The UK planning system is not an insurmountable barrier to success
So the planning system has defeated Erick van Egeraat and he has put his UK office into voluntary liquidation. The first reaction of many architects will be to nod sagely and look unsurprised. The iniquities of the planning system have after all replaced more general British topics such as the weather when a gathering of professionals wants to have a moan. You know that, whichever architect you speak to, they will sympathise. There is even an outside chance that they may have some useful advice. So, if the native British architect can't cope with our planning system after years of training and bruising experience, how can we expect a foreigner to do so?
But not all foreign architects agree with van Egeraat.
Renzo Piano, at the conclusion of the lengthy inquiry into his London Bridge Tower, was asked by the AJ what he thought of the British planning system. He replied: 'I think it is excellent and I found the inquiry very interesting.' Rafael Viñoly, despite receiving aggressive criticism of his Colchester Visual Arts Facility, was complimentary about the UK approach. Comparing it with America, he said: 'It is a much more discursive process over here. At the same time it is wonderful and I think this exhaustive review process shows in the final architecture.' Even Benedetta Tagliabue, who had a distressing time both personally and professionally over the Scottish parliament, has been heard to say that there is nothing particularly wrong with the planning system.
Why did it seem so dreadful to van Egeraat? He had a tough time with his now-abandoned project for the Royal Shakespeare Company's Stratford theatre. And at the same time his career was taking off internationally, with work in Budapest, Warsaw and Moscow. None of these, incidentally, can be the easiest cities in which to work.
But he has been lucky and things have gone well for him there. As the dominant personality driving his office, van Egeraat has chosen to concentrate his impressive, but not unlimited, energies on the places where he has met success. We all know the failings of our planning system but they don't represent an insuperable obstacle. There will still be plenty of talented foreign architects who will wish to realise projects here - and will succeed.