When Monocle’s first Soft Power Survey was published in 2010, international relations were enjoying a relatively benign period. As a result, nations’ softer virtues – things such as diplomacy, culture and trade – weren’t as shrouded by the fog of war and rancour as they are today. The world in 2023 is a different place. At times, it can seem that soft power is failing or that the spirit of openness and co-operation that underpins it is under existential threat. Times such as these require a doubling-down on those principles by their advocates.
Diplomacy is the cure for war and the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza have led to a revival of this art. While those parts of the world are still roiling, the fact that neither conflict has spilled over into a wider conflagration is a testament to the tireless work of people such as Antony Blinken, António Guterres and Emmanuel Macron. To recognise the importance of diplomacy in a fractious world, this year’s survey, which features in the December/January double-issue of Monocle and is out today, took into account the number of foreign trips that heads of state had made over the year.
Monocle’s editors also assessed metrics such as the number of embassies that each country has abroad and how many places its citizens can travel to without a visa, alongside less quantifiable factors such as people’s desire to move there and the potency of its culture. This year’s top spot went to France. As with nearly every other country in the ranking, the Gallic nation has not had an easy year. But its way of life, cosmopolitan flair and rich artistic, design and culinary traditions still earn it admiration the world over. Plus, in Macron, the country has an intelligent leader who is firmly committed to the power of in-person diplomacy. Vive le diplomate!
Alexis Self is Monocle’s foreign editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to the magazine today.
More than 70,000 delegates from 197 countries will convene today at Expo City Dubai for the UN’s Cop 28 climate change summit. The conference will be held across two areas: the Blue and Green Zones. The Blue Zone will host UN-accredited participants, who will be discussing how to tackle the crisis. It’s unlikely, however, that any major announcements will come from the participating countries this year. After all, little progress has been made towards limiting global warming to 1.5C, a target that was agreed on in 2015 at Cop 21 in Paris. The fact that the chair of the talks, Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, is the head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company has also raised eyebrows.
The focus instead should be on the Green Zone, which is open to all attendees, including the public, NGOs and the private sector. Companies are expected to showcase their environmental credentials and willingness to provide solutions to climate change. “We expect a slew of announcements to come from the Green Zone,” Mustafa Alrawi, acting managing director at CNN Business Arabic, tells The Monocle Minute. “The private sector can help to shape a more sustainable and prosperous future.”
Italian luxury fashion house Valentino is doubling down on its commitment to preserving artisanal skills by moving its craft training programme, La Bottega dell’Arte, into a larger, better-equipped area of its historic Rome headquarters. Founded in 2015, the programme gives a new generation the chance to learn from the fashion house’s former haute couture “premières” (heads of ateliers).
Students enrol for nine months, honing techniques such as tailoring and developing a garment to present to Valentino’s creative director, Pierpaolo Piccioli, for assessment at the end of the course. In the age of fast fashion, haute couture might seem anachronistic but fashion houses’ continued investment in its traditions shows that these time-tested skills remain the backbone of the industry.
This week the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) announced that Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s gleaming desert capital, will host the World Expo in 2030. Saudi Arabia made no secret of the fact that it was flirting with as many BIE delegate countries as possible in the hope of winning the bid. With the voting system granting every nation one vote, no matter its size, it was a tactic that paid off. Saudi Arabia won 119 votes, South Korea 29 and Italy 17.
Aside from opulent dinners – and a year’s worth of efforts by all three candidate countries to woo members of the BIE – Riyadh’s pitch was detailed and remarkably generous. Themes such as inclusion and human development were touted. The kingdom also says that it will make hundreds of millions of euros available to 100 smaller countries to facilitate their presence at the event.
UK designer Ken Shuttleworth is the founder of Make Architects, the studio behind the new Capella Sydney hotel and the London headquarters of Swiss bank UBS. Monocle meets him at the World Architecture Festival, which is taking place this week in Singapore, to discuss the importance of drawing by hand in architecture and how office spaces are evolving.
What are you most excited about at the World Architecture Festival this year?
You don’t get many opportunities to come to an event that is solely about architecture. For me, that’s the most interesting thing about it. You can see new buildings, explore ideas and hear people’s thoughts, all in the name of trying to progress the field of architecture.
What prompted you to co-establish The Architecture Drawing Prize in 2017?
Drawing is the essence of what architects do. It is how everything is communicated. I was concerned that traditional techniques and ways of working were being lost. I wanted to celebrate hand-drawing alongside the use of digital materials.
You have worked on some iconic office buildings, including 30 St Mary Axe [known colloquially as the Gherkin] in London. Is there much demand for office design at the moment?
Since the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a move towards creating more green spaces and open areas where you can connect with people. The office is about belonging. When you go to work, you want to feel as though you’re part of a collective. It’s important to build spaces where people actually want to go. This has pushed companies to create more breakout rooms, terraces and other exciting places.
For our full interview with Ken Shuttleworth, tune in to Wednesday’s edition of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle Radio.
This week we visit Rome’s Villa Medici, which has undergone an acoustic makeover, and designer and hotelier Jacu Strauss joins us in our London studio to discuss his career. Plus: an early modernist home in Prague by architect Adolf Loos.