Friday 11 August 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 11/8/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Visit Skellefteå

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Touch wood

Nashville has approved the construction of high-rise timber buildings within its municipal limits, becoming the latest US government body to make such a move. The Tennessee city follows others, such as Denver, as well as states including California and Washington, in embracing a 2021 regulation from the International Building Code – a set of global construction guidelines – that supports the construction of wooden buildings up to 18 storeys high.

It’s a policy that could have a significant effect on the Music City’s skyline (previously timber constructions had to top out at six storeys) and help to pave the way for an easing of its housing crisis. It should also be a boon for environmentally minded developers: buildings made from wood have a smaller carbon footprint than their concrete or steel-framed counterparts and continue to store carbon over the course of their lifetime.

And while this should be celebrated, it’s no reason for architects or developers to rest on their laurels – just ask Alexandra Hagen, CEO of White Arkitekter, the design studio behind the Sara Cultural Centre in Sweden, a 20-storey theatre, conference centre and hotel. “We still need to think about how we can construct timber buildings in a responsible way,” Hagen tells The Monocle Minute. “Swedish forests are already being replaced by plantations, which makes the planet less resilient to a changing climate.” It’s a salient reminder, from one of the world’s foremost timber-architecture firms, that wooden buildings are no silver bullet when it comes to sustainability – as with all new constructions, sourcing and supply chains need to be responsibly managed too.

Nic Monisse is Monocle’s design editor. For more from Alexandra Hagen on timber architecture, tune in to this week’s episode of ‘Monocle On Design’.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Malaysia

States of play

Voters across Malaysia will head to the polls tomorrow for the country’s state assembly elections. The vote is seen as a litmus test for public support of prime minister Anwar Ibrahim (pictured), who came to power contentiously in November 2022. Ballots will be held in six of Malaysia’s 13 states, including Selangor, the nation’s richest and most populous.

Anwar’s unity government consists of his Pakatan Harapan (PH) party and Barisan Nasional (BN), a former ruling party that had previously opposed PH but entered into a controversial alliance to remain in government last year. PH governs three of the six states holding elections, including Selangor, while the conservative Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), a member of the opposition coalition, governs the other three. If PH underperforms in Selangor, it could indicate voters’ unhappiness with Anwar’s coalition. It might also present an opportunity for PAS, a once-fringe party that has made significant progress in the past few years and whose success is seen as a threat to Malaysia’s multi-ethnic state.

Image: Alamy

Infrastructure / New Zealand

Social construct

New Zealand’s prime minister, Chris Hipkins, has unveiled a NZ$45bn (€25bn) plan to upgrade the country’s infrastructure system. The project involves building two 6km road tunnels that connect central Auckland to the urban North Shore area, along with a 21km light-rail tunnel that links the suburbs of Albany and Wynyard Quarter. This initiative not only enhances the region’s transportation but also tackles persistent connectivity disparities that have impeded development across New Zealand.

Since taking over from Jacinda Ardern, Hipkins has been keen to introduce new policies, raising the country’s minimum wage to counter inflation, launching a novel insurance scheme for displaced workers and implementing a biofuel-adoption mandate for fuel suppliers to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. While his predecessor was a high-profile media presence, Hipkins is keeping out of the public eye. Despite a slide in his party’s popularity, he is certainly being proactive about attempting to put New Zealand on the front foot.

Image: Getty Images

Tourism / China

Wish you were here

China has lifted a pandemic-driven ban on group tours to more than 70 countries, including the US, Japan and South Korea, in what could be a major boost for travel companies. The global aviation and tourism industries have struggled to recover after global travel restrictions were imposed at the height of the coronavirus outbreak. Prior to 2020, visitors from mainland China spent more than any other tourists, shelling out €231bn worldwide in 2019.

Thursday’s lifting of the ban is the third time that Beijing has added locations to its approved group-travel list since the beginning of the year. Canada was left off without explanation, though a recent deterioration in relations between Beijing and Ottawa is thought to be the cause. Nonetheless, there is no guarantee that Chinese tourism will bounce back in the short term: the world’s second-largest economy recently slipped into a recession and markets must adapt to a decrease in the spending power of its large middle class.

Image: Getty Images

Art / Ukraine

Painted into a corner

Ukraine’s National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) has launched a new tool for identifying artworks tied to sanctioned Russian individuals. The database, which comprises about 300 pieces with an estimated value of €1.2bn, is part of the organisation’s “War and Art” project. It lists paintings and sculptures thought to have been bought and sold by the Russian super-rich since 2014. “The aim of this project is to block the sale of art objects owned by Russians under sanctions,” Pavlo Kulyk, head of the analysis department at the NACP, tells The Monocle Minute.

“Their businesses are closely tied to the Russian government and exploit the fact that the art market is a closed one.” Western sanctions are often designed to restrict those who are aiding the war in Ukraine from moving their capital around the world. However, artworks are one commodity that can be sold relatively easily across national borders without alerting the authorities. The NACP database aims to close that network and ensure that those benefitting from the Putin regime have nowhere to hide their illicit gains.

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Foreign Desk

Conspiracy theories’ golden age

The US Congress recently held a bizarre hearing on UFOs, which included explosive testimony about alien spacecraft defying laws of physics. What did we learn from America’s UFO hearing? Why do people latch onto conspiracy theories? And what does this mean for democracies? Andrew Mueller speaks to Marina Koren, Tom Nichols, Will Sommer and Richard Evans.

Monocle Films / Culture

Meet the photographers: John Balsom

The Jogos da Lusofonia are an Olympics-style sporting event for people from the world’s Portuguese-speaking nations. We dispatched John Balsom, a photographer known for his powerful portraits, to the 2009 games in Lisbon. Here, Balsom shares his memories of the assignment and how he captured such a fast-paced sports story on vintage film cameras. Discover more in The Monocle Book of Photography, which is available to buy now.


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