Frustration and Anger over Brexit Vote

 Oliver Pohlisch
27. June 2016
Britain dashed to the ground? (Photo: Ivan Bandura/Wikimedia Commons)
The shock over the unexpected outcome of the EU Referendum sits deep in the British architecture scene. This can be seen in first reactions from different British offices, which also employ a large number of nationals from other EU countries. Now their future is uncertain.
In a survey carried out by Building Design magazine in May, 78 percent of architects interviewed were in favor of Great Britain staying in the European Union. Shortly before 23 June, renowned representatives of their discipline, among them David Chipperfield, Rem Koolhaas, Richard Rogers, David Adjaye, Ron Arad, and Thomas Heatherwick had started to publicly engage in the debate on Great Britain’s EU membership and warn about a Brexit. Nevertheless, 52 percent of the Brits, who voted in the referendum last Thursday, decided for exactly that.

Many offices between Dover and Inverness employ a considerable number of employees from France, Germany, the Netherlands, or Italy. Now they fear the negative consequences of the Brexit, both for their own staff as well as for the future recruitment of employees. According to the Building Design website, Graham Morrison and Bob Allies from Allies & Morrison comment: "In the course of our career, we have enjoyed the knowledge, comprehensive education and experience of the many architects from the EU we employ. More than one quarter of our staff comes from the European Union, and it will take a long time to get used to the thought that we lose this easy access to such a rich source of talents as a result of the vote."

Similar comments are made by the office of Richard Rogers, whose personnel comprises more than 40 percent of non-British EU citizens. Especially for these people, the outcome of the referendum was not just a sign of a new, less open Great Britain but also one that could lead to actual and practical changes in their personal life, commented Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners. However, the company assures, "to persist with an inclusive and internationally oriented practice, which is steeped in the values of a broad European culture."

RIBA waits and sees
The statement by Jane Duncan, President of the Royal Institute of British Architecture (RIBA), sounds strikingly restrained: "Of course, there is uncertainty as to the timings and impact on a number of matters that are important for our industry." Together with other organizations one would evaluate the short- and long-term effects of the withdrawal from the EU on RIBA and its members and provide additional orientation. The most important thing, however, was the collaboration with the industry and the government to ensure that architects will have a strong voice in the next weeks, months and years.

However, that’s exactly what was missing when it counted most. Ben Derbyshire from HTA, a member of RIBA Board of Directors and a candidate to succeed Duncan, reproaches the current management of the Royal Institute. He was dismayed, said Derbyshire, that the RIBA had not played a stronger role in the debate before the referendum – given the fact that 85 percent of its members considered a withdrawal a bad idea. Now the institute really had to find a way to allow its members to clearly speak out in favour of their own profession. "On this most important of all occasions, the Institute missed out on doing so. Now it is too late," complains Derbyshire.

Cany Ash from Ash Sakula Architects comes up with similarly harsh words to express her anger about the EU-hostile vote: "The Brexit equals a comprehensive urban decay. While the bureaucratic mess caused by it is cleared, all our energies are wasted. Housing construction and social projects procured through precarious public-private partnerships gain momentum only against the background of stability and optimism. We have thrown this to the wind."

A large part of British architecture firms are based in London. The metropolis has mainly voted in favor of staying in the European Union. Accordingly, Paul White, co-manager of Buckley Gray Yeoman, intends to initiate a campaign that will advocate London’s remaining in the EU under the motto of "Take Us with You Europe." There are other appeals aiming in this direction already, such as a federation of the city with pro-EU Scotland, which is likely to see another independence referendum after the Brexit decision.

Passionate discussion about the future
Amanda Levete, founder of AL_A, makes no secret of her disappointment at the Brexit vote, but wants to respect the vote decision and doesn't only see negative aspects. "The debate had seized the whole country, and in particular young people. It was only positive that young people discussed the future so passionately," she commented.

Nicholas Burwell, head of Burwell Deakins Architects, also believes that the side effects of the decision are not only adverse: "A large number of British voters have expressed their feeling of alienation and rejected centralism. Is this the start towards a more broadly based democratic arrangement with a greater decisive power for the regions? As a result of the referendums, this wouldn’t be that bad."

David Marks, managing director of Marks Barfield Architects, on the contrary, is pessimistic: "The referendum has brought to light the deep divisions within the British society. The result does not help the country to solve the real problems like climate change, unrestrained free-market capitalism and increasing inequality."

Meanwhile, the British building industry prepares for possible adverse effects of the Brexit vote. Even before the day of the referendum, its representatives predicted that a majority in  favor of the exit would have negative impacts on investments, business confidence and the labor market, which is strongly dependent on immigration from the Continent.

This article was originally published as "Frust und Ärger über Brexit-Votum" on German-Architects, translated into English by Bianca Murphy.

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