Mipim 2009: Cities and Regions, Architecture and Architects

Thursday, April 2, 2009 10:16

Marcia Caines

Palais Des Festivals © Mipim 2009

In view of the financial crisis, the 20th MIPIM international property fair was inevitably different to past years. The annual 20 year-old event, a property sector institution based in Cannes that brings together thousands of delegates – architects, developers, agents and other property professionals – from all over the world, opened its doors with a lavish, firework-free party where the recession was the main topic of conversation.

Renowned for being the haunt of big business deals and large developments, this year MIPIM also provided an opportunity for the property sector to get together and rethink, and above all search for solutions

Despite the financial climate and a slow warm-up, the sunny skies, the Cannes Crosiette promenade, information help-desks, internet connections and gadgets galore all provided some reprieve and on first impression the attractive displays of ambitious projects for islands, regions, and cities, with a combination of tall buildings, mixed use, office and retail, commercial and residential space somewhat defied talk of the recession.

Mipim Opening Cocktail At The Carlton Hotel

The MIPIM organization lived up to its reputation, with a content-rich conference programme scheduled for the three day event. It covered a vast array of property-related presentations, panels and keynote addresses delivered by architects, city mayors, economists, financial experts and stakeholders from all four corners of the globe. The MIPIM News, edited by Peter Strohm, offered daily articles, interviews and news bulletins on the content of the event, activities, personalities, decision-makers and investment offers, and stories were regularly posted to the MIPIM blog. A new addition to the bill was the Pecha Kucha Night.

After the ‘R’ word, ‘Innovation’ was definitely the by-word, appearing in nearly every city slogan and even in the conference programme, with “Innovation is a verb!” held by Robert L. Newhart, CEO of the Innovation Center. Renowned for being the haunt of big business deals and large developments, this year MIPIM also provided an opportunity for the property sector to get together and rethink, and above all search for solutions.

This year’s MIPIM saw a considerable drop in attendance – 35%, which ironically favoured successful networking and constructive business appointments focused on responsible investment opportunities in a long-term perspective, with keen attention to environmental issues.

The public sector was proactive and interacted keenly with the private sector on issues of economic growth and regeneration.

Cities, regions and local authorities
Innovation Is A Verb! – Robert L. Lewhart Ii (Ceo Innovation Center) © Mipim 2009

The major drop in delegate attendance was due to a 50% fall in the number of Russian delegates and a significant drop in participation from Middle Eastern countries. This may be accounted for in part by the launch of MIPIM Horizons in December 2008, an annual conference and exhibition entirely dedicated to fast-growing regions: the Middle East, North Africa, Russia, Eastern & Central Europe, and Latin America. This year the five most represented countries were France, Britain, Germany, Belgium and Italy, but the main protagonists were cities, regions and local authorities.

80 city mayors from different countries came to Cannes, confirming the leading, fundamental role that cities and local authorities play in the industry. Recent debate has focused on whether cities are now taking precedence over countries, and there can be no doubt over the fact that city councils now play an increasingly important role in determining quality of life in the urban age. Cities are at the core of some of the world’s most urgent, economic, social and environmental problems and the presence of key figures in national and local governments at MIPIM was a confirmation of their willingness to engage in collective thinking and knowledge exchange on future urban strategies, global competitiveness and problem solving in the face of systemic change.

Copenhagen and Malmo: The Oresund Region
One of the most impressive and confident speeches was delivered by Pia Alleserlev, the mayor for culture and leisure for Copenhagen. Alongside her, welcoming the audience and representing the Oresund region, were Mr. Ilmar Reepalu, Chairman of the Executive Board, City of Malmo and Mr. Steen Donner, Managing Director.

This year the five most represented countries were France, Britain, Germany, Belgium and Italy, but the main protagonists were cities, regions and local authorities

If actions speak louder than words then Copenhagen’s young, zealous, female mayor for culture and leisure embodies this affirmation. Pia Alleserlev’s bold and positive address came across as a breath of fresh air and hope, among the ‘quieter than usual stands’ of MIPIM. Copenhagen served as proof that a new mindset and a holistic approach to city issues achieves results. Pia Allerserley began her address: “As a representative of Copenhagen I can assure you – it is still a very beautiful place to live. We have a lot to offer in Copenhagen – and that’s a fact.” Outlining the aspirations of the city and region, she continued, “Sustainable solutions are not just buzzwords. Sustainable solutions are part of developing the new Copenhagen. We have to plan in a new way – and that requires thinking in a new way.” How? To start with Copenhagen has positioned itself as the globe’s definitive environmental metropolis by hosting the UN Climate Summit Cop15 this year, “… both an exciting and challenging goal that requires a lot of courage, hard work and new ideas – as well as sustainable solutions.” On the subject of real estate, Pia Alleserlev added: “As mayor in Copenhagen I also represent “Copenhagen City Properties” which is one of the largest real estate owners. And we do take our responsibility seriously… We need to see a building as a whole – both when we are restoring old and planning new. We simply have to think more about energy, the environment, people and sustainable solutions. We know it, and are already doing it.” There’s not much to add!

The Mayor of London: Locating Foreign Capital in the UK Capital
2012: Opportunity London – Boris Johnson (Mayor Of London) © Mipim 2009

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, paid his first visit to MIPIM this year, and in a speech which was more eloquent but less convincing than that of the Copenhagen team, he delivered a keynote address highlighting the economic importance of the 2012 Olympic Games for the British capital. Johnson’s argument was that the economic downturn represents an excellent opportunity for foreign investors to start up business in London, with property prices at a record low. His programme ‘London Now’ aims to encourage foreign companies to relocate to the capital.

‘London Now’ is an initiative of ‘Think London’, a private/public non-profit making organization which assists companies in the UK capital by offering access to business networks, advice and free office space for a limited period of time. The latest cost of living survey revealed that for the first time since 2002 it is now cheaper to live in London than New York, and with the ‘London Now’ initiative London can prove its flexibility in adapting to changing market conditions.
Regrettably, however, the budget to kick-start the initiative is limited to a mere £200,000 for 33 boroughs!

Strategies and Ideas for Tomorrow: the Berlin Approach
The city of Berlin presented its strategies and ideas for the future at MIPIM – unfortunately for some, in German only – but Christoph Lang, head of Corporate Communications for the Berlin Partner Gmbh, very kindly summarized in English. The interesting point that arose from the Berlin story is that the city is managing to stay afloat in the credit crunch due to the fact that it has never been a major financial hub; Christoph Lang explained that this is proving to be a vital asset for Berlin when it comes to weathering the crisis.

Berlin has a history of strategic investments in culture, life sciences and the service sector, which makes for a good mix of growth sectors. A survey of Berlin’s labour market has also revealed that the health care sector expects to see expansion and growth in the next two years with increasing employment, and in 2008 the city registered 33,000 more employees working in jobs subject to social insurance than it did the previous year. 40 new hotel projects are due for completion by 2012, to meet the demands for tourism and congresses.

Cities are at the core of some of the world’s most urgent, economic, social and environmental problems and the presence of key figures in national and local governments was a confirmation of their willingness to engage in collective thinking and knowledge exchange on future urban strategies, global competitiveness and problem solving in the face of systemic change

The only drawback Berlin is experiencing is in terms of accessibility, with a limited number of direct flight connections with foreign countries. This is the reason behind the opening, in 2011, of the Berlin Brandenburg International Airport (BBI). The BBI will be strategically positioned in the Brandenburg region, Germany’s third most important air travel hub, supported by 15 local technical colleges and institutes. The new site will replace the city’s existing airports and provide accessibility to the city and connectivity to the rest of the world.

So far, in the first quarter of 2009, there has been no substantial change in the number of requests for information received from interested investors, so they are pretty much set. Berlin is reaping the benefits of having made wise, long-term and strategic investments in innovation on local soil, which are now shielding the city from the icy winds of the downturn.

New Entries and News
The City of Sao Paulo was a new-comer to MIPIM this year. Alfredo Cotair Neto, the city’s municipal secretary, underlined that people tend to erroneously associate Sao Paulo with Brazil, considering it an emerging economy, when Sao Paulo is actually a politically stable city with a mature and stable sub-market that produces 15% of Brazil’s GDP. As the biggest city in the southern hemisphere it aims to become a world leader in business related to food cultivation, natural resources and environmental services. Today Sao Paulo is pursuing a quest for infrastructure.

Budapest has been chosen by the EU as the site of the headquarters of the European Institute of Innovation, and for the occasion Gabor Demszky, mayor of Budapest, held a conference entitled Budapest: Bridging The Crisis With Innovation. He underlined the fact that the city is concentrating its efforts on investing in knowledge and innovation to benefit city dwellers, research and development, and to be able to compete at a global level with other international cities.

What emerged from MIPIM 2009 was how cities and regions all over the world are engaging in stimulus packages in order to jump start the economy: the public sector is intervening to improve infrastructure and accessibility for long-term investments while the stakes are down. Sustainability, renewable energy and the reduction of CO2 emissions not just during the building process but during the life-cycle of a building were all big discussion topics for city representatives at MIPIM.

Architecture and architects
Zira Island: Carbon Neutral Masterplan In Baku, Azerbaijan © Cluster

The death of the iconic building is near, albeit a lengthy one! This year there were fewer stands showcasing hypermodels, and as talk shifts to neighbourhoods, infrastructure, public space, community dwellings, functional buildings and refurbishment, (better late than never!) architecture gets more interesting.

An unusual first-timer at MIPIM was The Italian Defence ministry, which presented former military properties in Europe as attractive investments. The Defence Ministry owns large buildings and land properties, some of which are bang in the middle of city centres – such as the ‘Arsenale’ which occupies 15% of Venice’s cityscape.

Zira Island: Carbon Neutral Masterplan In Baku, Azerbaijan © Cluster

A French exhibition stand entitled My architect(s), curated by Phillipe Uzzan, was one of the most original stands at MIPIM, promoting the work of selected groups of up and coming architects who incorporate new concepts for city space into their projects, creating insightful and innovative proposals.

The Paris stand showcased stylish, high profile projects, and Lord Norman Foster unveiled Foster and Partners’ new design for the Hermitage Plaza mixed-use twin towers east of La Defence. Also on display at the Paris stand was the model of Jean Nouvels’ Tour Signal.

Zira Island: Carbon Neutral Masterplan In Baku, Azerbaijan © Cluster

Shanghai unveiled the Shanghai Tower project by the American architectural firm Gensler. Due for completion in 2014 and reaching a height of 632 metres, the tower aims to qualify for certification from the China Green Building Committee and the U.S. Green Building Council.

Despite the drop in attendance from Russian delegates the Russian exhibition space was more extravagant than most: there was certainly no lack of imagination in the city of Tula masterplan, the most incredible, gleaming, winding model, bordering on the realm of science-fiction, designed for an entirely new city of 650,000 inhabitants in Russia, south of Moscow.

Zira Island Central Asia’s first carbon-neutral masterplan in Baku, Azerbaijan was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and contextualized models at MIPIM. Zira Island is certainly one of the most interesting proposals of recent years from the Asiatic regions, merit goes to the developer Arositi Holding for the promotion of quality developing in this region. The project by BIG, a Copenhagen-based studio of architects, designers and builders, takes its inspiration from the geographical positioning of the island and its landscape, therefore creating less impact on the surroundings and harmoniously blending in with nature.

The island will be entirely independent of external resources and therefore self-contained, representing a model for future urban developments. Using its natural resources – wind, rain and sun – the island will produce as much energy as it consumes. Visible from the coast off the City of Baku the architecture of Zira Island proposes a skyline derived from its natural landscape – the Seven Peaks of Azerbaijan in the Caucasus range.

Leading Architects on the Future of Architectural Practices
My Architect Conference © Mipim 2009 | My Architect = My Archtect Conference © Cluster

One of the main highlights on the MIPIM conference agenda was the My Architect(s) conference held by the biggest names in contemporary architecture: Wolf Prix, Zaha Hadid and Thom Mayne, and moderated by Wallpaper’s editor-at-large Suzanne Trocme. Packed out – over 500 people squeezed into the conference – it featured an animated, entertaining debate on “the future for architectural practices”. The conference kicked off with a stimulating question from Suzanne Trocme: “Will the growing problem of densification of cities lead to the return of urban sprawl?” Zaha Hadid was the first to reply: “Increasing the density of cities is the only viable solution at the moment. And cities that want to establish themselves as world cities increasingly want to do it through architecture”. Zaha then went on to explain that the only way is up, because suburbs are the only urban areas with land, and the important point is to strategize interesting skylines, by rethinking their imprint on the land. She went on to describe her sub-grid landscape topology, as applied to her project in Singapore.

Low energy consumption and functional architecture that responds to environmental and social requirements are a must on the real estate agenda

Thom Mayne considered the question too generic, maintaining that different densification solutions are required for different places. He asserted that some cities become more vibrant when they shrink, such as Pittsburgh, while on the other hand those like Los Angeles, Tokyo and other megacities have other problems, including multiple languages, municipalities and cities within cities. According to Mayne cities like Copenhagen and Prague are ‘boutique’ cities in comparison to the former and so ‘specificity’ has to be applied when considering density.

Wolf Prix replied that not only as an architect, but also as an inhabitant of the planet, he believes in the power of facts rather than the power of norms. He asserted that combating the density problem requires the introduction of other issues and other strategies, not just architectural ones. Contemporary architects are market-led and therefore politicians must create more efficient tools to change the scenario of urban planning. He then went on to compare the growth of the city with the growth of the brain, mapping the neuralgic points as where planning should be located. Unfortunately the debate was soon diverted from this topic onto the financial crisis and there it remained throughout.

The architects believed it to be a moment for creativity, opportunity, quality and innovation: with cities open to new ideas and the end of the Bush era their general mood was optimistic. They all criticized the role of the media in channelling only bad news and contributing to a generally pessimistic outlook, and they all agreed that design conservatism is defunct in the current climate.

Being optimistic
Will Green Growth Result In The Biggest Boom In History? – Prof. Robert Bell (Chiarman Department Of Economics Brooklyn College – City University Of New York – Usa) © Mipim 2009

In conclusion, the twentieth MIPIM was an insightful, dynamic event that demonstrated how the international real estate sector is obliged to apply intuition and rationality to the built environment at a time of economic and environmental change. The search for solutions to problems has created a newfound sense of collectivism, bringing together tools and resources from all levels and making MIPIM 2009 a valuable experience focused on the ‘real’ value of the built environment. Low energy consumption and functional architecture that responds to environmental and social requirements are a must on the real estate agenda. Climate problems and social concerns are no longer lurking in the background, and the reality of the economic downturn has hit home.

Speaker Professor Robert Bell, professor of management and chairman of the Economics department at Brooklyn College, City University Of New York, and author of the book The Green Bubble – Waste Into Wealth: The New Energy Revolution, was onto something when he said that: “the solutions to both problems don’t have to be mutually exclusive: the fight against global warming may create a vast investment opportunity which could help pull the world out of the current recession”.

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