FEATURE: The shadow of Brexit could not stifle the determined entrepreneurialism of architects last week in Cannes. Will Hurst and Richard Waite report
Surprisingly, the UK’s decision to quit the European Union did not spread gloom among MIPIM-attendees. At least not outwardly.
The atmosphere was less ‘We are all doomed’ and more ‘OK, Brexit is happening, how can we make it work for us’.
Sure, the pumped-up presence in Cannes of cities such as Berlin and particularly Paris (with its slogan ‘Tired of the fog, try the frogs’) were blatant attempts to woo London’s bankers and development funders overseas.
But they were matched by the UK’s ubiquitous ‘Invest in Great’ branding and the monopoly of MIPIM’s gateway seafront sites with its city and government pavilions.
One European property big hitter said the UK had become a more certain place to invest in since the referendum
Equally there was plenty of talk about the huge amounts of cash still coming into the UK, including American pension funds wanting to invest in the burgeoning build-to-rent sector and the interest of international developer HB Reavis in major London sites.
Intriguingly one European property big hitter was even overheard saying that the UK had become a more certain place to invest in since the referendum because at least people knew the direction of travel.
Growing nationalism and the forthcoming elections in key countries such as France, Italy, and the Netherlands (which took place that week) seemed to be more concerning for European investors.
In the mood for MMC
The sunshine also brought with it a noticeable optimism about the UK (finally) tackling its housing crisis. Although there is clearly no silver bullet – a point made repeatedly in Cannes by housing minister Gavin Barwell – there was excitement about the disruptive potential of construction techniques such as prefabrication.
Managing director of L&G Capital, Paul Stanworth, was much in demand by ministers and consultants due to the insurance group’s investment in manufacturing and its modular housing factory near Leeds. Elsewhere, Manchester developer Urban Splash showcased the modular HoUSe it has developed at New Islington with ShedKM, while Studio RHE’s Richard Hywel Evans was promoting his practice’s new £190,000 three-bed N House system.
Studio rhe nhouse
Another innovation, the Lightbox House, designed by Ash Sakula and intended to promote neighbourliness and interaction at street level, was also discussed at MIPIM.
During one session at the UK pavilion, Urban Splash’s Tom Bloxham told the AJ that modular was a ‘huge opportunity for the architecture profession’.
He added: ‘Modular can continually improve from time to time to time. We believe we can now make a house like a VW Golf. Every three years it gets refined and you come out with a new version that is bigger, cheaper, faster and better quality … this is an opportunity to bring houses into the 21st century.’
The dangers of the dude fest
MIPIM is always male-dominated, but this year’s event seemed, if anything, to be worse in terms of gender balance.
Coming hot on the heels of International Women’s Day as well as the Women in Architecture lunch, the sheer number of events featuring all-male panels, or ‘dude fests’, set a jarring note – as did the general outnumbering of women attendees by their male counterparts.
Someone told us last night that there are 19,000 men here and 500 women
On arriving in Cannes, AJ blogger Tatiana von Preussen of vPPR Architects talked of encountering a ‘tsunami of white men in blue suits, red lanyards and shades’, adding: ‘Someone told us last night that there are 19,000 men here and 500 women. It could well be true.’
More worrying was the boorish behaviour displayed by a minority of men at MIPIM who seem to think of the event as one enormous stag do.
Marks Barfield director Magali Thomson and two other female professionals were subjected to lewd comments by ‘an architect and three bankers’ at a boules match, it emerged. Elsewhere, one charming male contractor was seen relieving himself in the sink in the Manchester bar after hours.
MIPIM will always be a place for partying, but shouldn’t it also present a positive view of a modern industry in need of diversification? Perhaps it is time for the organisers to tackle this issue in time for 2018.
Pim17 0574 (1)
Manchester’s flag flying at MIPIM was impressive this year. Previously, the city had shown off its offer in a more than adequate space (with balcony) above the Palais’ main entrance.
This year Manchester swaggered down to the beach with a larger and very slick all-white pavilion, which attracted a wealth of attention – and big name speakers.
The momentum of city-centre development is such that Manchester will soon need an underground system
Scheme after major high-rise scheme was showcased on the stand, including the unveiling of 5Plus’s 754-home Angel Meadows development with its 41-storey centrepiece tower.
Outgoing chief executive Howard Bernstein claimed the momentum of city-centre development was such that Manchester would need an underground system within the next 10 years to cope.
And according to global estate agent Colliers International, the self-proclaimed heart of the Northern Powerhouse is now ranked third behind London and Paris in its European table of the ‘Cities of Influence’, a league based on a series of factors, including population, talent, location and costs (see graph below).
The only fly in Manchester’s ointment was the St Michael’s towers scheme which, as footballer-turned-developer Gary Neville revealed in Cannes, has been sent back to Make’s drawing board.
Banging the export drum
As well as reassuring the investment world that the UK was still very much open for business, it was good to witness the government shouting about architecture as a key area for export growth.
Senior staff from the Department for International Trade (DIT) were out in force to help those Brits wanting to make their first move overseas.
The British brand is in huge demand – people at home don’t always realise the extent of this
Mark Garnier, the DIT’s parliamentary undersecretary repeated his ‘three pillars’ mantra of export growth: trade promotion; trade finance; and trade policy/deals.
He told the AJ: ‘We have put international trade on turbo-charge. The British brand is in huge demand – and people at home don’t always realise the extent of this. Oddly what keeps us awake at night is not finding the demand, but actually finding the supply.’
Stalwart practices such as Grimshaw, Benoy and Broadway Malyan were on the DIT stand too, talking about how to succeed abroad.
And then there was the next generation of global entrepreneurs, such as the collaboration launched by Phil Coffey, Duggan Morris and Haptic Architects under the LondonOn banner.
The practices are looking at Los Angeles for their first outpost – described as a research hub, and a beachhead for the capital’s winning architectural brand.
If there were any doubts about the success of Architecture PLC, a new report by the GLA Economics Team and the London Festival of Architecture laid these to rest. In 2015, the report revealed, the UK exported a lot more architectural services than it imported – a cool £437 million more, to be precise.