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What did we learn from a ‘very different’ MIPIM?

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What did the AJ’s MIPIM bloggers take away from this year’s international property and development trade show in Cannes? Richard Waite reports

‘This year MIPIM felt very different for me,’ says Tamsie Thomson, director of the London Festival of Architecture. ‘After taking the decision to launch our anti-discrimination campaign #seetheelephant, we’ve spent the best part of a week discussing very little else.’

More than any other topic – including Brexit, the economic cycle and British architecture as an export – the diversity issue seemed to permeate almost every conversation.

Having been to the show for the last 12 years, I found MIPIM 2018 far less testosterone-fuelled and crazed. It was certainly a calmer event than last year when the profession frantically rushed to fill the potential void caused by the nation’s looming departure from Europe. Perhaps months of Brexit stalemate has knocked the edge off the go-getting entrepreneurial spirit on show in 2017.

As a bellwether for the wider industry – such as the ongoing debate about gender inequality – MIPIM remains a useful general guide.  

For instance in terms of business confidence, London’s development landscape remains patchy. Some new, massive schemes were rolled out, aimed at enticing development buy-in. But there were also notable absentees such as Capco. 

And though nobody talked of recession, it seems overseas money is backing up, sat on the shelves waiting for some certainty over Brexit.

Mipim 2018 palais

Mipim 2018 palais

On top of this there were rumours that the Chinese cash was drying up with President Xi wanting to stop money flowing out of the country to increasingly powerful overseas developers. 

Doubts were raised too over the future of Russian funding following the poisoned spy scandal and its repercussions. 

Yet there seemed little room for any pessimism outside of the capital. Manchester (albeit in a new home above the flood line), the Midlands, the Leeds City Region and Liverpool all seemed to be puffing out their chests.

Unlike in previous years, their claims about huge inward investment – both past and future – were highly credible.

A panel discussion featuring three of the new metro mayors should give further hope for architects in the regions.

Former bricklayer Steve Rotheram, the Liverpool City Region mayor, said he wanted architects to help challenge the city move away ‘from building boxes … in different shades of brick’. And while West Midlands mayor Andy Street said he wouldn’t be ‘the customer’ for design services, he was keen to see ideas about how architects could deliver ‘greater density’ in the region’s cities.

The next 12 months could finally be about life beyond the M25. 

AJ bloggers’ MIPIM takeaways

Public money well spent at MIPIM

I always use MIPIM as a bit of a barometer of where the business is. We’ve transitioned from going out there showing pictures of things we’d like to build, to showing pictures of things under construction, to (last year) showing the completed product, which meant this year felt like a consolidation. I wasn’t selling anything, I wasn’t buying anything, I was just having good conversations with good people.

Some of those really good people were friends from the public sector – people who get the most grief out of anyone for going to MIPIM, but are probably the people who are least motivated to misbehave. 

One council executive told me that they had spent the whole day before head down fielding Freedom of Information requests from journalists desperately looking for a scoop. 

To suggest that a public body that spends £10,000 on sending a delegation to MIPIM is wasting taxpayer’s money is just absurd

There have been articles printed ‘exposing’ the amount of money councils have spent sending representatives to the ‘champagne fuelled jolly’ in the south of France. 

Not my experience. It’s no coincidence that attendance by public bodies at MIPIM has increased markedly as local authority funding has been decimated. These guys are out there trying to promote investment into their regions, to deliver the jobs, homes and public services they are no longer able to deliver by themselves. 

To suggest that a public body that spends £10,000 – a minuscule proportion of its budget – on sending a delegation to MIPIM (even when in reality it is more often private sector sponsorship) is wasting taxpayer’s money, is just absurd. 

Steve Sanham, managing director, Hub 

No need to panic over London’s future  

The value of MIPIM is as an elite networking event and this year was no different. The London First events were the highlight – so many opinion-formers and interesting takes. 

Miles Gibson of CBRE continued to reassure us about London’s position as a financial capital: ‘Don’t be distracted by talks of relocation.’

Gibson also believes the Eurozone bounce and the injection into the US economy by tax reform mean the UK will have a soft landing at the end of this economic cycle.

The architects out there all seemed to be busier than ever

And while Brexit still casts a shadow over the future of the UK, I found a lot of optimism from most I met, and the architects out there all seemed to be busier than ever. Most were waiting for schemes that had achieved planning to be green lit [financially], but there are projects out there spade-ready and waiting to go. 

In terms of diversity, there was lots of female representation this year. But you cannot escape the fact that the landscape is predominantly male. Though as architects we can do little to influence the agents and developers to address their gender issues, we can do our bit. 

I would encourage all the architecture firms who send people to try to be gender balanced as a minimum. At Grimshaw we brought two senior female colleagues to MIPIM as well as myself. Architects make up a significant proportion of MIPIM attendees so hopefully the landscape could change even more next year.

Mark Middleton, managing director, London, Grimshaw 

The final arrival of a regional renaissance 

The UK regions are resurgent. London and Manchester used to feel like the only shows in town, but there are others vying for airtime and the opportunity to share their ambitions, which bodes well for a rebalancing of the UK economy.

MIPIM has extended its global reach still further – there were huge tracts of the bunker dedicated to regions. I don’t recall them showing such strength before. 

London and Manchester used to feel like the only shows in town, but there are others vying for airtime

However it is unwise to look too closely at the architecture on show; there were too many identikit solutions agnostic to context and culture.

While we are a long way from resolving the diversity challenge, in the year of ‘time’s up’ and ‘me too’, and LFA’s Elephant campaign, it does feel like we are finally making progress. Now we need to keep the issue at the forefront of the industry agenda.

Jo Wright, director, Arup Associates 

Housing, housing, housing

Housing was on everyone’s mind. Particularly in a cooling private market, there was lots of discussion on how local and central governments need to work in partnership with private developers to deliver homes. It was good to see a strong presence from the newly renamed Homes England and to hear about how they intend to use their influence to get more people into homes.

Prop-tech was an exciting topic, providing fresh solutions to age-old problems. As a long-time renter in London, in residencies of varying quality, it was really interesting to listen to Orla Shields of GetRentr talk about how her platform uses data to track and map local authority regulations in real time, helping landlords confirm their compliance and exposing the rogue landlords that ignore the law.

Donna Macfadyen, associate, Mackower Architects

A smaller but stronger United Kingdom?

My official MIPIM ended at the ‘Manchester + London Wrap Up’ where Greg Clark, a global adviser on cities, hosted Manchester City Council leader Richard Lease , Old Oak and Park Royal chair Liz Peace and Darren Rodwell, the leader of Barking & Dagenham, in a ‘show of camaraderie’. This was rare at an event where cities seemingly compete stand by stand. The message was very much of ‘one UK’, not just in an hour of need due to storm damage to the Manchester pavilion, but due to the very evident belief that a collective UK will keep us open for business.

With advances in both communications and infrastructure, and departure from mainland Europe, the message was very much that the UK was getting smaller and so we must start to stand together, encourage city leaders to grow their communities through devolution, yet collaborate with other cities and hold a voice in Brexit negotiations.

The message was very much that the UK was getting smaller and so we must start to stand together

Peace summed it up beautifully in challenging false divisions, noting she was resident of the UK rather than a particular city, who loves the country and travelling around it.   

It was a thought-provoking week which crescendoed in a wonderful party hosted by Urban Splash in the hills above Nice to celebrate its 25 years of regeneration and drive to change perceptions. The guests were a mix of the best, geographically located north and south, but with the common drive to challenge the norm and improve the UK offer within the built environment.

Hazel Rounding, shedkm  

London Plan stickiness

Talking to several colleagues it seems that the king-sized offering this year is that the new London Plan may not be as good for development as we may have first believed. 

As someone put it, ‘This is supposed to be a strategic plan, not a design guide’. We didn’t get what we were expecting. It is yet to be seen if the GLA will have difficulty with legal challenges when we have finally got the foil off. A veritable Daim bar that starts off well but then you just can’t get the stuff out of your teeth. 

Phil Coffey, Coffey Architects

Scottish promise – but the cities need to shout louder

There was positivity and willingness at the Scottish investment briefing. While there was an acknowledgement that the uncertainties represented by Brexit and IndyRef2 were challenges, it was heartening to hear that investors’ interests lay not just in returns, but an understanding that good design and placemaking can add value. 

With the Scotland Investment Opportunities portfolio launch and some prominent sites coming to market in both Edinburgh and Glasgow, there are ideas for follow ups. Housing is a growth area, with ‘university cities’ looking to find ways to house students and retain the highly skilled workforce that their universities and colleges turn out. 

The Scottish Cities Alliance had no stand

But how were Scotland’s cities represented at MIPIM? There was certainly a presence – maybe because we sought it out. The Scottish Cities Alliance – a collaboration between Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Perth and Stirling along with the Scottish Government – had no stand, choosing instead to run a series of events outside. Invest Glasgow had a stand in the Palais; Invest Edinburgh was present on the ground (somewhere). 

The contrast between this and the Manchester, Liverpool, and Midlands offerings (let alone London) was glaring. Greater cohesion next year might benefit all parties, including professionals based in Scotland. 

Carol MacBain, director, Reiach and Hall 

Catch up with the MIPIM blog here 

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