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Stars rising in the east

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UK practices are eligible for work across the EU. But it may prove beneficial to link up with practices deeper into Europe

If you want to annoy a cartographer, ask them to draw a map of somewhere for which they have incomplete information. This makes them very cross, and over the centuries their profession has devised all sorts of ruses for hiding the missing bits. In olden times, cherubs could be seen puffing the winds along, or there would be an elaborate compass design. However, when the missing part was too big, they would draw a strange looking animal and write 'Here Be Beasties'.

Everyone talks about global communications and satellite photography these days, but try to draw a map of central and eastern Europe without cheating.

It is reasonable to suppose that your map will have several areas where you could write 'Here Be Beasties'. For most of us, that great section of Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea and the Adriatic, and from the Russian and Ukrainian borders to within an hour's drive of Vienna and Berlin remains, at best, a partial mystery.

The countries which make up this region are not Third World. They are not developing countries. They have cultures as complex and ancient as Britain's own and their people tend to be educated to a level that would surprise many in the UK. Much of what is considered to be western culture originated in these lands - and many of them are ready to join the European Community.

Why should it matter to British architects if countries such as Turkey, Estonia and the Czech Republic join the EU? It only matters, I suppose, if you are interested in your own profession. It is up to you whether to take up new challenges and evolve. But remember, you have a short time in which to adjust to the realities of being part of the existing EU before the countries from the east join - although there is no formal date of accession it is expected to be 2004.

The first group of new countries up for EU membership are Malta and Cyprus (both well known to the British), Turkey, the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, the central European countries of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania.

The star of these is considered to be Hungary, but all emerging nations are striving for excellence and have a hunger to succeed. Remember, all these countries' architects have flair, are fluent in many languages and want to make money.

The architects from the east can undercut you - and make a profit.

But instead of panicking, why not work with them? Use their enthusiasm. Use their skills, and they will learn western skills and techniques in return. Between you, you can make a powerful combination. You will have to make an effort, be welcoming and positive because there are others who are interested in the same thing - and less reticent about doing it. After all, the ties between Austria and Germany with much of central Europe are strong and, given the dynamism of the German economy, many countries, such as Slovenia, Croatia and the Czech lands already have a direct economic affinity with countries other than the UK.

In Slovenia, for example, the strong influences are Joze Plecnik, who was Otto Wagner's student, and Plecnik's own student, Edvard Ravnikar, who worked with Corbusier. Plecnik considered that today's architecture must emerge from that of the past; that heritage should not be a restriction but an inexhaustible source of creativity.

The new generation of young Slovenian architects openly admires the Finnish architecture of Silence and the New York and London avantgarde, but they will continue to create something that is uniquely their own. The Young Architect of the Year Award, after all, went to Oman and Videcnik of Slovenia.

The architectural heritage of central and eastern Europe still shines through.

From the Hansa city of Torun in northern Poland to the exquisite wooden churches of the Maramures in northern Romania, to the power of John Hunyadi's castle at Hunedoara in western Romania and the stylish buildings from Bucharest's oil-boom days in the early 20th century through to the cities of Prague and Krakow and the city on the site of Constantinople itself - Istanbul.

If the architecture of tomorrow is to emerge from the past, it just might be exciting.

Gehry's Guggenheim in Bilbao.

Libeskind's Imperial War Museum in Manchester and Foster's Reichstag building in Berlin all show the potentials to work abroad from a home base, although it is notable how few people have done it.

While producing his remarkable and complex structure, Frank Gehry showed that truly great design needs humility - he was concerned that his building must be 'a good neighbour'.

'True freedom', said Eva Jiricna, born in Zlin in the Czech Republic, 'is to try with each successive project to do something different and better'.

British architects should explore some of the opportunities on offer.

Others already are.

Richard Haut can be contacted on http: //communities. msn. com/Richard Hautscompetitions

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