Architecture and urbanism are soft targets for any politician
I am not usually paranoid, but I am beginning to think that whenever I spend time in other places, the politics swing to the right. My first brush with groups that make Mrs Thatcher look like the sister of Karl Marx was in Marseilles.
I became aware that in some quarters I was not welcome - both as an architect and an Englishman. I had discovered the Xenophobic attitudes of the Front Nationale and JeanMarie Le Pen. These people resented my presence and would have gladly replaced me with a suitable right-wing architect. My feelings were of disgust, as this was the first time I could get anywhere near the idea of being a refugee or a black person in a white society. Obviously the comparison is not exactly accurate as I did not have to be in Marseilles and I did have a home to go to. But nevertheless the thought that someone would rather you didn't exist bears some, however small, comparison.
The project was complete, French politics shifted to the right and the economy went down. I am now branded a left-wing architect in France, which makes new projects difficult.
I well remember Henri Ciriani, who was branded a right-wing architect, having no projects in the left-wing period of domination. Today he has many.
In 1995 I accepted a professorship in Vienna. Within two years, Austria saw the rise ofJoerg Haider. He used the argument of foreigners taking away jobs and homes. This argument was extended to pulling Austria out of the European Union and promoting a type of localisation, which if restricted to an architectural argument, could be very interesting. His message is not dissimilar to Le Pen, which is to make smaller ponds in which to personally swim. For a while, I could detect a response within the university with regard to the employment of foreign professors.
Fortunately Haider's power subsided and the Austrian people realised that isolation and external criticism was not a desirable option.
More recently, Alsop Architects has opened an office in Rotterdam where we enjoy a range of projects which generate open and lively debate. In the last two months, Pim Fortuyn has risen to power in the local council on a ticket that promises to re-evaluate social benefit payments, put a stop to all immigration and to stop my Central Station project. If you can believe the local press, he has said that my plan should start again and be re-done by a Dutchman. Yet again I am cast in the role of the foreign interloper. This will not happen, although he is expected to do quite well in the forthcoming elections. I find his words strange as my plan was accepted by the local people some seven to eight months ago. He feels obviously, that whatever he thinks must also be representative of the people who elected him. Not so.
All over Europe we see a drift to the right and very often in places that have usually been left.
There is, I believe, a very thin wall dividing the left from the extreme right which comes down when individuals feel their own sense of wellbeing threatened, or perceive an injustice. This leads to an overreaction, which, as in my experience in Austria, very quickly subsides.
Architecture and urbanism are soft targets for any politician and we accept these vagaries in behaviour. Sadly, though, it impairs the proper process of public consultation and the emergence of a collective consciousness. Ironically the Far Right wishes to give identity by exclusion not by inclusion and celebration of the individual.
From seat 6A, BA flight No 701, Vienna to London lSince writing this article, Dutch democracy has been served a severe blow with the assassination of Pim Fortuyn