Brexit began with a referendum in 2016, led by the conservative party leader David Cameron. Shocking everyone, both in the UK and Europe, over 50% of voters voted to leave the EU. This triggered Article 50 and the UK began the process of Brexit. Two prime ministers, a general election, multiple rejected deals, and a divided society four years later, on the 31st of January 2020 the UK officially left the EU. The effect of Brexit is and has already been felt across Europe, in terms of trade, immigration and business.
In a post-Brexit society, there is expected to be both physical and non-physical implications for architecture and design.
Physically, architecture has always had a close relationship to politics. If we consider the political backgrounds of the renaissance, classicism, neo- classicism, modernism and post-modernism, it is clear that each is driven by varying political and social climates. An example is the comparison between the liberal, social democratic Barcelona and post-communist Bucharest. Barcelona boasts the work of Gaudi or the progressive modernism of Mies van der Rohe, whereas Bucharest is filled with Stalinist towers and brutalism; the differing politics gives way to two very different cities.
Brexit is a symbol of separation, nationalism, fear, isolation, exclusivity and the rise of the right that has been sweeping across the western world. It calls for speculation of what post-Brexit architecture will look like given the current climate. Will British Architecture become more 'British'? Will Britain develop a more unique style or continue to have parallels to European architecture?
One argument is that architecture in the UK could head subconsciously in a more nostalgic direction, playing on the British vernacular and comforting styles that are generally loved by the UK population, like Victorian, Georgian and Brutalism. This could result in an interesting progression for British architecture, but if approached with the wrong attitude it could easily become stagnant and dull.
The biggest worry about the UK having more British centric architecture and losing the interest of talented EU architects, is that Britain could limit
innovation and the experimental element of architecture. Looking at two of the most symbolic buildings in London, The Tate Modern, and The Shard, both are designed by non-British Architecture practices; Herzog & de Meuron, and Renzo Piano. To lose this attraction of talent could be devastating and make for a more homologous landscape, falling behind other European countries.
A more positive outlook for the post-Brexit built environment is that it could promote transformation and steps towards solving a lot of the architectural and urban planning issues the UK currently faces. The housing crisis, sprawl, rural and urban relationships, and social housing, are just a few of the burning issues needing to be tackled. Directing the profession's focus inwards rather than outwards may lead to greater interest and funding, which eventually would be a huge benefit for the UK.
Looking at the 'non-physical' effects of Brexit, these are potentially more extreme and worrying. One quarter of all architects in the UK are from an EU member state and given the instability and hostile atmosphere of the UK at the moment, it would not be surprising to lose a large proportion of foreign architects. Speaking from personal experience, during an internship in a London based Architecture studio, regular conversations revolved around the topic of Brexit and EU nationals leaving to find work elsewhere. This would frankly be horrendous for the industry: the diversity and range of influences is what makes British architecture so fantastic.
Similarly, studying abroad as an architecture student is perhaps one of the most valuable exercises in your education; exposing you to new architecture, ideas and people. Brexit and the current deal will in some cases mean that UK students will have to pay full international fees (which can be in excess of 18,000 euros per year) and it may also work the other way around for EU students coming to the UK. The enriching opportunity will only be an option for those who can afford it which is at its core classist and discriminatory, shutting off much of the architectural world for both UK and EU students.
Furthermore, in terms of money, the UK receives large amounts of funding from the EU for design related research projects: ADAPT-r (a research-
based scheme training researchers and providing real-world training), and, JESSICA (a European Commission initiative to create sustainable regeneration in cities). London was a major player in the scheme. The EU put in £120 million for the UK alone), BIM4EEB (For BIM Development), and RENOZEB (For creating net-zero energy building renovation market by increasing property value through a new systemic approach to retrofitting). Being removed from many of the research schemes initiated by the EU is a big step backwards for architectural research, the effect of which will surely be felt by universities and institutions across the country.
As a left wing, Remain voter I have a swayed opinion about the effects of Brexit on the built environment. I think the effects of leaving the EU will be felt hard by the architecture industry, particularly by the loss of skilled architects. However, in many ways I have to accept the fate that Britain is no longer apart of the European Union and that perhaps there will be some positives for the industry. Maybe it is time to view this political shift as an opportunity to evolve and innovate UK architecture rather than a time to mourn the loss of what we had.