Wednesday 12 July 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 12/7/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: UIA

Opinion / Michael Booth

Talking points

There was some unexpectedly lively debate in Copenhagen last week at the Obel Award Talks, a series of lectures and roundtables arranged as part of the UIA World Congress of Architects. The discussions explored some of the existential threats facing humanity and their potential architectural solutions, and ranged from Nairobi-based Cave_bureau on the merits of burying cable networks to talks about wellbeing featuring Junya Ishigami, winner of the inaugural Obel in 2019 for his Mizuniwa water garden.

The most active sessions took place during an innocuous-sounding “architecture as mending” panel, at which MacArthur Genius Grant-winner Jeanne Gang discussed cleaning up US industrial river sites. Xu Tiantian also spoke about projects in rural Chinese communities, while the 2020 Obel Award-winner, Anna Heringer, made an emotional apology on behalf of the Global North to the South for “colonising” the idea of the dream home.

Another panellist, Reinier de Graaf (pictured, on far left) of Dutch firm OMA, perhaps failed to read the room. He called out the industry for its “excessive demonstrations of virtue” and what he considered to be self-congratulatory greenwashing. Then he went on to dismiss the “fetishising” of small-scale projects, saying, “Being a catalyst is not enough.” He also compared local starchitect Bjarke Ingels to Michael Jackson for his messianic posturing and produced a photo of the UN’s face of sustainable architecture boarding a private jet. “The word ‘sustainability’ should be banned – it has become so corrupted as to be meaningless,” said De Graaf, before taking a pop at architectural awards that were given to “business-as-usual buildings”.

This year’s prizes will be given out in October in Sydney. De Graaf might or might not be welcome but – like it or not – his straight-talking is exactly what the industry needs.

Michael Booth is Monocle’s Copenhagen correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Alamy

Affairs / Nato

Requirements for entry

One of the key questions hanging over this year’s Nato summit in Vilnius has been answered: a last-minute magnanimous gesture by Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has cleared the way for Sweden to join the military alliance. The focus has now shifted to the more complex issue of Ukraine’s potential candidacy. Volodymyr Zelensky (pictured, second from left) has denounced allies for stopping short of offering Kyiv a concrete path to joining the alliance; Ukraine’s president is pushing for an unequivocal affirmation of Ukraine’s destiny as a member.

Speaking to The Monocle Minute as the summit began, Finland’s recently appointed foreign minister, Elina Valtonen, noted the establishment of a new Nato-Ukraine Council. “It shows that Nato is strongly committed to co-operating with Ukraine when it is fighting an aggressor in their country,” she said. “I’m very committed to having the country in Nato in the future but it’s very difficult to draw an exact timeline of when this should happen.”

Image: Getty Images

Trade / Hong Kong & Japan

Muddy waters

Yesterday, Hong Kong’s chief executive, John Lee Ka-chiu, said that it will expand its ban on seafood from the Tohoku region to many Japanese prefectures if Tokyo discharges radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power station into the ocean. Though a safety review by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently concluded that the plan would have “negligible radiological impact”, it has been met with stiff opposition from neighbouring countries.

Critics have cast doubt on the IAEA’s ruling, accusing Japan – one of the agency’s biggest donors – of pressuring it into publishing a positive report. The country’s chief cabinet secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, has dismissed such claims as groundless, pointing out that Tokyo’s contribution to the IAEA is half that of Beijing. Scepticism of the agency’s findings speaks of a growing lack of trust in neutral intergovernmental organisations – but with regional rivalries intensifying, such bodies are needed more than ever.

Image: Marc Glucksman

Urbanism / USA

Fresh tracks

A huge US infrastructure project is one step closer to becoming a reality. The federal government announced that it is awarding a $6.9bn (€6.3bn) grant – the most it has ever committed to mass transit – for the construction of the Hudson Tunnel. Connecting New York to New Jersey, the project comprises a new two-tube tunnel under the Hudson, as well as new terminal and rail crossings over the Hackensack River, such as the Portal North bridgen (pictured).

Construction will begin next year and the tunnel is expected to double train capacity across the Hudson. It will also allow for a high-speed rail service when it is completed in 2035. Widely considered to be one of the country’s most important infrastructure projects, it will allow the existing tracks, which have been deteriorating since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, to close and finally be repaired. After years of delays and hesitance by the federal government to fund the project, it seems that “Amtrak Joe” is laying the foundations for success.

Image: Romain Laprade

Swimming / France

Taking the plunge

For the first time in more than a century, Parisians and tourists alike will soon be able to take a dip in the Seine. In 1923 a swimming ban was introduced as a result of the river’s poor water quality but the city’s current mayor, Anne Hidalgo, has announced that it will finally be lifted in 2025. Three designated swimming zones will open to the public after the Olympics: Bras Marie in the 4th arrondissement, Bras de Grenelle in the 15th and Bercy in the 12th will be watched over by lifeguards and marked out by buoys.

Over the past seven years local authorities have invested around €1.4bn in a clean-up operation, which has helped to reduce waterborne bacteria from sewage to safe levels. When it comes to preserving the heritage of the Olympics, Paris is swimming ahead.

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Big Interview

Erna Solberg

The former prime minister of Norway sits down with Andrew Mueller to discuss her political career and the future of Europe’s relationship with Russia.

Monocle Films / Culture

Portuguese problem-solving

Lisbon-based architect and artist Joana Astolfi takes us on a journey into the Portuguese concept of desenrascanço, which means “finding an improvised solution to a problem”. She explains what it tells us about Portuguese culture and how it is embodied in an unusual structure in Comporta.


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