Last year was supposed to be Armageddon for the US office as workers remained remote and vacancies rocketed in major cities. Yet 2023 ended with a few green shoots: global businesses invested and affirmed the importance of in-person interaction. In Midtown Manhattan, for instance, law firm Paul Weiss is expanding its presence with a sparkly new building that’s kitted out with enticing amenities and New York’s largest indoor terrarium. On the West Coast, Monocle recently had a sneak preview of San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid, restored and reimagined by Norman Foster. It has the potential to be a beacon of hope for the city’s much-withered Downtown district when it reopens this quarter.
There is a flight to quality, according to developers, and US businesses will pay above pre-pandemic rates for a workspace that looks and feels good to be in. All of this is welcome. But what is to be done with the vast number of less-desirable blocks, such as cubicle containers erected in the 1970s and 1980s? I recently saw one inspiring idea taking shape in Miami: a local artist had leased an old office and transformed it into her studio. There were windowless rooms that once held desks and photocopiers, uninspiring layouts and boxy interiors – all perfect for an artist looking for an affordable space to spill some paint and make work.
Landlords should take note. Turning moribund office blocks into cheap artist studios might sound fanciful, yet it was also once considered fanciful to think that the dilapidated factories of London’s East End could someday serve this purpose and become the engine for the area’s renewal. In 2024 an avalanche of leases inked just before the pandemic will expire. Many buildings will simply be unfit for converting into housing, which many US city halls see as a solution to revive their downtowns. There is no silver bullet but a little radical thinking is needed: set artists to the task.
Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.
Today marks the beginning of the final week of campaigning in Taiwan’s potentially epoch-defining presidential election. The vote, which takes place this Saturday, is a three-way contest between Taiwan’s vice-president, William Lai, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Hou Yu-ih of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP).
Lai is currently the favourite but a win for the DPP would not be straightforward. The party is seen as the most pro-independence – or the most anti-Beijing – of the three. This is significant as tensions between Taiwan and its cross-strait neighbour have been running high over the past year. Any conflict between the two would undoubtedly draw in the US, which has pledged to defend the island. Victory for either the KMT or TPP, on the other hand, might jeopardise such a conflict, with both parties less enthusiastic about high defence spending. Though Joe Biden has made easing US-China relations a priority for 2024, Saturday’s election might decide whether or not he’ll be successful.
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, is on a seven-day tour of the Mediterranean and Middle East. It is his fourth trip to the Middle East since the war in Gaza began and the number of stops on his itinerary continues to rise as fears of a wider conflict in the region increase. He is currently expected to visit Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank, Egypt and more. Blinken will underline the importance of securing the release of hostages, as well as providing more humanitarian aid to Gaza and preventing a broader war in the region. According to the US Department of State, Blinken will also reaffirm his country’s commitment to peace and making “tangible” steps towards a future Palestinian state. “Big questions remain over the future of Gaza after the war,” Julie Norman, co-director of London’s UCL Center on US Politics, tells The Monocle Minute. “It’s unclear how much leverage the US will have with Israel on either short-term or long-term decisions.”
For more on Blinken’s tour, tune in to ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle Radio at 07.00 London time.
A busy season for the menswear industry begins this week, with fashion professionals heading to Florence for the winter edition of the Pitti Uomo fair. Brands and retailers are entering the new year with a degree of caution as luxury stocks stumble, costs increase and consumption slows down in markets such as the US. But Pitti Uomo’s organisers remain optimistic, with 832 brands expected to showcase their new collections across the Fortezza da Basso, 46 per cent of which are international names.
The common thread between them is their focus on premium manufacturing and classic design, qualities that are appealing at a time of market turbulence. The fair is also keeping an eye on the future by hosting a small number of shows by up-and-coming designers, including the Bologna-born Luca Magliano. He will debut collaborations with established Italian labels Kiton and Borsalino, continuing the relationship between modernity and tradition that the Florentine fair is known for.
Fuelled by fresh fish, fruit and a few glasses of sugar-cane rum, Monocle journeyed along Brazil’s often under-appreciated coastline.
We consider the architectural history and design flair of the skiing destination in the heart of the French Alps.