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MIPIM reminds us how much architects from around the world have in common

Paul Finch
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The annual international property fair reinforces shared interests, whatever cultural, political or economic difference countries may have, says Paul Finch

It is a curious fact that, the more international events become, the more they become bound up with local, regional or national identities. The most obvious example is the Olympics, where the overarching global nature of the games, complete with the Olympic anthem, are nevertheless the occasion for an extraordinary level of national flag-waving. Ditto the World Cup, and of course any debate at the United Nations.

Here at MIPIM it is slightly different. It is true that countries are represented (Egypt, for example, exhibiting as a country for the first time). The UK is exhibiting again as part of the ‘Great’ campaign, aimed at securing new trading relationships in whatever post-Brexit environment emerges from the Great Chaos in Westminster this week. However, there are far more cities and regions represented in the Palais des Festivals than there are countries, and it is noticeable how the MIPIM global umbrella has encouraged the growth of sub-national organisations to present their credentials in search of investment, development and jobs. 

As usual, the MIPIM/Architectural Review awards dinner, celebrating future projects from around the world, was thoroughly international in both tone and guests, who included the mayor of Düsseldorf and representatives from the International Olympic Committee (the IOC has a splendid new headquarters building by 3XN emerging in Lausanne). I like these occasions, which are reminders about how much architects have in common, whatever cultural, political and economic differences their countries may have. 

Let’s hear it for Helsinki

Two important design competitions are the talk of Helsinki currently. An extension to the National Museum is the subject of international interest, including several prominent UK practices. Importantly, the groundwork has been laid to ensure that what wins gets built – in marked contrast to the embarrassing failure in 2016 of the Guggenheim to guarantee political, financial and planning support for the winners of its doomed competition. Nobody wants to put architects through that sort of waste of time again.

This brings us to a second potential competition, the subject of concept and feasibility studies as we speak. It would be for a Finnish museum of architecture, design and possibly (let’s hope) cities. Intriguingly, the potential location up for consideration is the self-same site that was used for the Guggenheim competition.

Finnish architecture is thriving and should surely be tapped into for a museum of its own history

Assuming that the funding is in place, the question is whether such a museum should be the subject of an international competition. When it comes to a building that needs to reflect the profound influence of indigenous architecture and design on the national psyche, there is surely a case for a competition aimed at Finnish architects alone. National Romanticism revisited. 

Jkmm amos rex

Jkmm amos rex

Amos Rex, underground cinema and gallery in Helsinki by JKMM Architects

There is proof positive that Finnish architectural culture is alive and well, as I discovered on a visit to the city earlier this month – specifically to look at two central Helsinki buildings. One is an addition to the country’s central library network, won in competition by AL_A. The Oodi (pronounced ‘Ordy’) building is 145m long and comprises a tripartite sectional arrangement with multiple uses and a magnificent top floor with superb views across the city. A heroic canopy creates 1,000m2 of external space for summer use. Different in scope but extraordinarily effective is JKMM Architects’ Amos Rex underground gallery and restored cinema, including a new civic space with giant rooflight structures which inform a magnificent interior.

Finnish architecture is thriving and should surely be tapped into for a museum of its own history. The international element could be provided by appropriately empathetic jury members, for example from the winners of the South Harbour masterplanning competition a few years back, including our very own Allies and Morrison.

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