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Like Foster + Partners, the UK should seek to trade and prosper around the globe

Paul Finch
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Foster + Partners’ record turnover is a timely reminder that there is a world beyond the boundaries of the EU, says Paul Finch

The welcome news that Foster + Partners has reported a record turnover, mainly as a result of increasing its work in South America, the Gulf and Asia, is a timely reminder that there is a world not just beyond the shores of the UK, but beyond the boundaries of the EU. Not so long ago there was talk about Fosters relocating to the Continent as a result of Brexit worries: a piece of nonsense, then as now. The practice (peopled mostly by Remainers, I would guess) takes the view that there is only one single market, and it has nothing to do with the mindset of Brussels types. It is, in fact, the whole world.

Big, strategic business decisions take into account international relationships, especially in a world where national and continental boundaries have less significance than they once did. The Foster-designed headquarters for Bloomberg is in London, not Frankfurt. Aon moved its key insurance executives to the Cheesegrater in the City, not to Dublin or Paris.

This is certainly not to suggest that we should be at all complacent about Brexit. But it is to say that the UK, as a trading nation par excellence, should behave just like Fosters, and look everywhere to trade and prosper.

I was reflecting on this as Singapore held its UK national day celebrations in the British Museum last week. A tiny speck on the map has, over the past 50 years, developed itself as a global financial hub, in the process transforming the life of its citizens (for the better), and coincidentally promoting architecture, design and infrastructure as key elements in national policies. It has done all this by thinking globally but acting locally in respect of its social programme – neoliberal economics meets state provision, and the result is beneficial. Something for the annual RESI Convention to ponder this week. 

Just how much land do we need?

A polemical Venice Biennale exhibition a decade ago was entitled ‘1,000 Singapores’. It showed that, if you took the entire population of the world and housed everyone at Singapore densities, you would only need 1,000 of those specks on the map – an infinitesimal percentage of the world’s land. This brilliant provocation is a rejoinder to the defeatists, who only see disaster in the world around us and spin the idea that we will all be ruined as a result of rising sea levels (tell that to Dutch water engineers).

It is becoming apparent that, as a result of rapid advances in technology, the task of meeting our carbon obligations over the next three decades is looking increasingly achievable, but we still need to deal with huge additional demands that the envisaged population growth will make. In a phrase, we need to build ‘up, not out’, not just in respect of housing, but in terms of production, too. It is time to dust down all those student thesis projects on vertical fish farms and the joys of hydroponic production. 

Architecture needs an interior life

Église notre dame du raincy web

Église notre dame du raincy web

Source: Ministere de la Culture (France) Monuments Historiques PA00079948

A weekend trip to Paris included same-day visits to the Villa Savoye, then to Corb’s own apartment and, finally, the Maison La Roche house and gallery. It was an intense and rewarding experience, but one which seemed incomplete. This is because in none of these is the architecture accompanied by the interior art and furniture which turns space and volume into a home.

So none provided a moment quite so breathtaking as visiting the Farnsworth House years ago, when it was still a home to Peter Palumbo and invested with life. In Paris, the breathtaking moment came not in a house, but a church: Auguste Perret’s Notre-Dame du Raincy. The 1923 concrete may need restoration, but its glorious interior (pictured) is well worth the detour. 

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