Thursday 25 April 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 25/4/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Design / Josh Fehnert

Better by design

Architects and designers are an irrepressible bunch. They’re the sort of people who see issues – from housing in São Paulo to public seating in Sydney – then immediately set out, undaunted, to solve them. It’s this impulse to improve things that underpins the annual Monocle Design Awards. Between the covers of our May issue, which is on newsstands today, you’ll find 50 must-see projects, from canny branding to smart retail. We celebrate everything from Tanzanian libraries and Turkish urbanism to innovative healthcare and housing interventions – as well as a new Philippines-made textile that is literally bananas.

Monocle’s journalism has long taken cues from this constructive, opportunity-oriented world view. Elsewhere in the issue, we meet an artist reviving an island in the Venetian Lagoon and hit the campaign trail in Bengaluru to see how India is being reshaped by the progressive technology hub. We head to Mipim property fair in Cannes for a glimpse of the development industry’s future – between the bobbing boats and popping corks – and meet the businesses leading a retail revival in Athens.

Some of the things that we have highlighted in our awards – fetching kitchens, a dashing design school, a revived railway station – might, at first glance, seem a little removed from the big issues facing the world today. But read between the lines and you’ll spot something less obvious and increasingly rare: optimism.

We hope that you enjoy the magazine, take inspiration and put it down brimming with benchmarks and maybe a question in mind. What might the rest of us learn from the discipline of design? The industry’s cheerful insistence on fixing and refining – rather than dwelling on difficulty – is surely something to build on.

Josh Fehnert is Monocle’s editor. For more on our Design Award winners, keep an eye on your inbox for a special Monocle Minute on Design newsletter coming at midday. Pick up a copy of our May issue or subscribe today.

The Briefings

Up in the air: solar panels and wind turbines in Gobustan, Azerbaijan

Image: Alamy


Power games

Azerbaijan is seeking to rebrand itself as a green power ahead of November’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop29), which it will host in Baku. This week its energy ministry announced plans to hold its first renewables auction, seeking bidders for the creation and operation of a 100-megawatt wind-and-solar facility in Gobustan, near the capital. But much of the expansion of the country’s renewables sector is focused on the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which it captured last year.

Azerbaijan has invested heavily in the area, replanting forests, building carbon-neutral villages and restoring hydroelectric dams. It claims that the region suffered significant environmental damage while under Armenian control. However, sceptics have accused Azerbaijan of seeking to use its green drive to distract from its poor human rights record and its continued reliance on the sale of petrochemicals. In July 2022 the EU signed a deal to double Azerbaijan’s gas exports to Europe by 2027. But Baku insists that it is preparing for the future, when the gas will run out.


Peak practice

Copenhagen-based textile company Tekla and German photographer Lena C Emery have collaborated on an exhibition called The Mountains Between Us. The show, which opens at London’s No 9 Cork Street gallery today, spotlights the effect of climate change on the Swiss Alps. Emery’s work documents environmentalists’ attempts to preserve the rapidly melting Rhône Glacier by covering it with geo-textiles. The exhibition also incorporates sculptures and films exploring the effects of climate change. Like many Danish organisations, Tekla champions responsible production, prioritising natural materials and European manufacturing. Its support for Emery’s work, in partnership with environmental charity Clientearth, is a good example of how brands can engage with issues of sustainability creatively, instead of just releasing opaque reports or making hollow promises.


Community / Hong Kong

Putting down roots

Big cities can be isolating and often lack greenery – and Hong Kong is a case in point. That’s why One Bite Social, the charity division of architecture and urbanism firm One Bite, is working to bring people together through nature. “Plants connect all ages,” says Sarah Mui, a co-founder of the project, which has hosted installations celebrating significant local species across Hong Kong.

These were complemented by community workshops on topics such as plant dyes and upcycling coffee grounds. “Every mobile Community Plant Library has attracted people from multiple generations and the plants usually become a connector for conversations.” The project is an example of how small interventions can have lasting benefits, making it a worthy winner of a Monocle Design Award.

Improve your life and seek inspiration and ideas with a copy of Monocle's May issue.

Beyond the Headlines

Image: Asuka Ito

Q&A / Makiko Ono

Tea at the top

Makiko Ono is the first female CEO of Suntory Beverage and Food, a Japanese company with revenues of more than €9.6bn last year whose global portfolio includes Ribena, Schweppes and Lucozade. Within its home country, it sells 120 million cases of Tennensui mineral water, 100 million cases of Boss Coffee and 61 million cases of Iyemon green tea every year. Suntory is increasingly focusing on water conservation and plastic reduction. Monocle spoke to Ono at the company’s Tokyo office.

How did you begin your career?
When I joined Suntory in 1982 I was in a team that was acquiring a French winery and other international companies. No woman had worked abroad in our company but I was keen to go overseas. So I was sent to Paris, where my role was to manage the winery and a cognac company that Suntory had acquired. I needed to learn about production, management and finance, and deal with banks – something that I wouldn’t have experienced in Japan unless I’d been in the finance division.

Where do you see areas of growth in Japan?
Though Japan’s population is declining, it’s a huge, mature market that appreciates novelty. To cater to its ageing society, we’re bringing in value-added products called Food for Specified Health Use [For example, Iyemon Tokucha, a green tea drink that helps to lower body fat]. Sugar-free tea drinks and bottled water hold large market shares in Japan and there are vending machines everywhere, so people can buy them at any time.

And how do you keep the business growing globally?
We have two growth streams: inorganic, which comes from M&A or partnerships, and organic, which comes from polishing existing brands. We’re trying to do more to share the strengths of the Japanese business with other regions and, in turn, import best practices. The Japanese side does a lot of research and development. We want to bring that to other places. Boss Coffee is a unique product that has given us expertise in making canned and bottled brews, so we are expanding it to Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam, and maybe Europe in the future.

For our full interview with Makiko Ono, pick up a copy of Monocle’s May issue, which is out now.

Monocle Radio / Monocle on Design

Milan Design Week special

In the second edition of our Milan Design Week special, Oki Sato and Sophie Lou Jacobsen join us at our pop-up studio. Plus: we discuss a new title that reproduces the final notebook of architect Louis Khan and explore an astronomical-inspired work by Benedetta Tagliabue for lighting specialist Artemide.


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