MIPIM report, Cannes
(Image credit: press)

Wallpaper* was a first-timer in MIPIM this year, nevertheless we already knew that in the architecture world, the annual Cannes fair is almost shorthand for large property developments and big investments. It forces everybody to think more realistically about finances, and spells “business” much more clearly than similar gatherings in the architecture agenda, like the Venice Biennale or the London Festival of Architecture.

MIPIM report, Cannes

(Image credit: press)

See Ellie's highlights from the fair

Ever since the first utopian drawing was drawn, architecture and realism have had a love-hate relationship, and even though this may reflect occasionally to MIPIM, it remains one of the industry’s most popular spring haunts. Regularly attracting thousands of visitors from all over the globe, its 20-year-long presence and activity turned it into an institution in the field, bringing together architects and their clients, and transmitting the sector’s pulse to the outside world.

As the sector’s financial difficulties, predictably, seemed to be on everybody’s lips, dominating from friendly cocktail party chats, to conferences and events, many first-time visitors flew to the South of France, to explore their options, get a feel of the market, and meet their potential future clients. After all, what better setting is there to share and shake off one’s troubles, than sunny palm tree covered Cannes’ Croisette walk?

The visiting practices certainly range in scale. Mary Duggan, of young London-based practice Duggan Morris (w* 113, Architects’ Directory 2008) was among the youngest ones, explaining why they chose to come to MIPIM for the first time: “As an emerging practice (established for 4 years) our public face needs careful handling in order to promote our profile in the best light. Coupled with the omnipresence of the global recession, our view is that we should make the most of every available opportunity.”

UNStudio’s Ben van Berkel was also a MIPIM first-timer. “I am here to meet colleagues, friends and collaborators. Also I am here to know what other people are working on, so it is not all purely egocentric. It is important to understand where is everyone focusing on at the moment, as one has to be more selective, so as not to do the wrong choices. So what I am doing now is selecting myself more and more the people I am interested to work with, instead of waiting for others, and I am also researching. Additionally, seeing that the world financial situation right now is what it is, I realise the need for even more collaboration”, he explains.

MIPIM is also the perfect place to present new work, unveil new designs, or simply just get a sneak peek into what other countries, cities and architects are up to.

Certainly defying the world’s financial troubles, the Russians – setting camp in a special exhibition space just outside the Palais des Festivals – impressed, showcasing some of the country’s biggest and most ambitious current projects with large models and shiny new projects; from whole new cities – like the new Tula Science City, a mixed-use scheme involving housing and a defence industry complex; to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics projects line-up, including the Wilkinson Eyre-designed sports centre, unveiled during the fair.

Teaming up with Paris Metropole, Foster and Partners’ new design for the Hermitage Plaza mixed-use twin towers east of La Defence was unveiled on the show’s second day. The rest of the Paris stand’s projects were all ongoing, like Jean Nouvel’s Tour Signal, and beautifully displayed, proudly marking Paris’ upcoming new architectural era. Many more French cities were represented, from Marseille to Lyon, but one of the most interesting French stands was undoubtedly the my architect(s) stand, presenting work by a selection of upcoming French architects, curated by Phillipe Uzzan – the only one where architects were invited to present work.

Under the same - my architect(s) - umbrella, and following Uzzan’s invitation, our own editor-at-large, Suzanne Trocme moderated a discussion between some of the world’s leading architects on MIPIM’s second day. Zaha Hadid, Thom Mayne and Wolf Prix (unfortunately due to last minute health issues, Daniel Libeskind was unable to attend) shared the stage discussing their latest projects in a lively debate, but also the state and future of contemporary architecture in the light of the current recession; and they did so not only in a full-packed house, but also with Frank Gehry himself, sitting on the first row.

The London Stand was another big attraction; unsurprisingly so, since the UK is one of MIPIM’s biggest participants, including shows by Liverpool and Manchester. A large model showing London as it will be, greeted the visitors, while models and details on the city’s largest projects, from the King’s Cross development to the Woods Bagot-designed Trinity Square hotel, were on display, while on the other side of the world, China was named the “Country of Honour”, marking the Asian country’s pivotal role in the continent’s real estate market.

MIPIM 2009 drew to a close last Friday, after the Thursday evening ceremony where the MIPIM annual awards were announced; Cologne’s Kranhaus1 offices and BIG and Julien de Smedt’s Mountain Dwellings in Copenhagen were among the proud winners.

Bridging the gap between architects and developers, and creating the right circumstances for fruitful future collaborations, hopefully MIPIM helped work out the best solutions out of the industry’s current financial hiccups. As the star line-up of the my architect(s) talk, as well as Ben van Berkel advised; it’s all in the collaboration.

Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).