Four days in Sunny Madrid: The Best from Monocle’s 2019 Quality of Life Conference
Voice’s principal Jonathan Sagar jumped on a plane bound for Madrid for the fifth annual Monocle Quality of Life Conference.
“I’m a big fan of the Monocle brand. It attracts interesting and diverse thinkers and doers. Having attended previous years I was looking forward to the event this year in Spain held in the vibrant Spanish capital city of Madrid.”
Madrid is a 24-hour city with a very specific, understated cool. Typical of Spain people are out and about late into the night, and because of that, everything seems to run slightly later. Most neighbourhood coffee shops don’t open until 10am and I got quite used to that.
Of course, there’s the world-famous midday siesta — which results in a healthy cultural norm of reengineering your day and tweaking your work life to improve your overall quality of life. That puts what’s really important at the heart of your day. It’s something we could learn from.
In the sweltering 40C+ degree heat we ate and drank and explored the best that the city had to offer. With extremely welcoming locals as our hosts, we got a little taste of what life is really like in the stunning capital.
“Quality of life in our cities isn’t a topic you should discuss while sitting down. And that’s not what the presenters or attendees at Monocle’s annual Quality of Life conference did either. We moved in, around and through the vibrant city of Madrid, bringing the conference’s theme and purpose to life as we did so.”
Hosted by Monocle’s editor-in-chief and chairman Tyler Brûlé and Monocle’s editors, the two-day conference promised to explored ideas that “just might change your life, for good”. Presenters including leading architects, social commentators, food revolutionists, journalists, thinkers and hospitality specialists provoked thought and conversation amongst more than 150 delegates about everything from privacy to town planning, food and drink, eco brands and music festivals.
The conference opened with an early evening reception in the grounds of the stunning Liria Palace: a beautiful location in itself but also, due to the conference full to the brim with an eclectic mix of people and a chance to meet up with some old friends and meet some new people.
Urbanist Jan Gehl
Danish architect and urban designer Jan Gehl is focused on reorientating cities towards public life, pedestrians, and cyclists. When asked what to identify what he felt was the best thing about Madrid he answered “you don’t have a port, therefore you have no cruise ships”.
Gehl spoke of how his wife—who has a background in psychology—made him realise the importance of people-centred design and the psychological impact (negative and positive) that urban landscape can have on people. This led to a 59-year career exploring how people use cities, and developing a people-first approach to his architectural designs.
Pablo Soler spoke of his journey with music in Spain. Co-founder of music festival Primavera Sound (launched in 2001), Soler and his team were responsible for reigniting music festivals in Spain and getting the country up and dancing.
Unlike most music festivals which are held outside of cities, Primavera events take place in the urban areas of Barcelona and Porto. Soler spoke about the importance of working in partnership with cities to ensure their festivals function seamlessly within the metropolitan areas—a fantastically sensitive collaboration which works both ways: benefitting the city’s local economy and giving festival-goers a richer festival experience. Soler and his team are now taking the brand to California.
10 Corso Como
10 Corso Como Owner Carla Sozzani stood out amongst a gaggle of younger retailers, and quietly impressed with her unique point of view and aesthetic. A representative from the generation of the ‘less is more’ approach, Sozzani said very little, but what she did say had a high impact.
An early adopter of the concept store, Sozzani first opened Corso Como in Madrid in 1990 as a gallery and bookstore. The offering soon expanded to include fashion, music, design and dining, and Sozzani has since gone on to open stores in New York and Seoul. Marching to the beat of her own drum, Sozzani collects the rare, the interesting ,and the beautiful, resulting in an eclectic mix that delights shoppers and diners.
Norman Foster Foundation
Our final day of the conference involved a series of city tours exploring some of the magic corners of Madrid. I’ve long been an admirer (or should I say an awestruck fan) of architect Norman Foster’s work, so I was delighted to see a visit to his foundation on our itinerary. The Norman Foster Foundation is located in a remastered palace in the barrio of Chamberí and holds an archive of more than 17,000 drawings, photographs, models and items of memorabilia from his career.
The foundation opened its doors to us for a private tour through its archives. This was a rare and magical opportunity to peak into the mind of a creative Maestro. We were able to pore over his sketchbooks, which included working drawings and blueprints from his collaborations with Buckminster Fuller. From mind-bending structures to improbable cars, we got to see the early seeds of inspiration and experimentation for the famous metal framework, that drove Foster to create iconic buildings that now grace some of the world’s great cities.
After two days I left feeling inspired—and, thanks to Monocle’s skill at pulling people together—I remain connected with a worldwide community of creative thinkers and positive changemakers, all bent on exploring what it means to live a great quality of life in our cities.