Three Days in Zurich: The Best from Monocle’s 2018 Quality of Life Conference

In search of inspiration, Voice’s principal Jonathan Sagar flew to Zurich for the Monocle Quality of Life Conference.

As a subscriber of Monocle since day one, the company’s fourth annual Quality of Life conference was a must on my to do list this year. Hosted by Monocle’s editor in chief and chairman Tyler Brûlé and its editors, the conference ran over two days and brought together expert panels to discuss what effects quality of life in urban environments. On the panels were economists, entrepreneurs, architects, journalists, designers, marketing specialists, brand developers and more, unpacking and rethinking topics such as urban living, terrorism, transport, art and retail. Over 130 thinkers, leaders, entrepreneurs and creatives from all over the world attended.

Playing a major role in the conference was the city of Zurich itself, the subject of which was not only woven into panel discussions, but also through the many hosted events that took place throughout the city—including a number held at Monocle’s Zurich HQ. From dining to hotels, art and glorious lake swims, we took in the best that Zurich has to offer.

From the conference and beyond, here are few things I found interesting:

The Price of Silver
This was a discussion between leading retail industry specialists David Harry Stewart, founder of The Ageist—a media company devoted to readers over 50; Tom Hodgkinson, author and editor of The Idler magazine; and Sagra Maceira de Rosen, luxury brand specialist and chair of The Naga Brands Group. This thought-provoking talk explored the future of brand development and the growing power of the affluent older generation of consumers and decision-makers. With 70% of the world’s disposable income held by people aged 50+, retail specialists are identifying a growing tension from older audiences no longer interested in being marketed to with youth-centric content. This, combined with the fact that future generations will likely live beyond 120 years has seen a number of luxury brands begin to rethink how they market their products, and to whom.

Mobility – Surprising Moves Panel Discussion
Headlines are dominated by the push for driverless and electric vehicles, but many mayors, planners and thinkers believe that the fixes we need when it comes to transport are actually a lot simpler. In this enlightening and entertaining discussion between Jean-Louis Missika, Deputy Mayor of Paris; Jeannine Pilloud, a delegate for Public Transport Sector Development at Swiss Federal Railways SBB; and Christian Wolmar, journalist and transport analyst, the mood became delightfully heated as opinions were aired and traditional assumptions around public transport and shared vehicles were challenged.

Zurich Main Station
Day two of the conference began with a breakfast at Monocle HQ, followed by a series of private tours through some of Zurich’s ateliers, galleries and landmarks. One tour was a visit to Zurich’s Main Station, home to the iconic Swiss railway clocks by Mondaine. Designed to ensure the precise departures of Swiss trains, the clock hands pause for a full two seconds on the minute—much to the delight of international visitors.

Zurich’s Water
Despite spending a mere three days in the city, something that struck me was the abundance of water. A central feature of the city since Roman times, clear, clean water and drinking fountains were everywhere—as rife as the fleets of bikes that made their way neatly and orderly through the streets.

Wellness is hugely important to the Swiss and much time is dedicated to summer bathing—in fact a lake swim was one of the events scheduled on our first morning of the conference. With some 30 lake and river swimming areas in the city, the pavilions (known as Badis) have provided locals with an opportunity to bathe and socialise for over 150 years. With their wooden slatted structures, the Badis are distinctive architectural monuments in the cityscape and in the balmy late June weather they were packed with tanned and toned bodies swimming, sunbathing and dining at the many waterside hospitality offerings.

The Monocle Shop & Café
A block away from the water lies the new Monocle Shop & Café. The space is designed by Swiss architects MACH, and as well as being home to the brand’s Zurich office and Radio Monocle24, it has a fantastic retail and café offering. Acting as the unofficial conference base it was a fantastic place to meet, mingle and watch the city go by, with delegates converging on the HQ for everything from initial registration to drinks and evening canapés.

The Museums
Zurich is an art-lovers’ haven, with numerous impressive museums and galleries and a bustling local art scene. A highlight for me was a private tour of Kunsthaus Zurich, which welcomes you with Augustine Rodin’s impressive ‘The Gates of Hell’ sculpture. Wandering through the permanent collection, one can view 19th-Century Swiss art alongside works by world-renowned artists such as Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso and Giacometti. Another highlight and somewhere I could have spent an entire day was at the Museum für Gestaltung. Dedicated to the Swiss design movement, this poster museum featured original workings of some of the world’s most iconic typefaces including original sketches and workings for Univers and Frutiger to name a few.

On the flight home to New Zealand I began to reflect on my time spent in Zurich. With a city crammed full of innovators, entrepreneurs and with the world’s highest purchasing power, many of the ideas covered at the conference were fascinating, however I came home with a renewed appreciation for the diverse, forward thinking and welcoming culture that is New Zealand. Europe may be Europe, but in terms of who’s doing it best, I think that down here at the bottom of the earth we’re more than punching above our weight.