monocle october 2012 issue 57 vol 06 169a

Architecture as a Verb

The experience of architecture is overwhelmingly visual – driving, particularly in Western traditions, a focus on methods of representation before a building is realised and promotion through photography after its completion. Visual is fast, immediate, and suits our communication needs to our peers and potential clients. This is very much the outward face of architecture.

Looking inward however I recognise that architecture is not only multi-dimensional (suggesting a broader definition) but also a pursuit (ie. a verb, a process). Part of that process is learning and research – not just at the beginning but an integral component in the machinery of sustaining knowledge and creativity.

Reading and Radio is about words – in architecture and related fields – with the knowledge and new experiences that they bring – to stimulate our imagination and encourage us to think about what we do, without being dependent on printed or projected images.

Today the spotlight is on Monocle – quite appropriately a source of both print and spoken word media.

Tyler Brûlé

A some point in 2006 I read that Tyler Brûlé, brainchild behind Wallpaper magazine, was going to launch a title in the new year called Monocle – a more business oriented magazine but with a heavy dose of Brûlé’s global travel and arts flair. This was at the height of the global financial boom (or bubble) when finance, in and of itself was sexy, pervasive and simply dominant, particularly in my then city of London. Incidentally another business title Portfolio launched at about the same time across the Atlantic. I have never read that they were direct competitors in the wider market but they certainly competed for my attention.

Originally Portfolio scored far more points for me. It was literally glossier, more accessible and digestible and frankly I looked forward to reading it more. At the risk of presenting a stereotypical USA vs Europe scenario Monocle was more restrained visually (and to the touch), more intellectual and global it its outlook and I thought more than a little pretentious. However its positive qualities slowly but surely won me over and I am a reader to this day, since issue No.1. Portfolio shut down in 2009.


What Monocle projects after a few reads or listens is a very strong sense of its values. Despite its business, arts or other credentials it is without doubt a lifestyle magazine. In spite of the contrasts it was definitely birthed from the same womb as Wallpaper. The only anachronism here is that even though it came after Wallpaper it is more ‘grown up’ and one could easily assume that it was around for much longer.

Perhaps the clue to decoding its DNA is to look at Tyler Brûlé himself. I would guess that he has his ‘favourites’, and that they often live or originate in Scandinavia, Japan or Brazil.

Taste without excess, collectibility, craft and quality over quantity are all values that shine through. The Monocle lifestyle is one in which wealth and business with effortless style and travel pervade. It idealises a version of the transnational professional who has passed the ‘startup’ stage and is a notch above the vibrant and already somewhat exclusive creative class. Despite the extremes of its ideals (as I perceive them) its content is inspirational and very wide ranging.

Monocle magazine October 2012


Since the magazine has been around for a while I will mention a few of Monocle’s internet radio/podcast offerings. There are a wide selection of design podcasts from various sources available via iTunes, but surprisingly few of quality and even fewer that address architecture. The podcasts below (via Monocle 24) are the ones that I do not miss.

  • Section D

    From Monocle: “The design series is presented by Monocle’s design editor Hugo Macdonald and focuses on global design, architecture, fashion and graphics”
    My view: Easily the best architecture podcast on iTunes.

  • The Urbanist

    “A weekly look at the people and ideas shaping our urban lives, presented by Monocle’s editor, Andrew Tuck.”
    More cerebral than Section D. Not always as interesting to listen to but often more informative.

  • The Entrepreneurs

    “Putting the spotlight on those driving innovation in their industries, plus where to invest, business news and tips from those who have succeeded”
    This show is sponsored by a Swiss private bank but don’t let that make you hesitate – highly entertaining stories and lessons for everyone in business (that’s us!)

  • The Review

    “Our Saturday show looks back at the books, TV shows, films and events that have made our week, with a heavy dose of retail”
    Think of the middle sections of the big Sunday papers like the UK Sunday Times or New York Times. I would say that this is the most listenable of all of Monocle’s podcasts. For some of the others you have to be in the mood. [2017: Sadly, Monocle subsequently stopped producing The Review, but later started a similar show called The Monocle Arts Review]

  • The Stack

    “Our brand new show cracks spines and thumbs pages as we look at the world of print media, from glossy magazines to investigative newspapers”
    The Review used to have a great magazine segment. Now it is a whole show – evangelism for what Monocle believes about print.

  • Culture

    “Illuminating the present and crystal-balling the future – the Culture Show is an international digest of music, art, film and media”
    OK, I actually do not subscribe to this show any more. Somehow it doesn’t hold me. It really should be better. I have included it here so that I can look back at this list in a few month’s time when it has improved 😉

The links for the shows above take you to iTunes. If you don’t use iTunes go to this page to stream online or subscribe through other sources such as Spotify or Soundcloud. You can also find many more podcasts there.

I don’t have any more free time than the typical architect (ie. none), but I take in the hours of listening that this constitutes every week while driving. I use the Griffin iTrip Auto which plugs into my iPhone and broadcasts a local FM signal that I tune in to with my car’s radio. Now I don’t fear traffic.

Griffin iTrip Auto

New Traditionalists

Stripping away assumptions of wealth, on a recent episode of The Stack, Greg Hywood referred to a constituency of “New Traditionalists”. I am yet to read or come up with a better summation of what Monocle stands for.

Are you one?

I have a funny feeling that I may be.

Further Reading

Monocle Book of Japan 400

The Monocle Book of Japan

Monocle Guide to Building Better Cities 400

The Monocle Guide to Building Better Cities

Monocle Guide to Good Business 400

The Monocle Guide to Good Business

Monocle Guide to Shops Kiosks and Markets 400

The Monocle Guide to Shops, Kiosks and Markets

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