Wednesday 8 May 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 8/5/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Image: Eric Kilby

Urbanism / Chris Edgington

Built to last

London’s skyline is synonymous with iconic landmarks such as the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater and the London Eye. New York, meanwhile, has the Empire State and Chrysler Building, alongside a newer generation of even taller so-called “pencil” towers. Structures that reach towards the sky, as though in defiance of physics, are inspiring. But if architects don’t design with their surroundings and communities in mind, buildings can also be eyesores.

We need to strike a balance between the needs of the present and the needs of the future. Architects should strive to be as sustainable as possible and maximise the lifespan of tall buildings. With lateral thinking, developers and designers can create new towers that don’t simply demolish what was there before.

Many developers already recognise their wider societal responsibility and the need to offer something more than just an elegant architectural edifice. By integrating multiple uses into one building, it is possible to enhance the symbiosis between the development and the world around it.

So what of the future? In 50 years’ time, today’s buildings will still need to serve a purpose. We cannot possibly foresee all the potential uses and it would be uneconomical to plan for the future by over-designing. How to resolve these challenges, by building economically, aesthetically and with longevity in mind, is the hidden challenge behind any city’s evolving skyline. It’s an urgent conversation that all of us need to be having.

Chris Edgington is a building engineer at Arup. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

The Briefings

Image: Getty Images

Olympics / France

Lighting the way

The Olympic torch arrives in the port city of Marseille today after crossing the Mediterranean aboard the Belem, a three-masted sailing ship. Accompanied by more than 1,000 boats, it will dock on a pontoon designed to resemble an athletics track. This will mark the first stage of its three-month journey across the country towards the capital. The flame’s arrival will offer an early indication of what we can expect from Paris 2024.

“I only realised the power of the Olympic torch after designing it,” says Mathieu Lehanneur, who created this year’s version of the iconic object. “When I show it to athletes and non-athletes alike, you can see how deeply moving it is as a symbol. They ask whether they can touch it, as though it holds magical power.” The flame will travel 12,000km, passing through more than 400 towns. It’s an embodiment of the Games’ enormous soft-power potential.

Art / Senegal

Art restoration

Senegal’s Ministry of Culture has announced that Dakar’s Dak’Art biennale, which was scheduled to open on 16 May, has been postponed until November. The 15th edition of the contemporary art fair, established in 1996, was expected to welcome 58 artists from Africa and the diaspora. The delay is a result of former president Macky Sall’s decision to postpone the country’s presidential election. Though it eventually took place at the end of March, the delay sparked significant political unrest in what has long been considered one of West Africa’s most stable democracies – and stalled the appointment of a culture minister. Dak’Art’s general secretary, Marième Ba, has also cited difficulties in transporting artworks through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, where the Houthis have been targeting commercial ships as part of their stated campaign of solidarity with Gaza’s Palestinians. To get Senegal’s art scene back on track, Senegal’s new president, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, urgently needs to re-establish political stability.

Culture / Japan

Hitting the tiles

In 1968 there were about 18,000 sento (bathhouses) in Japan. As of last year, that number had fallen to 1,755. But Yusuke Hiramatsu is proving that they can still play a vital role in modern Tokyo. The third-generation owner of Kosugi-yu in Koenji hosts regular events and skin-softening milk baths at his 91-year-old bathhouse. Committed to giving his fellow Tokyoites a respite from the bustle of the city, he recently opened a second outpost in Tokyu Plaza Harakado, a new development in Harajuku.

A bath costs only ¥520 (€3). Its design nods to crafts from different parts of the country, with tatami mats from Kumamoto and towels from Imabari. To keep numbers manageable, early-morning and evening slots prioritise local residents over tourists. The sento experience is about fostering a sense of community – something that big cities could always use more of.

Beyond the Headlines

The List / The Balkans

Building blocs

In 2003 the Thessaloniki Declaration stated, “The future of the Balkans is within the European Union.” Since then, the only new country to have joined is Croatia, which was accepted into the bloc in 2013. With Xi Jinping visiting Serbia yesterday and potentially consequential elections in North Macedonia happening today, Brussels needs to get serious about the region – before someone else does. It should take these steps:

1. Convince Serbia
It is time for accelerated talks and a serious charm offensive. Xi Jinping’s visit to Belgrade illustrates the eternal balancing act that Serbia is embroiled in. It needs to maintain “traditional friendships” with China and Russia while negotiating with the EU for membership. Serbians’ enthusiasm for joining is also waning thanks to the interminable accession process and a sense that Belgrade is being bullied into recognising Kosovo’s independence.

2. Rescue North Macedonia
In 2017, Nato and the EU promised North Macedonia membership on the basis that the country changed its name. Nato has delivered but the EU has not. Now the country is stuck in a row with Bulgaria which is blocking its membership talks. Brussels should help them out.

3. Prevent bilateral bullying
Score-settling should not be part of the accession process. Alongside Bulgarian objections to North Macedonia, Greece is also stymieing Albania over the prosecution of an ethnic-Greek mayor.

Image: Laura Thornhill

Monocle Radio / Monocle on Design

Tricks of the trade

How has a plank of wood with four wheels ollied, kick-flipped and carved itself a space in design history? The team considers the humble skateboard’s effect on the industry.


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