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An upbeat MIPIM suggests the work is out there – both home and away

Richard Waite
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At last week’s Cannes property fair, architects were putting Brexit behind them and rolling up their sleeves in the hunt for new opportunities, says Richard Waite

How can anyone really sum up what goes on – and why – at MIPIM, the annual international property fair in Cannes? It is the strangest of beasts – part shop window for cities clamouring for investor cash, part meeting place for architects and developers, part crucible for knowledge, and part male-dominated drinking session. Above all it is an invaluable insight into the mood of the property world and a bellwether for the state of the profession. So what are the lessons for those that weren’t there?

In 2016 the attendees were jittery. Ahead of the Brexit vote, the uncertainty over what lay ahead was palpable. Unusually for the south of France it rained – a lot. An omen, said the doom-mongers. This year the sun came out and the atmosphere was noticeably more upbeat. Few were wasting their time grumbling about the rights and wrongs of the forthcoming EU divorce. The architects in and around the main conference hall, aka the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, were rolling up their sleeves. The hunt for new opportunities was structured and determined.

Wherever the target market, now is the time to promote who you are and what you do

Reassuringly, the soundings from the big property and investor gurus painted a stable, if not entirely rosy, backdrop to the architects’ search for work. Walter Boettcher, director of research and forecasting at property agent Colliers, told a select crowd on a yacht he was unconcerned about the UK’s post-Brexit future. 

Of course some practices have found it tough since the EU vote – though as one recruitment agent admitted, simply analysing firms’ exposure to certain sectors or regions was no indicator of which ones were struggling. For some, new international markets could be the solution. The UK government is pulling out all the stops to get Britain’s talents exported around the globe – bold go-getters will be supported, it says.

Not everyone will want to travel and, closer to home, London and Manchester remain the hottest markets. Remarkably, Manchester – with its high-rise residential boom – made the top three of Colliers’ Cities of Influence European rankings, beating Berlin, Frankfurt and Dublin. Yet, wherever the target market, now is the time to promote who you are and what you do – something that does not always come easily to architects. 

Mipim leader

Mipim leader

Peter Murray, Phil Coffey, John McElgunn and espresso martinis at MIPIM

I heard Phil Coffey described as ‘ubiquitous’ – a great compliment. As well as flitting between parties, his shrewdly positioned stand in the London pavilion and well-timed serving of espresso martinis certainly got him noticed.

Over the next few months, UK architects will have to be both entrepreneurial and willing to shout about their work. And, as Coffey did, turn up wherever there is a sniff of a job. 

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