In light of the countdown to the 23rd June the number one question posed to me from Architecture and Design business owners has been “How are other architects doing in light of Brexit?” To which my response has been “How has it been for you?”
Mindful of the open letter published in the Telegraph signed by nearly 300 of the UK’s Leading creative aficionado’s, including noted architects such as David Chipperfield and David Adjaye. Designers supporting the EU state that if it was to leave, “Britain’s global creative success would be severely weakened”.
It’s clear to see why most leaders of the Architectural profession are generally quite nervous at the prospect of leaving the European Union. According to CNN, the UK has the 5th largest economy in the world at US$3 trillion nestled between Germany and France, this makes Europe the 4th largest economy in the world behind the US, China and Japan.
There are no guarantees, and with the opposition painting a terrifying view of their GB utopia, to form rational ideals of what the future may hold, memories of the downturn are still very fresh.
We must remember that construction in general has sustained itself and created jobs often through foreign investment. So when the accessibility to the EU is in question, foreign investors will consider their options and possibly reallocate their investments to other markets.
The prospect of a Brexit has slowed down the housing market. Last year 15% of the investment in the South East of England had been from Europe, whilst 34% is from even further afield. That’s half of all investment. This investment was beginning to make its way further north to the ‘Powerhouse’ and so too were the creation of jobs and the regeneration of once great cities, in desperate need of financial injection.
Whilst the South East thrived on the Prime £1-3 Million property space, sensitivity to housing shortage and the creation of ongoing income streams meant that in other major northern cities, investors, developers and their architects have been fine tuning and opting for other models of development such as PRS. Even then, other than young professionals, the balance of such schemes have foreign students in mind as their rental target market, this equates to £3.7 Billion revenue generation from EU students, as well as 34,000 jobs alone. Take away the easy EU access and we potentially take away not just its value, but a good proportion of the 87,000 Chinese students, that contribute a further £2 Billion a year to the economy.
Chinese students are attracted to the UK to learn English and have easy access to Europe. Take that away and we will only stimulate the number of Asian students that go to other English speaking countries such as Australia, Canada and the US and lose these valuable ligaments for our next generation of future leaders.
Recently I am hearing more and more the dispiriting news of projects stalling in Manchester, Sheffield and too many to speak of in London from overseas investors. The reason cited by all architectural leaders was the threat of Brexit.
Meanwhile many of our clients that we work with have told us to “wait until the 23rd”. This stalling is a result of projects potentially going on hold, funds frozen and foreign investors thinking of other parts of the world, all because the UK will be less amenable if we exit.
On another more cultural level many architecture and design businesses take pride in the number of nationalities and languages spoken in the studios (which has lead to a spate of International UK Design offices), along with greater diversity and gender equality and pay. All championed by the EU and is also one of the requirements to be part of the AJ100.
One Architecture Director informed me that 50% of his staff are from overseas and not only would he lose an edge to tackle projects in the UK through the loss of some incredibly valuable talent but he would also lose his opportunity to expand overseas.
Many UK practices would not have been able to complete projects without some of the technical expertise of European Architects who seem to be grounded in a more technical education. Architects travelling from Poland, France, Spain and other nations come with a spirit of optimism to gain UK experience that they will eventually take back home under the direction from their UK expertise to set up wings of European offices growing our Great British architectural economy and expertise even further.
Some might wish us to stay isolated and an island as the rest of the world becomes more homogenized and yes there are more rules like the Working Time Directive imposed by the EU, which takes a bit more effort to enforce, but fundamentally these rules exist to protect the worker which in principle is surely what we should all be doing as good employers.
Whilst I’m no Economist and these are just the experiences from the architecture and design businesses I meet, these are on-the-ground concerns, from those feeling the real impacts of these decisions and with real jobs that will ultimately be affected.
I will sign off with a final thought from William Wallace when talking to his clan leaders and trying to enforce the reasons why the greater community of leaders should work together for the greater good he said,
“You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom.”
The closing of our access to working freely in Europe restricts designers’ opportunities to work further and wider, as the UK has the best creatives in the world and to close this door restricts the ‘investment in’ and the ‘opportunities out’ for our creative industries. These industries including Architecture and Design are amongst our best service exports from these shores, whilst London is seen as the global design hub. Close this door and you potentially close this growing creative legacy.
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