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 05-07 March 2019 / ExCeL, London

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20 Sep 2018

Architects warn of ‘dull design’ following drop in registrations from EU

Leading practices say they fear the exodus of foreign talent will be a ‘massive loss’ to the profession after new figures revealed a dramatic drop in the number of EU registrations.

The Architects Registration Board (ARB) has recorded a 42 per cent fall in the number of EU registrations since the UK voted to exit the bloc in 2016, the AJ reported last week.

‘It’s a massive loss fuelled by inward, navel-gazing nationalism, which leads to boring conversations and dull design,’ commented Chris Boyce, founder and director of recently founded Assorted Skills + Talents.

‘We need to embrace all nationalities as so many great practices have shown in the past.’

According to newly released documents, the ARB has only processed 485 applications via the EU route between 1 January and the end of July, compared with the 846 registering during the same period in 2016.

The registration drop is mirrored in the number of EU architects applying to work in the UK, with one of the sector’s leading recruiters, Bespoke Careers, confirming it too had seen an approximate 40 per cent reduction in candidates.

‘Pre-referendum, many large and established practices reported having circa 30-40 per cent non-UK nationals in their workforce,’ said Bespoke’s associate director, Leo Pemberton.

But this is set to change. According to Pemberton, the most acute decline in applications has been from northern European countries including Scandinavia, though applicant numbers were also decreasing from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Richard Keating, director at London-based practice Orms, said while the reduction in EU workers coming to the UK had dropped across all sectors, the figures showed the impact in architecture had been much greater.

He said that for Orms, where 41 per cent of the office are from the EU, the figures were worrying. ‘This is a concern for practices such as Orms, which have enjoyed collaborating with a European pool of talent, ideas and energy that have become an integral part of our practice over recent years,’ he said.

He added that while architects from the EU were generally not considering leaving the UK, he thought their peers from home were less likely to be making a move to the UK.

He attributed this to factors including work prospects slowly improving in countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal, a lack of clarity on the deal with Europe and nervousness about starting a career with potential instability.

PRP senior partner Manisha Patel also mentioned the three southern European countries as places where the practice had seen a decline in applicants.

‘We put this down to economic uncertainty post-Brexit and fears over job security for non-UK nationals,’ she said. ‘More recently, we have also noticed a decline in applicants from eastern European countries such as Poland and Slovakia, who are turning to France and Germany for vacancies, rather than the UK.’

But unlike Keating, Patel said PRP had also noticed ‘a degree of flight’ from European nationals making the decision to return home, or move to other EU countries.

Boyce said he had also seen a rise in staff leaving the UK. ‘The impact now is simply that our naturalised EU staff members feel that the country has decided it doesn’t need them, so they are going home,’ he said.

The RIBA has also raised concerns at the drop in EU registrations revealed by the ARB. The organisation’s chief executive, Alan Vallance said: ‘These figures show that uncertainty over Brexit is already beginning to impact the sector, risking the UK’s reputation as a beacon for international talent.’

The figures also strike a chord outside of the UK. Charlotta Holm Hildebrand, head of international affairs at Architects Sweden, said some Swedish architects were returning home. ‘Unfortunately, some [Swedish architects] do not feel welcome anymore … like second-best citizens’.

Hildebrand added that the organisation had seen a decline in Swedish practices seeking clients and work in the UK. ‘Most businesses in Sweden find Brexit a sad story as it affects long-standing relations between two countries and its citizens,’ she said.

‘We see a decline in interest in both the British as well as the US market despite a huge increase in business development abroad.’

And she said Swedish students were now reluctant to come and study in Britain without knowing the result of the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

But it is not just non-UK architects who are seeking a post-Brexit vote move, according to Nathan Smith, partner and chief commercial officer of Danish practice Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects (SHL).

Smith, who has been based in Copenhagen for eight years, said that since the referendum, SHL had seen a ‘significant increase’ in the number of applicants from the UK.

‘The profile of Copenhagen has something to do with it, as the city is liveable and design focused,’ he said. ‘But I think Brexit has also had a big impact and a lot of people are thinking let’s do it now while we still can.’

Asked about the impact an exodus of foreign talent would have on the UK, Smith said: ‘It’s going to seriously affect the industry because it is not going to be as diverse. One of the most amazing things about architecture is that all offices are microcosms of the world. London’s loss is Copenhagen’s gain.’

Article & Image Source: Architects Journal

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