An interview with Alexandre Allard

On life, culture & Cidade Matarazzo

Alexandre Allard does not fit neatly into a convenient description. Entrepreneur, investor, developer, collector, philosopher, humanitarian… all of these would apply to some extent, but the one that probably defines him best is ‘visionary’.

Allard belongs to a category of people who dream big, carve out new trails (at times quite literally), and whose dauntlessness can be quite breathtaking. One may or may not share his construct of humanity and common values, or of the creative impetus (he insists that adversity is the main catalyst for creativity), but it is hard not to succumb to the passion of his argument or the strength of his personality.

Add to this a certain devil-may-care attitude, forcefully articulated views on just about everything and ensure that it is all liberally laced with wit and you have … Allard.

I met him one early afternoon at his new London home, a Pall Mall penthouse that overlooks St James’ Palace, the London Eye, and vast swathes of the city. He told me about his latest and most ambitious project to date – a sweeping urban restoration and cultural project in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

One Step Ahead

Allard was born and bred multi-cultural – from Washington D.C. to Ivory Coast and then the rest of the world – and his background would have played a formative role, although he could have just as easily ended up being contrarily conventional.

Instead, he made his fortune in new tech, long before new tech was the thing that generated instant huge bucks from investors. His early IT journey and perspicacity will likely be a textbook study one day, but they have already been widely documented – and that is not the subject of this article.

Allard’s subsequent forays into art and cultural projects gained traction and attracted the attention of international media with the Royal Monceau Palace Hotel Demolition Party (the event won the Cannes Lions award in 2008 and Best Event award at Grand Prix Stratégie). This too is extensively documented, so suffice to say it was genially conceived.

alexandre allard cidade matarazzo urban restoration project
Cidade Matarazzo

Master of Reinvention

By 2011, Allard had reinvented himself yet again. He began developing a vast artistic and culturally significant project that he had devised to reflect his philosophy of the world, its values and its future.

Located in Brazil, in the works for the last 12 years and scheduled for completion by the end 2019, the scale of this project is one of life-legacy proportions.

Its narrative is at once both fantastical and a blueprint of a success story: take a rundown 3 hectare portion of historical real estate in a major metropolis (in this case, Sao Paolo), import restoration experts and the best architects and designers in the world, bury the traffic below ground and convert the space above ground into a giant park.

With the remaining area, create a mammothsized culture and art centre, theatre, music studio, convention centre and a hotel complex in partnership with the Rosewood Group.

Cidade Matarazzo

Cidade Matarazzo is so named after the former Matarazzo hospital, a historical landmark listed building that lay abandoned until Allard acquired it.

Why Brazil, I ask.

The way he tells it, Brazil has the “three seeds” that were critical to his project. The first he refers to as “Open Source Religion” – effectively, taking the best from every religion and constructing your own. Allard, ever the pragmatist, as well as the big dreamer, likes that approach. Much in the same way he advocates an open source approach to all things IT.

Diversity is the second “seed”, or concept, and the one that he is most eloquent and passionate about. His argument is simple enough and almost purely mathematical – except it is also tinged with his particular brand of philosophy.

The African population growth far outstrips the European rate, which means the continual push northward will inevitably dilute demographics. At the same time, argues Allard, diversity has created more wealth, cultural and economic, than even the most liberally minded of us ever stop to consider.

alexandre allard cidade matarazzo living room
Interior Design by Philippe Starck / Photography by Ruy Teixera

Lastly, he says (in reference to the third “seed”), we have a great deal to learn from the Amazonian tribes about leaving minimal or no foot imprint on the land and the environment.

Brazil is amazing country, as anyone who has even been would attest. Harness all of the above elements and combine them with national
pride, and you would have one of the world’s greatest cultural, diversity and booming investment hubs – without even mentioning the sheer natural beauty and richness of this vast expanse of territory.

What about Allard himself?

Of restless mind and restive nature, he has no intention of replicating his large format “diversity lab”, franchise style. He already has another, more ambitious project in mind, but all he is prepared to volunteer at this stage is that it is art-related.

We will be waiting with bated breath.