MIPIM 2018, Italian design and why Venetian travel is the best: Stuart chats to Paola

This latest and seemingly longest lockdown has played havoc with group rides. Cycling with friends in person has become a dim and distant memory. However, before this latest stage, I managed to join Sinead Conneely on her mammoth tour of Swains Lane. Whilst there, I also caught up again with Paola Zanotto of Karakusevic Carson Architects.


Paola and I first met on the road to MIPIM in 2018, when we joined the wind-swept journey across France. As we couldn’t get out for a ride together now, we decided to catch up online, and re-live some memories from the ride in the wettest of all cycle to MIPIMs.


My own lasting memory from 2018 was of day four. Day four will be etched in my memory forever. It started to rain as we left Beaune in the dark. Then, it rained and rained, and rained some more. There was, at some points, water up to the chain stay of the bike in front of me. I must have swallowed many litres of a heady mix of rainwater and French lane manure in the first four hours of that day. After that stage, David Magyar of JRA and I were consigned to the bus for fear we might not make it to Cannes unless we warmed up a bit.


Fortunately for Paola, she seems to have missed out on that particular section of the ride. For her, the lasting memory is riding the final part of the ride, in glorious sunshine from Lac de Saint-Cassien down to Cannes. The stunning French countryside and mountains before descending into La Croisette made the week for her. Maybe I’m not the glass half-full person I thought I was…


The wonderful thing about the ride to MIPIM (if it ever happens again) is the shared memories, experiences of that ride, and the lasting community friendships it brings. Something Paola and I are both very much agreed on. It was through Club Peloton that Paola and I both met Sinead and we wouldn’t be chatting on Zoom were it not for the wonderful work Nick, Chris and the team do.


However, back to Zoom: As she relaxes on a very comfortable, and of course, stylish Aeron chair, I ask what it is about Italians and design? Campagnolo, Wilier Triestina, Colnago, Pinarello, Bianchi, the list goes on... It’s notable too, that three of my architect friends are Italian.


Paola studied in Venice, a city where the car is definitely not king. She notes how healthy in many ways, the lifestyle there is. Generally, you walk, and anything you want has to be carried to or from the nearest land. The Venetians, it seems, have been doing active travel for years.


Paola tells me she came to the UK as part of her studies at the Venice Architecture School, and enjoyed the opportunities and life here that she never left. At architecture school, her study focus was Jaqueline Tyrwhitt. Jaqueline had a long career in town planning and urban design across 4 continents during turbulent times, and was instrumental in 1940s and 50s urban regeneration in the UK. Fitting then, that Paola’s work with Karakusevic Carson has also focussed on urban master planning and regeneration.


She becomes particularly animated as she describes the work the practice has engaged in on Meridian Water. The 25 year project for a new piece of city in North London is one you’d have had to have been living under a rock not to have heard of. Essentially developing a city from scratch, Paola’s team have had to work with a host of public bodies to balance quality and design with funding and planning requirements. The new railway station alone is expecting a shift from around 30,000 people a year at the old Angel Road station, up to 4 million when the project completes.


The project, if you’ve not yet taken a look is worth a minute or two of your time: take a look here. 85 hectares of former industrial space in North London, it will open up access to the Lea Valley Country Park and provide around 10,000 homes. The masterplan focuses on active travel, prioritising pedestrians and cyclists, and the low ratios of parking provision are all set to have electric charging points.


Paola’s focus has now shifted to another challenge. We can’t talk in detail about it, but it's another North London project and this one sounds like it might be even more of a giant than Meridian Water.


Finally, we talk about The 1500 and the various brilliant efforts being made to raise funds for everyone’s favourite charity organisation. Paola is going to be walking rather than riding. Considering the strength of her riding this surprises me a bit. Then I learn that only a few weeks remain before a small architect is likely to join the team (watch Paola's video below)! So cycling is going on the back burner for a few months. But in 2022 Paola hopes to be back and in the saddle with PedElle again. 


Stuart Wilks




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