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Cultural changes challenge architects to find a new shared identity

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White people will be outnumbered by nonwhites in Britain by the end of this century, and will become a minority group in London by the end of this decade. So predicts The Observer in a recent article.

Indeed, post-World War II changes in population make-up have already been enormous: by 1991 threemillion non-whites were living in the UK making up 6 per cent of the population. What is so pleasing is that such changes have taken place with relatively little difficulty. Certainly, at the end of the last war, there would have been no confidence in government circles that either our economy or our community could accept such a transformation.

And yet the UK is part of a demographic transition that is on an unprecedented scale outside war, famine, or disease, and it is a change that will ultimately affect the very fabric of our town and cities as well as the character and complexion of our people.

This brings me to the work of the UIA and UNESCO which are currently collaborating to achieve an international conformity and consistency with respect to architectural education worldwide. Their parallel concern is that architects, wherever they are working, should respect local heritage and culture both in their approach to existing buildings, and new design work. This raises issues of great complexity, some of which were discussed during a meeting of UIA representatives in Paris last week.

I made the point, very strongly, that individual and collective cultures are not static, and the response to our built heritage must 'develop' over time as shared values 'move'.

What is surely important is that we manage, as an increasingly rich, diverse, and dynamic cosmopolitan community, to find a new shared identity which reflects the combined interests and values of all our people. We cannot expect those within our community who come from different ethnic backgrounds to have some kind of duty to become 'anglophiles'. With respect to buildings, for example, a great variety of religious and cultural interests will need to find expression in new forms of architecture that take account of the diverse traditions and customs that now exist and have yet to emerge within our society.

I was able to attend the final day of play at the Oval last month, and watch our cricketers gain their historic victory over the West Indies - the first win for 40 years. A Pakistani man sat near me, proud of our 'English' team captained by Nasser Hussain who is of Indian origin. British nationals of West Indian background were chanting support for the visiting side while eating McDonald's hamburgers and drinking German lager.

This is clear evidence that while the world is shrinking into one great global market, bringing consistency across nations and states with respect to such basic needs as drink (coke) and consumer durables (cars, fridges and AC units) it is also necessary for individual groups, perhaps more strongly than ever before, to express and preserve there own identities. The multi-cultural global environment must at once respect market demands for consistency and the individual's need for self expression.

In this context the new far right parties of Europe, for example Belgium's Vlaams Blok Party are cause for the utmost concern. There, Filip Dewinter promises, on behalf of his socalled Freedom Party, to reverse immigration, requiring non-indigenous peoples to take 'citizen tests' to prove their loyalty to their adopted home. 'Assimilate or leave' is the challenge which of course very few could ever hope to pass.

Such paranoid myopia is deeply offensive and the challenge to our country is that we must all (black/white/coloured/Asian) ensure that we continue to strive towards a multicultural condition that respects and encourages the rich individual character of all the sub-groups that make up our community including, of course, the anglo-saxon culture that will in due course be in the minority.

That expression must also find itself in our architecture, which is why the ongoing efforts to recruit new members from the widest possible backgrounds is so important.

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