Rory Bergin, partner at Sustainable Futures, HTA Design says EU architects have enriched the UK, but Brexit risks an end to those benefits in future.
There are more than enough articles that discuss the economic effect of Brexit and I am no economist, so I am going to leave discussion of the possible impacts to them. Suffice it to say that if there is a negative impact on the UK’s economy, then the architecture profession will feel it first. Some firms already report a slowing down or pausing of work while clients and investors wait for the result of the referendum.
I would rather think about some of the great Europeans who have come to the UK over the years and had a big impact on our architecture and our culture. If we leave the EU, the chances of other similarly gifted people coming to work here will be lessened and our lives and culture will be the poorer for it. Leaving the EU sends a message that we want to be left alone, that we are unwilling to work closely with our neighbours, that we don’t want to share the benefits of our advanced and civilised culture and that we would prefer to leave rather than accept the principle of free movement within the EU.
Under such circumstances would any of the following rollcall of great names in architecture have come to the UK?
Berthold Lubetkin – born in Georgia but emigrated to Paris, and came to the UK in 1931 to set up Tecton. Responsible for some of London’s most iconic buildings, the Penguin Pool at London Zoo and the Finsbury Health Centre among them. He also worked for government clients, designing many post-war rehousing projects like the Spa Green Estate. Never a purist, brought his own personality and wit to his projects which turned what could have been cold realisations of modernist principles into buildings which respected their context and which remain well liked by their occupants. Many of his works are now listed.
Erno Goldfinger, born in Hungary, came to London in 1934 and moved into Highpoint I, designed by Tecton. He designed and built a small terrace of Modernist homes at Willow Walk in Hampstead before WWII, one of which is now owned by the National Trust. After the war he became a specialist in housing design, responsible for two of the most iconic tall buildings in London; Trellick and Balfron Towers. Brutalist but sophisticated in their design, they were divisive when completed but are now admired by all by the most regressive of critics and are sought-after places to live. Never a genial man (he was the inspiration for the Goldfinger character in James Bond), despite this his estate has the legacy of a scholarship to Hungarian architecture students wishing to travel to the UK.
Erich Mendelsohn left Germany to escape Nazism in 1933, leaving a successful practice with an international reputation. For three years he worked with Serge Chermayeff, a Russian architect and Felix Samuely, an Austrian Engineer. Their collaboration produced the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, one of the best examples of modernist architecture in the UK. Its streamlined form was the perfect interpretation of its time for patron Herbert Sackville, who had sponsored the first English public motorsport races held in the same south coast town.
Jan Kaplicky worked in private practice in Czechoslovakia but fled after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, he escaped to London where he worked for Denys Lasdun before setting up Future Systems. This team has been responsible for some truly innovative work including the Media Centre at Lord’s cricket ground and Selfridges in Birmingham.
Leon Krier came to London from Stuttgart to work for James Stirling in 1983 and stayed for another 20 years. His influence has been far-reaching, and divisive, but few would argue that he has contributed enormously to our ideas and culture.
The list goes on, Demetri Porphyrious, Peter Chlapowski, Andrew Ogorzalek and many others have come and added their enthusiasm and talents to ours and we are the better for it. Many came as immigrants, some as refugees, and found a welcome for their talents and skill. All of them serve as compelling evidence that our arts and culture are stronger for being open and welcoming.
This referendum is a very important test for democracy, and it is vital that you use your hard-won vote. Whatever your motivation, think of the very many people who are affected by this vote who have no vote and get out there and exercise your democratic right!