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Chipperfield: Brexit would isolate us

David Chipperfield
  • 3 Comments

David Chipperfield has spoken out in favour of remaining in the European Union 

In a comment written exclusively for the AJ, the Stirling Prize-winning architect has said that leaving the EU would isolate the UK from the rest of the world.

If we accidentally complete our isolation from Europe, please don’t let us imagine that this creates a new openness to the rest of the world – isolation is isolation. We would not only give up the distinct practical advantages of collaboration but the social, political and intellectual advantages too’, he said.

Chipperfield, who has offices in London, Berlin, Milan and Shanghai, has hit out at politicians for failing to articulate the cultural significance of the European Union.

‘The European Union is a political, social and cultural project. In the UK our politicians have always been reluctant to articulate this; therefore the rhetoric has for tactical reasons been limited to commercial criteria and has avoided explicit philosophical and political debate’, commented Chipperfield.

He added: ‘Unless we embrace the reality of European Union in all its potential and stop imagining that we can pick and choose what takes our fancy while leaving out those bits that we don’t like the look of, we cannot be taken seriously in Europe.’

David Chipperfield’s comment in full

The discussion about Europe is too narrowly focused on issues of trade and economy. Economic statistics can be produced to support both positions. Who knows the truth?

Fortunately, it seems clear that there are strong economic arguments in favour of staying within the economic union, but I believe that neither the debate nor the decision should pivot on this argument. Does it profit our profession to stay in or leave? How do you measure this?

The EU is a political, social and cultural project

The arguments for European unity are much more profound than just immediate economic considerations. The European Union is a political, social and cultural project. In the UK our politicians have always been reluctant to articulate this; therefore the rhetoric has for tactical reasons been limited to commercial criteria and has avoided explicit philosophical and political debate. This has allowed us to pretend that we don’t need to be ideologically engaged in this project.

Having maintained the symbols of sovereignty, and reassured our Eurosceptical tendencies that there is nothing deep in our engagement, we are free to argue about the commercial pros and cons. To confirm this secular approach, the prime minister – while we weren’t watching – surrendered without fuss the ‘ever closer’ commitment, a basic principle of European unity. While this tries to deal with Eurosceptic tendencies, it robs the argument of its strongest weapon and denies an articulated conversation about the true potential of European unity.

Unless we embrace the reality of European Union in all its potential and stop imagining that we can pick and choose what takes our fancy while leaving out those bits that we don’t like the look of, we cannot be taken seriously in Europe.

To be honest, even our current lukewarm participation makes us look very weak from a European perspective. Our cultural connections are real, we share a history and, whether we like it or not, we share a future. The English Channel can no longer ‘protect’ us from the Continent.

We have a lot to offer our European cousins, and they have a lot to teach us; the unique collaboration between the Anglo-Saxon, Germanic and Latin cultures in close proximity is the extraordinary fortune of Europe.

It is apparent that the connections made by what might be called the cultural community (including design and architecture) are both substantial and significant. Indeed it is difficult to imagine how our cultural institutions could function without these intellectual and practical connections, and how isolated our profession would become, detached from the influences and inspiration of our continental colleagues.

We underestimate the importance of culture as an international language

We have an unhappy record of underestimating the importance of culture as an international language. This is short sighted both in terms of our external influence and in terms of our own psyche. We are so wedded to the idea of commercial viability that we see no other measure. From my own experience this is totally different to the attitude in Germany. (The German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, went on a recent mission to Riyadh and Tehran and filled his small plane not with ‘leaders of industry’ but with people from the world of art, film, museums and literature, with the reasoning that they are the people who best contribute to international understanding.)

We know that manufacturing is no longer the base of our wealth; we also know that the financial sector is an unreliable animal and are continuously told that we will depend increasingly on our creative abilities in all sectors. If this is the case, the idea of insularity doesn’t seem compatible with our future either from a commercial or cultural perspective.

If we accidentally complete our isolation from Europe, please don’t let us imagine that this creates a new openness to the rest of the world – isolation is isolation. We would not only give up the distinct practical advantages of collaboration but the social, political and intellectual advantages too. We cannot continue to maintain the attitude that ‘Europe’ is Brussels; a faceless bureaucratic administration legislating on the length of bananas, because it is clearly first and foremost a continent linked together by a common history, committed to sharing political and cultural visions.

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • Hear! hear!. I resonate with everything you say. I am so pleased that you have made the cultural point.
    I've lived in the States, and believe me, the UK is so unimportant in the lives and consciousness of Americans. My son has lived and worked in Europe ('going over there, taking their jobs, using their services...') . My husband who is from a soldiering and airforce family background, has also listed the attrition on his family through European wars, and has observed that he is the first of his family for some time not to, as he puts it "spill my guts out on some Flanders field". The interconnection of communication business, commerce and culture under the EEC and EU have rendered this far less likely.
    There are so many untruths and half-truths about Europe. The 'unelected' Commission is a civil service ( but ours too is unelected) but its proposals can be voted down by MEPS . MEPS are elected and ought to take part in the Parliament on behalf of their constituency, unlike some UKIP MEPS: no wonder we are less represented than we should be. The Commission has a myth busters site - see this for the real truth about bendy bananas. http://www.europarl.org.uk/en/media/euromyths/bendybananas.htmltml

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  • Brexit or independence and autonomy doesn’t mean isolation any more than it does for the existing independence of the almost 200 countries outside the EU.

    It means the UK reconnects globally and political decisions are made in a relatively democratic UK with all its imperfections, rather than in Brussels with its anti-democratic, corrupt, bureaucratic “culture” that is trying to harness a lot of squabbling fascist pre-war dictatorships within one enormous fascist dictatorship. The EU is trying to keep the lid on the pressure cooker rather than turning down the heat and correcting the root cause of a Platonic ideological tradition of rule from the top down.

    How can the unaccountable, unaudited EU gravy train be called remotely democratic? Most egregiously, when they voted to leave, France, Ireland and Holland were all told to go away and come back with the right answer. The European Commission draws up and executes laws which have been discussed in secret by the European Council and occasionally amended by the only elected but largely impotent European Parliament. Parallels with our civil service and parliament are nowhere to be found.

    It’s NATO and the USA that’s kept the peace since world war two - the EU has no clout in international diplomacy or peace-keeping. It just makes bombastic claims that irritate Putin, washes hands of real problems like the Balkans and too lacking in trust to liaise on terrorism. Admit it, we’ve had relative peace for 70 years thanks to the USA and in spite of the EU or European members who won’t foot the bill. The EU is all hat and no cattle.

    The EU is only of value to the special interests who profit - like certain multinational corporations and grandiose architectural projects, i.e. favours dished out by the EU who kindly give back the UK sterling at one-third of the value, i.e. three pounds donated for every pound received back.

    Any vibrant European culture there is survives in spite of the faceless bureaucratic administration of the EU bent-banana republic rather than depending on it. For many centuries the UK has exported the Anglosphere across the world - rule of law, respect for individual rights and freedom of trade and culture, which too many are prepared to dismiss whilst enjoying their fruits.

    Is it so surprising that the UK right now is “so unimportant in the lives and consciousness of Americans” when it is 1/28th of a European voice? Strange when the UK economy is 5th largest in the world.

    The UK needs to reconnect internationally with the rest of the world unshackled from the sinking EU. Reasserting its independence the UK might inspire similar desires for political and cultural freedoms throughout mainland Europe.

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  • Maybe a bit late to reply but...I cannot leave misinformation unchallenged. I note that the bent banana has also returned - despite my posting the real situation.

    It is untrue that the EU is unaudited. Yet another myth. Useful summary of the situation below.
    http://www.richardcorbett.org.uk/the-eu-accounts-have-never-been-signed-off/

    It is untrue that laws are made in secret. They go before the EU Parliament - which can be viewed: after having been to the Council of Ministers which *hey*, happen to be leaders of governments including ours. The EU Parliament can be watched online as can other meetings on a live stream. See link below.
    http://audiovisual.europarl.europa.eu/Page.aspx?id=44&menu=video
    Bet one does not see many UKIP MEPS attending ....they get paid though.

    And this is how EU laws are actually made.
    http://europa.eu/eu-law/decision-making/procedures/index_en.htm

    There are 'in camera' discussions in the Council of Ministers as some subjects will be sensitive (security for example) but this goes for our Government too.

    Finally, it is not true to say that security in Europe is wholly down to NATO. NATO is bricking itself about the impact on the EU following a UK exit. The worry is that the whole fabric will unravel like a dropped stitch in a jumper. Putin is rubbing his hands with glee (.. did not Nigel Farage say some nice things about Putin?).

    And actually, I am old enough to remember the USA before we joined Europe and the general public knew even less about us then apart from London Fog and Bobbies. The Irish Bostonians hated us. And on a visit to the States we once bumped into some very drunk Irish Americans who claimed to be in the State Department and they said that if they had had their way, Hitler would have won the 2WW.

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