korea’s ceramic moon jar.

Monocle Films / Athens

Meet Europe’s first chief heat officer

Athens is the hottest capital city in mainland Europe and temperatures continue to rise. That’s why Eleni Myrivili was appointed as the city’s – and continent’s – first chief heat officer last summer. We meet her on Philoppapou hill to hear about how urban design can help to build resilience against rising temperatures.

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