Norman Foster has bemoaned the ‘madness of Brexit’ in a speech at last week’s World Architecture Festival (WAF) gala dinner in the Postbahnhof, Berlin
The legendary architect, who received the festival’s Contribution to Architecture award, was telling his audience about the beginnings of his practice, when ‘key individuals’ at the budding firm comprised a range of nationalities, including a Norwegian, a Swiss, and an Israeli.
‘In that sense I think I’ve always been out of step,’ said Foster. ‘So I celebrate, in the face of the madness of Brexit, being out of step, and am proud to be here in Europe and celebrating the European nature of this venue.’
Foster + Partners is currently the UK’s largest employer of architects, but at least 90 per cent of the 50-year-old company’s fees are generated outside the UK. According to its latest accounts, the practice is overseeing construction of 60 projects in 32 countries – although the majority of the work (80 per cent) is designed out of its London headquarters.
In a statement accompanying those results in September, the 82-year-old architect warned that Brexit could jeopardise the ability to attract the best EU talent.
He wrote: ‘We thrive and contribute to the wealth of London by virtue of our ability to attract the best graduates from beyond our island nation.
‘That is a strength and should be recognised as such. London is a melting pot for international expertise and needs to maintain that edge. It is already under threat.’
He added: ‘We owe it to future generations to look outwards, not inwards and to positively encourage the influx of talent. That attitude is inextricably linked to our shared economic future.’
Foster picked up his lifetime award at Friday’s closing ceremony of this year’s week-long WAF, which saw around 200 shortlisted projects compete for awards in 31 categories.
The WAF World Building of the Year 2017 was awarded to a 148m² prototype post-earthquake home built for an old couple in Guangming Village, Zhaotong, as part of the response to the 2014 Ludian earthquake, which left at least 617 people dead and destroyed more than 12,000 houses.
Owing to the high standard of finalists, WAF director Paul Finch also introduced a Special Director’s Award for Superlofts Houthaven in Amsterdam by Marc Koehler Architects, which won the Housing category.
Other renowned architects speaking at the festival included Peter Cook, who said the late Zaha Hadid had a ‘tricky relationship’ with her practice’s current director Patrik Schumacher, and Rafael Viñoly, who told the festival that architects need to ‘retool’ if the marginalisation of the profession is to be reversed.
WAF ran from 15-17 November in Arena Berlin.