The artless crumbling of property development - Monocolumn | Monocle


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7 March 2013

A sojourn to the south of France sounds like a nice proposition at this time of year. While the rest of Europe is still grey, azure, sunny Provence doesn’t really do gloom.

But beware: think twice before you book a flight to Cannes for a spring fling. That’s because over 20,000 of the world’s property movers and shakers are limbering up to attend MIPIM, the real-estate equivalent to the Palme d’Or.

That’s right: picture dozens of thousands of suited, mostly testosterone-heavy property developers descending on the Riviera, sipping champagne in bars, sauntering along the corniche and networking like mad in plastic corporate tents and on red velour carpets and you’ve got the picture.

I’ll be going too, elbows sharpened, to take the temperature of the world property market. I want to meet the builders, the developers and the moneymen; the scions, tycoons, mayors and municipal chiefs from Leningrad to Lyon that will be out in force. Because for all the talk of elegant, innovative design, of ego-driven starchitects and of careful restoration, the reality is that these are the people that are shaping our world.

You may be glad to hear that among the hordes there are a few architects too. Not many: just 609 qualified architects are expected to turn out this year, brave souls set on scooping up business and selling their outfits’ creative prowess.

This year Turkey will take centre stage. The ascendant economy will be there to show off its plans to build, build, build; the focus is on the new, the future. A recent trip to Istanbul reminded me of how its voracious plans to construct brand new shopping centres, tall residential towers and gated communities are missing the point.

So many of the city’s beautiful old buildings are crumbling beyond repair. Even in the beautiful district of Galata where chic boutiques are springing up, there are shells of forgotten mansions that are now home to colonies of feral cats.

A few visionaries are taking these buildings on. I visited the artful studios of the architect Sema Topaloğlu who has restored some old houses near the city’s buzzing shopping district. Here, she crafts lattice ironwork and shape blocks of old oak to restore the dilapidated buildings most other developers won’t touch.

I doubt she will be invited to MIPIM. That’s because artists such as Sema don’t have a place in the global property game – but this must change. We need to integrate the arts with the serious business of infrastructure and make sure people like Sema come along to mingle with the suited money men on the Croisette.

Sophie Grove is Monocle’s senior editor.


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