The effect of Brexit on most architecture practices has been devastating, writes Barbara Weiss
At a time when tempers are running exceptionally high, and it takes so very little to provoke or be provoked, Paul Finch’s article of 29 October (‘It’s time the RIBA stopped behaving like a snowflake on Brexit’) is a clear case of ‘pouring salt in the wounds,’ and ‘adding insult to injury’.
As more and more practising architects face the impact of a perfect storm that could wreak havoc with their livelihoods, his cavalier message, arrogantly minimising Brexit’s impact on the profession, is the opposite of what those at the real coalface, would choose to hear.
It is, sadly, all too true that a majority of practitioners have kept silent over the past three years, hoping against hope that the black cloud would lift, allowing us to return to our cosseted pre-Brexit existences. By keeping silent, by holding our breaths, by not rocking the boat, we have been collectively avoiding the stark future that now awaits. Sadly, to no avail. The new, unwanted reality has already started to kick-in, and it is not at all as Paul Finch would like us to believe.
Just ask around. While some bigger names may be fortunate, for the majority of firms it is not a happy story, contemplating redundancies and wondering what 2020 might bring.
For starters, our phones are not ringing. They haven’t really rung for months and months. Not in the spring, when, typically, promising new jobs materialise along with the optimism of the new year; not in the autumn, when clients often leap into action, distributing shiny new instructions to beat the Xmas lull.
These days, when the odd email does bring the slightest whiff of a new commission, it is inevitably accompanied by the clarification that, in all likelihood, the project is not expected to proceed for several years to come.
This insecurity is the devastating Brexit effect, with no doubt much worse to come from future years of tortuous negotiation.
As for the precious projects currently on our drawing boards – the backbone of our practices’ finances, and the focus of so many years of work , the ones that we so look forward to seeing completed, as they are essential in delivering yet more work. – for these projects, delays, value engineering and cancellations have become the norm, decimating teams and leaving principals and salaried employees in a quagmire of uncertainty.
There is, simply, very little work around, and lots of us chasing it. While some of this may be attributed to the end of the current economic cycle, Brexit adds an undoubted significant acceleration towards the bottom. How do you ‘prepare’ for this? What is the government, in its wisdom, intending to do to mitigate Brexit’s inevitable consequences?
As our favourite building materials become unaffordable, with the exchange rate tipping them into price ranges that rule them out for the most commissions, as procurement concerns cause mainland suppliers to cancel their relationships with us, we wave goodbye to Sicilian and Portuguese stone, German ironmongery and Belgian lights.
If loss of potential job opportunities, shrinking of developer profits and increase of costs for everyone in the game are not sufficient to make Paul Finch pause and consider the consequences of his Brexiteer mantra, the likely extinction of the talented species of young European architects positively fills him with glee. Finally, he tells us, we will be forced to choose our employees from the much-reduced pool of candidates made up by those who have trained in our home-grown, under-funded, under-staffed, often lack-lustre universities and schools of architecture.
Am I missing something? Is this really meant to be better?
Once Paul’s house of cards comes tumbling down, and his fantasies are shown for what they are, he might also remember that it might have also been useful to have ‘prepared’ for the departure of the army of wonderful Polish builders, who, along with many others, are jumping ship before they are pushed.
It is the ultimate irony that we, the victims of Brexiteer ruthlessness, are being reprimanded by one faction, for not being sufficiently ‘prepared’ to survive an untold mess that is not of our making, and by another for worrying about nothing.
Happily for Paul, the media is doing very well out of the Brexit-fest. Bad luck however for the rest of us, as the post-truth era might well be poised to soon also become a post-architect one.
Barbara Weiss is director of Barbara Weiss Architects