Erick van Egeraat has blamed Britain's planning procedures for his shock decision to put his London office into voluntary liquidation.
The Dutch architect said the planning system made it extremely difficult for foreign architects to run offices in the UK.
The practice, Erick van Egeraat Associated Architects (EEA), insisted that its only UK project under construction, a £19 million art gallery and civic square in Middlesbrough, remained on course to open next year. But the future for the office's 10 architects remains uncertain.
Defending the move as a 'practical business issue', van Egeraat claimed it was no longer realistic for EEA to run a base in London because UK planning was too time-consuming. 'Britain is not an easy place for foreign architects to work. This is sad. The willingness of foreign architects is there but the planning system is difficult to see through for relative outsiders. Planning procedures take an awfully long time and for me this is not good in terms of time and energy, ' van Egeraat told the AJ.
'Overall, it is difficult to get things off the ground in Britain and therefore it is not realistic to keep a presence in London, ' he added.
EEA opened its UK office in 1998 after winning competitions to redevelop the Grade II-listed Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford, and The Photographers' Gallery, London. But the practice quit the £100 million Stratford project in May last year, urging a 'rethink' of the scheme (AJ 27.5.04).
Doubts about the future of EEA surfaced last month when the practice admitted it was considering pulling out of the British market to concentrate on Europe. Van Egeraat stressed that the practice's workload in central Europe, especially Moscow, was getting 'heavier and heavier' in contrast to Britain, where business was 'not picking up'.
In a move to reassure Middlesbrough council about the future of the town's gallery and square, van Egeraat insisted voluntary liquidation was necessary so that 'things do not get out of control'.
'We will definitely finish Middlesbrough, ' he said. 'The way forward is to ring fence the company to ensure the project will be completed. There are a range of options for taking the project forward. This step gives the client time to think them through and make sure they are in its interest.'