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man at the helm

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Thierry Renault is steering a steady course for the legendary property show MIPIM, set to take place again next March with more architects - despite new concerns over recent international events

'MIPIM man' Thierry Renault is fretting just a bit. Described by his colleagues as a 'classique' - or typical Parisian - he is in fact anything but, revealing himself as a former banker with a passion for architecture, human rights and playwriting on the side - hardly a run-of-the-mill mixture.

But Renault is also the canny driving force behind MIPIM, Europe's largest and brashest property conference, which he has grown exponentially since the Cannesbased show's birth more than a decade ago, and whose architectural content he sees as similarly going from strength to strength.

And the show is why he is fretting.

Renault and his friend and colleague at the Reed Midem organisation, the colourful Xavier Roy, run a series of money-making conferences in the southern French town covering retail and mainstream property, TV, film, radio and music. But Roy - who has the more glamorous media portfolio - has been called away at the last minute to talk to US companies getting the jitters.

In the end, only two US pull-outs and one Australian result. And happily for Renault and more than 15,000 business-people in the property world who relish the 'networking' festival every year, he is confident that MIPIM 2002 in March will still go ahead, largely unaffected by travel suddenly becoming something business leaders think twice about. Better to press ahead regardless, he says, 'and help humanity' - the best response is not to 'destabilise'. And, anyway, he says, the show is no stranger to adversity.

'We had a boycott in 1992 from some federations, which was a little bit tight to resell enough booths, ' he says with a Gallic shrug and some understatement. This, it turns out, was just two months before the show, but he was grateful for dissenting voices, among them Britain's RICS.

MIPIM has otherwise been an unparalleled success story. It was Roy who first had the idea of the show and put it to Renault over dinner (eating is a passion for both, unsurprisingly), when Renault was still working for a bank for which he specialised in real estate.

'He said to me: 'We're considering a show for property - could you help me meet some professionals?'' says Renault. 'I decided to help him meet some in France at that time.'

And, having spoken to a lot of people, 'all of them' thought it would be a great idea.

'That was despite the secret of real estate, which is confidentiality, ' says Renault.

Nowadays, a bewildering array of countries, cities, architects, property outfits, agents, developers, engineers, banks, institutes, IT firms and even lawyers converge on the bars and hotels - and even the ugly, bunker-like conference centre on Cannes' Palais des Festivals - every March as part of MIPIM. There they cut unconventional figures, pinstripe suits taking a promenade, to talk about potential deals (what the MIPIM organisers call 'done business'), even if they don't actually do them. And, latterly, architects - such as Aukett, DEGW, Abbey Holford Rowe, Arup, Percy Thomas Partnership, Gensler, EPR Architects, Benoy, Siddell Gibson, Sheppard Robson, Stephenson/Bell, Farrell and others - have also decided to dip their toes in the MIPIM water in a bid to associate themselves with developers needing design. Their success rate is debatable but, anecdotally at least, people talk in terms of this or that project stemming indirectly from that chance meeting in the Martinez Hotel over a ludicrously expensive after-hours beer.

'It's important to make the profession understand the role and importance of architecture in our show but, more generally speaking, I've always seen architecture as the part of MIPIM which is sexy, ' says Renault.

Now their visibility is obvious, with 393 making the trip last year. The general concept from the early days has otherwise remained the same. But Renault promises a few changes in content for this year. Cannes, though, is ideal and, despite a poorly attended show in Singapore in 1997, another adequate city to stage MIPIM does not reveal itself. 'It's a very nice place to be, ' says Renault simply.

Space for showing in Cannes is at a premium. So, having already built an extension to the ugly Palais, Renault plans to take a leaf out of the Film Festival's book by mounting more temporary facilities outside the main conference hall and along the Croisette.

Renault is clearly a tough cookie. He has acted swiftly to halt the 'piracy' which he says has been going on from companies and individuals that have tried to enjoy the benefits of the show by boat, but without paying up to be an exhibitor or visitor.

But one other thing would complete the picture for Renault. 'We're considering to have a big, big, big keynote speaker, ' he says.

Has he someone in mind? Bill Clinton, perhaps? (Expensive. ) Frank Gehry? (Not really his bag. ) He is not giving anything away, but London mayor Ken Livingstone, for one, will be there next March.

Renault spends his time flitting internationally, talking to inspiring mayors and civic leaders, taking a real interest in how cities are regenerating themselves. Then he has his theatrical 'little troupe' for which he writes 'humouristic' pieces ('because life is so sad'), and has had some played in Paris where he was overjoyed to see people laugh.

He has a 'relaxing retreat' in Brittany at - literally translated - the end of the earth: Finistere. And the house there was designed by an Armenian architect friend.

All in all, Europe's biggest property show is being driven forward with elan and a growing commitment to architectural content in what must be a difficult time for international events. And Renault is the one doing the driving.

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