On the eve of UK architecture's biggest ever international showcase, leading figures at the RIBA and the RIAS have warned that their institutions are too strapped for cash to effectively promote architects'interests abroad.
Over the next 10 days the government, through the British Council, is pumping more than £80,000 into the first ever 'Inward Mission'. An 11-strong group of clients, planners and media from around the world will arrive in London on Friday to tour contemporary buildings such as the BA London Eye, the Walsall Art Gallery and the Museum of Scotland.
Potential clients from China, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark will be exposed to UK architecture first-hand in an effort to boost architecture exports, which currently stand at £243 million a year.
The RIBA and RIAS are only contributing £1,500 to the mission and leaders say this is not enough.'We should be doing this but we just can't produce that kind of budget, ' said RIAS secretary Sebastian Tombs.'We need more resources, ' said RIBA vice president for international affairs John Wright.'We need to be growing the budget not just for international matters but in other areas too.'
The itinerary for the 34-building tour of the cream of British architecture even includes Foster's wobbly Millennium Bridge and buildings by non-UK architects, such as Enric Miralles's Scottish Assembly and Herzog & de Meuron's Tate Modern.
The Inward Mission aims to increase the number of UK architects invited to compete for international projects, In Scotland less than 5 per cent of practices are estimated to be working abroad while one fifth of RIBA practices are estimated to have worked abroad at one time.'There are enough different building types and locations in the UK now to start showing off a bit, 'Tombs said.
The mission will particularly focus on selling to the Chinese and cities such as Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, which is sending its vice chief planner.
Wright described the city as 'one enormous building site', and across China economic growth is running at 14 per cent a year, meaning a boom in opportunity for international architects.Wright welcomed the invitation to the Chinese planner but warned that UK architects are losing out in China to their US counterparts.
Architect John McAslan has worked in Japan, the US and Turkey and said that more should be done to promote UK architecture.'UK architects can come with something absolutely unique to the international scene, ' he said.'But for all but the largest practices it can be difficult.To make it long term you have to have an office there.You are also vulnerable to lots of different economic cycles and not every practice can afford that commitment.'
The stress during the tour will be on up-and-coming practices, British Council co-ordinator, Wendy Lee said: 'Foster and Rogers are established already but there are other good practices who need to be showcased.'