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Young British architects need Europan

CABE’s decision to pull out of Europan is shortsighted and a big blow to young architects, says Michael Cooke

It comes as a great disappointment that there may not be any UK sites for Europan 11 and that CABE withdrawn its support for the competition in this country.

In a difficult climate for young architects to establish themselves, this further reduces the limited alternatives to working your way up through the sweatshop atmosphere of a starchitect-branded practice in the name of career development.

There are few architectural competitions that can match the Europan platform. To segregate the UK from one direction of this established exchange network seems incredibly shortsighted. This is not just a blow to aspiring European architects; it suggests a weakening in CABE and the government’s commitment to providing quality domestic and public environments in the UK.

Rather than bowing to the design-by-numbers procurement and delivery processes, CABE should be fighting to promote debate and discourse on the built environment. Europan should be seen as one such fantastic opportunity to overcome the ‘cheapest solution wins’ scenario that currently prevails.

It’s not a new assertion that a design-led approach to the built environment and a financially efficient proposal don’t have to be mutually exclusive, so why can’t CABE help the site sponsors and public bodies to realise this, using the Europan vehicle?

Indeed, it’s probably safe to assume that a contributing factor in the success of our scheme in the Warsaw Europan competition was the possibility for a cost-effective and phased solution that it presented. There were many articles in the design media speculating that the recession could have a silver lining by providing greater opportunity for creativity and innovation through adversity. This decision by CABE would certainly be a step in the wrong direction as far as those predictions are concerned.

Europan’s soured reputation in the UK, as a result of a number of unrealised winning projects, is undoubtedly what most concerns CABE, but this need not be the case. A great deal can be achieved even when a project doesn’t reach fruition.

We’re under no illusion as to the uncertainty of our winning scheme being realised on the streets of Warsaw. While it would be disappointing if our Europan journey stopped here, it would be some compensation if the public exhibition of all of the entries in Warsaw this week helped to spark further dialogue between inhabitants and state officials. Maybe then the developers and officials will be forced to work more closely to create a built environment more responsive to contemporary social issues and more relevant to the context in which it sits.

  • Michael Cooke is an architectural assistant at Smith Scott Mullan Associates in Edinburgh and co-founder of Folio 22. He was part of a team, with Stuart Mackellar, that won a Europan 10 prize in Warsaw

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