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'A total disaster': Small practices describe post-Brexit fallout

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Smaller architectural firms have spoken of their worry following Britain’s vote to leave the EU with some even considering closing or moving abroad

A week after the EU referendum results, the mood among the nation’s up-and-coming, small-scale firms remains one of nervousness and uncertainty.

Stéphane Toussaint, a partner at AJ Small Projects 2016 finalists BTE Architecture, fears that the Brexit vote could spell ‘the end’ of his practice because two out of its three partners are EU citizens from outside the UK.

Toussaint, who is from Belgium, explained that he did not know if he and another partner – Daniel Bär from Germany – would ‘be able to stay in the UK’.

Claire Sa, co-founder at De Rosee Sa, branded the news as a ‘disaster’ and said Brexit would lead the country into a ‘downwards spiral’.

Meanwhile Chris Bryant, partner at Alma-Nac and head of the RIBA Small Practice group, described the uncertainty of the decision as ‘worrying’.

Bryant said he is concerned that EU students would no longer want to come to the UK if it becomes difficult to get a job in the country.

AJ Small Projects 2014 winner Chris Dyson of Chris Dyson Architects told the AJ he felt firms of his size were overlooked by those running the referendum campaigns, saying that ’politicians really didn’t think about small, medium sized businesses when they were fighting to win their cause, whichever way it was’.

Carl Turner, director at Carl Turner Architects, said the vote was ‘disappointing’. However he added that because his business model is ‘less sensitive to market fluctuation, it could actually be ‘beneficial’ for his current projects.


Stéphane Toussaint, partner at BTE Architecture

‘We are based in Scotland and Glasgow, but the consequences of this vote could mean that’s now the end of the practice. We still don’t know if we will be able to stay in the United Kingdom. We are a very, very small practice – it’s a big question mark at the moment. It’s a catastrophe.’

Claire Sa, co-founder of De Rosee Sa

da rosee

‘It’s a total disaster. I’m absolutely surprised and shocked that such a civilized nation has put itself in a position where there’s a downward spiral. I can’t see the positive side of it. It’s pretty awful. I’m convinced that if they had a referendum today the leave [voters] wouldn’t win.

’Financial strains trickle down and they affect the building industry. We deal with a lot of foreigners and it would be awful if they were pushed out of the market we’re dealing with. These sentiments of doubt ferment and it just sort of has a knock-on effect. This is a catastrophic mistake.’

 Chris Bryant, partner at Alma-Nac

chris bryant

‘It’s a shock. The uncertainty is worrying. One of my worries is, what does it mean in the future for students? London probably has the greatest collection and quality of students because we attract so many from so many countries. How easy will it be to employ a Portuguese or Spanish architect? Will that stop them from coming to study here because they know that it’s difficult to get a job?

’It’s disappointing the RIBA didn’t come out – I’m not saying it would have made a difference – but it would have been good if they’d come out in favour.’

Carl Turner, director of Carl Turner Architects


‘It’s very disappointing, I hoped we would stay in the EU. I suppose for our “meanwhile” projects it could be beneficial.

’With our model it’s a lot less sensitive to market fluctuation and about addressing the need for affordable space.

’Brexit is a long-term reaction to feelings in the UK […] it was a protest vote that actually a lot of people are regretting. Maybe it won’t go through – hopefully not.’

Ian Angus, director of Carden & Godfrey

‘I don’t think it makes an awful lot of difference. We work locally in England – once or twice we’ve worked abroad as specialists in archaeology.

’It makes a difference to any company, whatever size, in terms of its morale because it’s so deeply depressing that it’s hard to get to work or to move from one place to another. Our community in this country has become divided and imprisoned by small-minded bigotry.’

Chris Dyson, principal partner at Chris Dyson Architects

chris dyson

‘We are nervous about the effect of it but remain optimistic. We have some good clients and nobody’s pulled anything yet. I was a supporter of Remain because I felt that we had a stable economy, jobs and income. This move has only created a cloud of uncertainty, which we didn’t really want.

’The politicians really didn’t think about small and medium-sized businesses when they were fighting to win their cause, whichever way it was.’

Timo Haedrich, director at Haptic Architects


‘It’s quite a lot of uncertainty, we hope that things won’t fall apart completely. We hope that we will continue to work in the EU.

’We don’t know what exactly will happen with trade deals and with access to the bidding process in the EU. We’ve been bidding for work over there and we’ve winning, so it’s a concern.

’But I’m sure there will be ways around it. I’m German so if we have to start a practice in Germany, say, that might be an option.’

Michel Schranz of MS-DA

’On the actual day we were all feeling very much down and as we are all foreigners (exclusively) it felt like a slap in the face - a sensation of being unwanted. There was also a sense of total surprise, not even that much of a shock, but utter surprise that so many people think its better to plunge into uncertainty during a time where so many things are uncertain.

We are small and have manageable overheads

’We are also a bit worried about business of course, especially since we felt a slowing down even during the run-up of the referendum. We are small and have manageable overheads so its probably easier than it is for larger offices. But also, most our projects are for definite Remainers and many of them with immigration background, so they might all have second thoughts and will stop doing projects.;





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Readers' comments (1)

  • MacKenzie Architects

    Was this intentionally a one-sided article?
    If you asked any group of internationally-staffed practices you would get these kind of concerns. Good to see so many foreign architects working here, though. And why is that -because they have better prospects here, not back 'home'.

    It is interesting to see so many of these architects appear to see themselves as European, rather than a particular nationality. If you want that sort of thing (i.e. a greater Europe with no nationalities), all well and good. If you don't -and it sounds like 52% of the UK didn't- then it isn't a good thing.

    I don't think people weigh up the facts, they swallow the propaganda. So many have decided that things are going fine as they are. I don't think that's the case at all. Only in London are things going fine, and only elsewhere when clients can get cheap borrowing.

    Mainland Europe is an economic disaster outside of Germany. Super-control by an unelected Commission, and with catastrophic management by the central Bank.
    Who wants to have no power and influence in a club like that.
    You ask Architects in Spain,Ireland, Portugal, Italy, Greece -even France how things are going for them. It is a disaster. Why on earth do you think our cousins have come over here? Because of the economic disaster in Europe!

    And don't think you can change it from inside, you ain't really got any vote, a 1 in 27 voice in the wilderness on every issue for goodness sake.This kind of seismic shock is the only way to wake up people in the EU.

    The reasons UK has been protected from some of the unfolding European catastrophe,, is an independent central Bank its own currency, the fact that it is seen as a safe haven for people in Europe to park their money in London property, and our connections with US (whether we like it or not).

    The European Phase III experiment has been an absolute disaster. Look a t the disparities across the European countries because they tried a one size fits all currency, without standardising all taxation, pensions, benefits to keep it stable.
    People think all of that is OK, cos it's the only devil they know.

    Europe (and the world) work best as competing nations, not as a few giant, centralised semi-communist blocks -which is what Brussels wants for it's own nefarious obsessions.

    Brexit does not mean restricted movement of skilled workers, or any kind of worker, inside whatever trading block we choose to join.
    Brexit does not mean UK will lose all inward investment from Europe or anywhere
    Brexit does not mean you will starve, you'll get back control of farming, fishing, sustainability etc., and your energy plan -which is actually our biggest problem.
    Brexit does not mean a banking crisis, our financial sector will strengthen.

    I am stunned by the blind fears of professional people in this country.
    In construction we have low interest rates and the chance of less red tape with a Brexit Government of some form, we will have more money coming n from Europe, China, India.
    We will have a stronger currency and cheaper European travel.
    We already know we have huge housing demand
    We will hopefully push investment out of London into the regions
    We will have a boom in small companies, and can hopefully control the mega-corporations, giant polluters, GM nutcases, useless bankerks and corrupt politicians.
    We will be able to launch new products at a lower cost, and be able to throw out the politicians who don't serve our needs.
    Our talent will flourish, and we'll win more projects abroad.

    The fear is not that Britain will be left behind, it is that Europe will stay stuck in the mud.

    Wake up and breathe the fresh air of freedom!
    Seize the day!


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