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Foster + Partners ‘would leave London’ over Brexit

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The UK’s largest practice, Foster + Partners, says it would consider moving its headquarters from London if Brexit meant it could no longer attract the world’s best architects

The company, which has topped the AJ100 rankings for the seventh year in a row, told the AJ that uncertainty over the UK’s withdrawal from the EU was a major concern for the practice.

Less than a quarter of the architects based at Foster + Partners’ huge Battersea head office are UK nationals – with around a half from EU countries. In total, the firm employs 1,061 staff in the UK including 353 architects.

Speaking to the AJ, managing partner Matthew Streets said: ‘We don’t want to leave London, but we – like any business – would have to consider that. If [Brexit means] we can’t attract world talent then we would have to go to somewhere where we can.’

Streets said that the practice needed to employ the globe’s brightest stars to maintain its position as ‘world leaders’.

‘Bluntly, the government needs to give us some more clarity on residency, immigration and on the framework for professional services,’ he said, adding that the practice had been actively lobbying government behind the scenes on Brexit.

Foster partners studio medium

Foster + Partners’ studio

Foster + Partners’ studio

Earlier this week it emerged that Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners also has serious concerns about how the UK’s departure from the EU will affect its workforce.

The practice said an increasing number of its European workers were applying for British citizenship to avoid being forced to leave.

In a statement accompanying its latest accounts, the company said: ‘[The] ongoing lack of clarity regarding the Brexit process has … added to the level of uncertainty for architecture both home and abroad.’

‘There is clearly an ongoing process of readjustment and we are already seeing this in terms of our staffing, with a significant portion of our non-UK staff seeking to naturalise and obtain UK passports where possible.

‘We are worried about how Brexit will affect not only our own recruitment and retention of the best architectural talent from across the Eurozone, but also how it will affect UK architecture as a whole.’

The document continued: ‘We are also concerned about the likelihood of UK architects being able to compete for EU public building commissions in a post-Brexit world.’ 

According to the latest AJ100 data, the total number of ARB qualified architects employed at Foster + Partners dropped again slightly, dipping from 383 in 2017 to 353 this year.

Interdisciplinary giant BDP has, meanwhile, closed in on the top spot, more than halving the gap in the last 12 months to just 45 architects.  

Main photo by Gili Merin


Readers' comments (5)

  • Here's hoping that the government sees sense before any more damage is done, and the news today that they've given way (at last) on 'letting in' desperately needed skilled people for the health services shows that they're no longer in denial on that front, so perhaps commonsense will now prevail over dogma on the wider employment issues.

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  • The photo of the Fosters studio looks like architects version of Love Island.

    Regardless, Brexit is bad and I’m glad to see Foster is making a bold stance against this nonsense.

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  • Tom Partridge

    Disclaimer: I'm pro-EU and voted remain.
    However, if anyone has registered with foreign architect registration boards, or worked outside of the EU you will know that UK registration and UK qualifications are not automatically recognised, even in commonwealth countries. This isn't necessarily a barrier to work, but it is a barrier to seamless professional integration. Within the EU under the Professional Qualification Directive (PQD: 2005/36/EC) anyone who is an EU/EEA national with local registration can automatically register with any other EU/EEA juristiction.
    The cost of this awesome multilateral integration is the fact that the RIBA/ARB cannot undertaken bilateral agreements with any countries outside of the EU/EEA.
    New Zealand is a country that has been able to make one-off agreements with who they choose, and these include (for architects) Japan, Singapore and Canada, and also further professional agreements with Australia and the USA, meaning that architects from these countries can move and work fairly seemlessly from one country to the next. The UK is prohibited from doing this.
    Therefore, if there is going to be any benefit from Brexit it should be to make the UK a more promising location for "international talent", provided we can maintain something similar to the extant PQD with the EU.

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  • MacKenzie Architects

    There will be no problem bringing architectural talent into the UK after Brexit; enough sense has finally now been drilled into Westminster to ensure talent and skills can be a passport in it's own right.

    The elephant in the room is why aren't the influential firms pushing to get UK architectural school standards up, so that UK-trained architects become the most desirable to hire.

    The main point about Brexit for a lot of people was to awaken an impetus to drag UK standards up so they could compete in the wider world. It wasn't anti-European movement but it was an anti-Brussels suffocation.

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  • Industry Professional

    The UK’s largest practice, Foster + Partners, says it would consider moving its headquarters from London if Brexit meant it could no longer attract the world’s best architects … at a lower cost than employing British trained architects. There - just fixed that for you Norman.

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