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Architecture transcends borders

In any large practice the number of countries represented will make it look like a branch of the United Nations, writes Paul Finch

Having spent last week in Singapore and Malaysia, this week in France and with a US trip starting on Saturday, I can confidently assert two things: first, there is nothing glamorous about international travel, which is a wearisome business; and second the increasingly global nature of life in the 21st century puts Europe in a very different context to the 1970s, when I voted (along with virtually everyone I knew) to stay in the EU.

Then as now, Labour and Conservative were split as to whether we should stick with Brussels or prefer the broad blue seas of global trade relationships. The latter attitude was characterised by the Europhiles as ‘little Englander’, which had some truth but was a distortion of the truth as a whole.

One of the defining features of the Europhile tendency, I regret to say, has been its preparedness to tell whoppers about the EU and much that is associated with it, in addition to running black propaganda operations to smear opponents, a tactic one notes is alive and well today. The interesting history of how the pro-EEC BBC allowed the Edward Heath Gang to run covert operations from inside the organisation is now forgotten, but it sprang back to mind with the revelation last weekend about payments the EU has been making to the BBC for years, only disclosed after Freedom of Information Act requests.

Perhaps this explains why the corporation pays scant attention to the annual scandal of the EU’s accounts, which are inevitably qualified by auditors who cannot explain what has happened to billions of euros that always go missing. If the EU were a company, the directors would all be in jail. No wonder Brussels has a unique system of book-keeping, which has never been taken up by anybody else, even the Greeks.

As it is, the only whistle-blower who has caused the EU serious trouble, the brave woman who was head of finance, was sacked on Neil Kinnock’s watch after his absurd claim that he was going to clean up the Augean stables. The stink is still there and getting worse.

You have to laugh at some of the nonsense you hear on Any Questions and Question Time about the perils of even contemplating walking away from the mess. Oh dear, all our trade with Ireland would cease. Actually international trade is governed by GATT, not the EU, which is why the US and Japan manage to sell their goods in Europe despite not being EU members.

These days I am an internationalist Eurosceptic, so the chances of me voting for UKIP are less than zero. In general the architects I meet in connection with the World Architecture Festival are more interested in their city than their country, and are more interested in what is happening in their broader region and across the globe rather than some geography defined by red line-obsessed politicians and bureaucrats.


The world is interested in the global and the local, which explains why there is such media interest in architectural designs and ideas - the coverage of WAF Award shortlists and winners of the Architectural Review/MIPIM Future Project Awards being cases in point, not to mention the AJ’s lovely Turkish ceramics competition. You don’t have to worry about whether Switzerland or Russia or Turkey are European (obviously not having the same credentials as Liechtenstein or Monaco).

Architecture transcends borders, which may explain why in any large practice the number of countries represented will make it look like a branch of the United Nations, as will the number of languages spoken. It is a far cry from Ted Heath’s strangulated French vowels. But then he didn’t sound too good in English, either.

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