Breaking the cycle - Issue 173 - Magazine | Monocle

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Oman’s model village revealed

monocle was tempted back to the shores of the Med in March for the 2024 iteration of Mipim, the world’s most important real-estate fair, which pulls in more than 20,000 delegates and exhibitors, mostly from Europe and the Middle East. Hosted in Cannes, this is a sales event, a soft-power arena for governments and cities to show what they’re made of, for funds to seek out investment opportunities and for a lot of convivial hospitality. In the space of a few days you can gain a snapshot of the forces shaping the ways our cities will develop and the trends and social powers that are materialising in the built environment.

The mood this year was much improved on 12 months ago. There was a feeling that capital was about to flow again, that more projects were being greenlit and that more companies were returning to in-office working, ready to buoy the market for commercial landlords and boost the prospects for cbds and retail. And if you are in hotels, data centres or South American malls, it was also all positive. Over the following pages, we’ll introduce you to just a few of the folk we met at Mipim and hear their concerns, ambitions and predictions for the years ahead. — L

Felicity Black-Roberts
The vice-president of acquisitions and development Europe at Hyatt Hotels Corporation championed the post-pandemic hotel boom on the continent.

Felicity Black Roberts, Hyatt

“We were surprised at how well the business-traveller sector bounced back after the pandemic. I was faced with doom merchants saying, ‘There’s never going to be another Frankfurt Book Fair, it’s all dead’. But it’s come back. And it’s a testament to how human beings want to do business. They want to be face-to-face, have eye contact, be in the same room. I also think that people coming out of the pandemic realised how much they valued travel. There have been a lot of leisure trips, as well as blended trips where people might be taking their family away for some leisure time and doing some work as part of that. That’s partly driven the increased demand for suites, which often delivers the experience element for those high-end guests who can afford that pricing level.”

Muyiwa Oki
The president of Riba (the Royal Institute of British Architects) was in Cannes to promote British talent, especially around the climate crisis, and reflect on the built environment in an election year.

Muyiwa Oki

“I’ve been invited to roundtables by [UK political parties] Labour and the Conservatives. We are making the case that the built environment has a major effect on towns and regions in the country. For example, in the northwest and the West Midlands, we have quite a lot of homes that are not fit for purpose and we’re lobbying for a retrofit strategy, a way of rethinking and reimagining these dilapidated buildings and bringing them up to standard for the future. And that has an effect on jobs, job security, healthcare. So basically, what I’m trying to say, is that the built environment is an indicator of prosperity. And if you invest in it, you invest in income, in the economy. I can feel that people are listening to us and they’re getting the idea that, if we want to solve the big issues when it comes to a global climate emergency, we need to think about the built environment first, because the built environment contributes to about 37 per cent of global greenhouse gases. And there is no pathway to net zero without solving this issue.”

Deals on yachts
Dressed to impress
Keep your delegations on track
Getting a lift
Sharp attendee

Valdas Benkunskas
The mayor of Vilnius was on the ground to champion the Lithuanian capital and realign people’s focus on the effects of the war in Ukraine on this neighbour of Russia.

Valdas Benkunskas, mayor of Vilnius 

“It’s a dangerous situation because a lot of countries and societies in western Europe are just tired of this war. And that’s what the Russians are seeking to do: crush us. Our goal is to say that we won’t forget, we won’t get tired and we will do everything that’s needed until Ukraine wins this war. For us, it’s much easier to do that because Ukraine is closer to us than it is to Portugal or Spain, for example. But still, we believe that Ukraine is not just fighting for themselves. They’re fighting for us as well. So our goal is to help as much as we can and, in Vilnius, we have a lot of people who support this and who understand. Our society doesn’t panic.”

Duncan Swinhoe
The regional managing principal of Gensler, the world’s biggest architecture firm, founded in San Francisco in 1965, had some thoughts on the company’s spiritual home and the future of the office.

Duncan Swinhoe of Gensler

“Nvidia [an AI tech company] is the hot topic. Everyone’s talking about Nvidia and its headquarters were designed by Gensler before the pandemic. We’ve just completed the third phase of that building and it’s as far from what you would think of as an office building as you could possibly imagine. It is a future environment that’s designed to facilitate collaboration, to bring innovators together in a super-effective way, in a way that differentiates their space from their competitors’ spaces. And you can see the results. I mean, it’s an incredible building. 

“Just to play on the San Francisco conversation a little bit: there has been a lot of negativity around the hollowing out of the cbd but we’ve just moved into a new building there and what’s interesting is that the teams are a full-time presence – they’re in most of the time together, collaborating. And that’s because the space facilitates this – there’s the ability to choose where you want to spend time, for example.”

Keeping things safe and secure
Mobility, Cannes-style
Part of the large Middle East attendance

Belit Onay
The mayor of Hanover had much to say on the challenges of trying to make the city centre car-free by 2030 – especially given that Hanover is a key manufacturing base for Volkswagen.

Belit Onay, lord mayor of Hanover

“About 50 per cent of the population are going with you: they support this idea of having a car-free city centre; they see the necessity of transformation because of the climate crisis that’s hitting our urban areas very hard. But when it comes to cars, Germans are very emotional. After the Second World War, the automotive industry was important for the rebuilding of Germany. What we are doing in Hanover is trying to explain that it’s not about whether you like driving a car or not. It’s more about: how do you want us to organise the city? Do you want areas for parking cars when they could instead be used to host concerts or a space for your family, for your children to play? We don’t talk about the minus; we talk about the plus. We talk about bringing a better quality of life to different neighbourhoods.”

Melanie Leech
We asked the chief executive of the British Property Federation whether there are any reasons to be cheerful in the UK right now.

Melanie Leech, British Property Federation

“Our members are positive. Election years are always quite tricky but people are looking beyond that, to quite a positive future for the UK – lots of long-term plans are being made. And if you look at what’s happening with the best offices in the right locations, then they are doing really well. The retail market is also coming back strongly, for the right assets in the right locations. The living sectors are all doing well. The key thing we need to see from national government is that partnership but also investment. One of the other key inhibitors to getting stuff done is just the lack of resources in local authorities. Part of that is going to be around direct funding but also thinking creatively to tackle major projects. But there are lots of reasons to be optimistic.”

“We’ve just moved into a new building and the teams are a full-time presence – they’re in most of the time together, collaborating”

Mehmet Kalyoncu
The founding chair of the Turkish Design Council told us about efforts to rebuild Hatay, the province most damaged in the 2023 earthquakes that destroyed some 300,000 homes and killed 50,000 people. 


“After you lose a city, you want to build it back fast but we are focusing on not only how we can create a city again – a historical city, a magical city – but also how we can provide a better standard of urban living. The role of design is critical. But when you have a really big crisis – losing 50,000 people, having rescue teams from at least 60 different countries, not being able to have electricity, utilities – not everybody is thinking design at first, of course. But when the time comes to build the city back, then design really is the most important thing because you cannot make a better city if the planners and designers are not providing the best possible solutions.”

Kelsea Crawford
The co-founder and ceo of Cutwork architecture and design studio, based in Paris, told us about delivering alternative living concepts in Saudi Arabia.

“There’s lot of things to wrap our heads around in the studio in terms of design for the Saudi Arabia project because, culturally, it’s so different to Europe. But the challenge is the same in that people’s lifestyles are evolving – and rapidly. Even six years ago, women [in Saudi Arabia] weren’t allowed to drive. In the next 10 years, I think we will see them leapfrogging in terms of culture to a much more open form of living that’s community-centric. What I’ve also learnt is that there’s a different concept of privacy, of the family and the role of the family and society. Designing for co-living in this context will be different to London or Paris. But therein lies the beauty of being able to design bespoke products for their environment for their local context.”

Mipim Welcome
Why Cannes works

Laura Viscovich
We asked the executive director of the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction about the future of greener building.

“We believe that sustainable buildings and landscapes must address four interconnected goals: protecting the planet, helping people, contributing to economic prosperity and placemaking. And the latter is vital, because it means that happiness and happy people will be the result of whatever construction is taking place. There are clearly some strong impact-minded stakeholders who are looking to create the narrative around the long-term effect of investing in sustainable construction. Our sponsor is a cement-and-concrete manufacturer and they’ve been doing a lot of work on low-carbon solutions. But the foundation has supported research on different bio-based materials and what we’ve seen is that it’s more about those holistic solutions of retrofit, adaptive reuse and working with existing buildings to find new ways to keep going and serve the communities for many more years.”

Alex Knapp
The chief investment officer for Hines Europe, the global real-estate investment, development and management business, took the market’s temperature.


“The markets feel different this year. We’ve been through a market correction for real estate on par with the early 1990s, or the global financial crisis. So it’s a 20 per cent correction in values across the board. It’s a really material moment and a cyclical reset that happens periodically in real estate – and it feels like we are coming close to the bottom of that cycle. Are we there yet? Are we there in six months? I’m not quite sure. But the mood is changing. For offices, for retail, there are versions of each that are functioning well. So for offices, which is a big topic in the real-estate world and for cities everywhere, the cbds are very healthy and that gives a foundation for values to eventually increase. The same is true in retail. At this point we’re starting to see occupier levels stabilise, footfall levels rising again and e-commerce penetration flattening, which gives everyone more cause for optimism."

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