Wednesday 8 November 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 8/11/2023

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Image: Alamy

Urbanism / Christopher Lord

High standards

How many times have you walked into an office and thought, “It’d be great to live here”? The answer is probably very few. But corporate towers that have been hollowed out by the shift to remote working patterns are being turned into housing stock in the US, with a flurry of office-to-residential conversions taking place over the next 12 months. In cities from San Francisco to Boston, authorities are drawing up tax breaks that they hope will incentivise developers to turn commercial blocks into cosy homes and revitalise moribund city centres. Zoning laws are also loosening, with the Biden administration announcing capacity for $35bn (€32.7bn) in below-market loans for conversion and new housing projects near transport hubs.

All of this could result in a developer scramble even if, by one estimate, only 15 per cent of US offices can realistically be adapted for residential use. Take Calgary in Canada, a city that was ahead of the curve by incentivising conversion early and has now had to pause applications because authorities were inundated by proposals and had reached the limit of their funding. What I increasingly hear from developers and architects, however, is that there needs to be a serious conversation about what happens to the buildings that don’t make the cut.

Developers talk about a “flight to quality”, how businesses will pay to rent well-built and pleasant offices in lively areas. There’s little hope or conversion potential for the terminally drab, flimsy or prohibitively pokey buildings. These will need to be torn down or rethought entirely and many will balk at this as being costly and polluting. Yet America’s downtowns were once home to smoggy factories, many of which were demolished to make way for the new. We might be in the throes of a similar movement.

Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.


Image: Alamy

Politics / Portugal

Sudden departure

Portugal’s prime minister, António Costa, resigned yesterday after police raided his official residence and two ministries, and detained his chief of staff in a probe into alleged corruption. Announcing his decision, Costa said, “No illegal act weighs on my conscience,” adding that the allegations were incompatible with the “dignity and responsibility of the prime minister’s office”. The prime minister has not yet been charged but is part of a Supreme Court investigation into his administration’s handling of lithium mining and hydrogen projects.

Despite Portugal’s troubles in the healthcare, education and housing sectors, Costa is widely seen to have helped put the country back on the map since his election as prime minister in 2015. With support for the far-right rising in local elections and national polls, however, a snap election could cost the current administration dearly. Costa had also been a favourite to replace Charles Michel as president of the European Council. His shock resignation throws the competition for both leadership roles wide open.

For more, listen to Monocle’s senior foreign correspondent Carlota Rebelo on ‘The Globalist’ at 07.00 London time on Monocle Radio.

Electric aircraft on the ascent

Aviation / Norway

On the crest of a wave

Electricity-powered aircraft are beginning to take flight as the aviation industry seeks ways to reduce its carbon emissions. Leading the shift is Norway, which has more electric carriers than any other country as part of its aim to make all short-haul flights electric by 2040.

Having secured a grant of NOK84m (€7.5m) from Norway’s government in September, the Bergen-based Elfly Group is developing a prototype for a commercial electric seaplane dubbed Noemi. The aircraft promises seating for between six and 13 passengers and boasts a range of about 170km. Designed initially with Norway and its challenging terrain in mind, the aircraft could provide a new level of guilt-free convenience and sustainability, wherever there is water to land on.

For more on the Noemi project and other agenda-setting stories, pick up a copy of Monocle’s November issue or subscribe today.

Art / Shanghai

Show and sell

Asia’s art crowd is descending on Shanghai for the city’s hotly anticipated contemporary art week, led by Art021 and West Bund Art & Design. Attendees from outside mainland China will be able to fly in for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began. Many visitors will be as eager to see the fairs on the ground as the art on display. China’s well-documented economic wobbles hit the art world last month when the billionaire couple behind the Long Museum, one of Shanghai’s leading private art institutions, sold off 29 works from their collection at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. But their auction failed to live up to expectations, stoking industry fears about the future spending power of China’s deep-pocketed collectors. Should sales in Shanghai also disappoint, galleries and auction houses around the world will have reason to be cautious in 2024.

Beyond the Headlines

The List / Paris Photo

In the frame

Paris Photo is the largest annual international art fair dedicated to photography. Kicking off this Thursday at the Grand Palais Éphémère and running until Sunday, the fair brings together as many as 200 exhibitors from across the world. Monocle picks three artworks on display to visit up close.

“Sphinx on the Flight Lane” by Angelika Platen, shown at the Montrasio Arte gallery space

Image: Angelika Platen, Alkan Avcıoğlu, Paul Graham

“Symphony No 1 in D Major, Op 3, Presto: ‘Convergence’” by Alkan Avcioglu, shown at the Louise Alexander Gallery space

Image: Angelika Platen, Alkan Avcıoğlu, Paul Graham

“Senami, Shambhala, New Zealand” by Paul Graham, shown at the Pace Gallery space

Image: Angelika Platen, Alkan Avcıoğlu, Paul Graham
Image: Nick Hubbard

Monocle Radio / The Urbanist

Memorial Park, Houston

Laura Kramer takes us to one of the largest urban parks in the US to see how regeneration efforts are helping to bring the ecosystem back to life.


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