And the Band Played On
Forget the film festival—the gaudiest display of power
and money in Cannes involves real estate.
Every once in a while, an event reflects the cultural currents in an
uncanny way, perfectly capturing the zeitgeist. The Marché International
des Professionnels de l’Immobilier (MIPIM) is one of those singular
gatherings. Held in Cannes, France, and promoted as “the annual exhibition, conference and networking event for the international real estate
industry,” it’s the celebrated film festival without the celebrities. Rather
than paparazzi and A-list actors, there are mobs of anonymous businessmen (very few women) dressed in black and carrying briefcases like
the villains from The Matrix. At the intersection of real estate investment and architecture, MIPIM is a massive spectacle of power and
decadence that dwarfs the American Institute of Architects’ National
Convention and the Venice Biennale.
I heard about MIPIM through Zaha Hadid, who was charmingly disarmed during a lunch with one of the Pritzker Prize jurors. She effusively suggested that I attend the conference to meet new clients and
get fabulous jobs. Who am I to deny Zaha in a moment of unguarded
generosity? Thousands of dollars later—the entry fee alone was about
$2,500—I can say that Zaha understated the magnitude of the event.
Begun in 1990 as a modest gathering of about 3,000 developers, investors, and architects on the docks of Cannes, it now hosts more than
29,000 attendees. Convention halls overflow into numerous adjoining
pavilions, tents, and even huge yachts, representing banks and developers such as Tishman Speyer and the biggest one of all, Aldar, the
property-development firm of Abu Dhabi.
The setting is spectacular, an unparalleled site where the medieval
town atop the hill overlooks the Mediterranean. The Croisette, a curving
19th-century boulevard, extends along the city’s harbor, where the great
hotels—the Majestic Barrière, the Carlton, and the Martinez—double as
event locations. Tents were set up directly on the Mediterranean for late-night parties. The entire inner and outer harbor was filled with floating
palaces, the setting for private meetings and nightly parties straight out
MIPIM now spans some 1. 1 million square feet in Cannes; the original
stands occupied just 84,000 square feet in the festival hall. Here, I was
fortunate to have as my guide Gene Kohn, of Kohn continued on page 104
Top: MIPIM, the huge real estate conference, is held
each year in Cannes. The harbor plays host to a flotilla
of developer-sponsored parties aboard yachts. Middle:
The Croisette is the 19th-century boulevard along the water.
Above: The festival hall is the main site for the event.
Courtesy Alexander Gorlin