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Storm-tossed Britain looks like a haven for architects

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Better to leave Italy for a job - any job - say the architects I’ve spoken to, than become known as the dishwashing architect at home, says Christine Murray

We appear to be seeing some green shoots for the UK profession, at least in the private housing sector. But I am on holiday in Italy this week, and the architects that I’ve spoken to here are living through dark times.

In the local village, one architect is waiting to hear this week whether her rock-bottom fee proposal for a veterinary office has been accepted. She’s already done several weeks of work for free. If the contract isn’t signed, she’s planning to leave the country - with the UK and Germany high on her list of prospects. But she doesn’t want to go, and would rather take any fee, no matter how small, to remain a practising architect working out of her home in the village.

Talk among the older generation in the square is that Italy is being swept by a second wave of emigration, with young people leaving, or having already left, in increasing numbers over the past three years. There is a 40 per cent unemployment rate among young adults. For professionals, the desire to leave is fuelled by an apparent cultural stigma which is attached to doing any other job than the one you’ve been trained for. Better to leave the country for a job - any job - say the people I’ve spoken to, than become known as the dishwashing architect at home.

‘Italy is a beautiful country, but it’s too sad now,’ one local said. Italians are normally defiant and full of political argument, but the fight seems to have gone out of the people here. The bleak mood is accompanied by bleak numbers - Italy’s public debt rose to 133 per cent of GDP in the second quarter of 2013 - the second highest in the Eurozone, better only than Greece.

The personal stories that I’ve heard this week stand in stark contrast to what I’ve heard of late among architects in London, where several offices are recruiting permanent staff in substantial numbers.

And in Manchester two weeks ago at the AJ100 lunch, several practices told me things were looking up. I still hear from smaller practices that have too little work on the books. Since the recovery seems largely dependent on a booming house market and foreign capital investment, it’s hard to feel certain that the clouds over the UK are all silver-lined. Still, there is a sense of optimism in the air once more.

I flew out before the arrival of St Jude’s ferocious wind and the travel chaos that ensued. But from here it seems the UK is more of a shelter in Europe than I thought.



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