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Simon Allford: Why architects need to keep calm and carry on

Eu keep calm carry on 2
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We need to remember the lessons we learned during the last recession to find a path through the upheaveals of Brexit

On Friday the sun rose and shone brightly, the world continued to spin on its axis, AHMM won a major project in India for a global business and the FTSE finished up on the week. That said, as in 2008, we are in turmoil.

As a practice all we can do is take prudent measures and carry on doing what we do, but in an ever more intelligent way, offering considered leadership and vision. We cannot wait for the world to recalibrate so our strategy for how the practice operates continue to be contingent. Fortunately AHMM has learned many lessons from 2008.

In stark contrast, the campaigns of the last few months highlight very clearly that the majority of our politicians and the metropolitan elite have not learned these lessons.

The Remain campaign, run by an overwhelming majority of political heavyweights backed by a vociferous wide-ranging establishment, failed because it offered no vision. The Leave campaign, run by a mixed-bag minority backed by hardly anyone, succeeded because it tapped into the very real concerns of the majority of the population. Concerns that also cut right across traditional party divides. 

The greatest danger now is that the same lazy, arrogant political and establishment alliance continues to dismiss the concerns of this majority (‘The people have made an inconceivably stupid decision’, said Christine Murray). How very ironic that those who supported Project Fear now attribute the result they do not approve of to fear, and in particular, fear of immigration, when all the analysis suggests it was first and foremost a most honourable fear of a distant and detached government that is not democratically accountable.

So what other lessons can we take into this uncertain future? The most important, if we are to come together as a country, and invent a new connection with the world beyond, is that the voters rejected the 23-year-old political invention that is the EU – and not Europe itself. 

Voters rejected the 23-year-old political invention of the EU – and not Europe itself

To our profession’s general frustration, the last government succeeded in democratically devolving responsibility for the built environment to local politics and its communities, and we architects have been forced to consult comprehensively and take heed of quite contrary views. Encouragingly, if to our great surprise, this further layer of democratic negotiation has actually engaged us in developing designs that are better: responsive and contingent yet visionary.

Looking ahead to the uncertainty of upcoming negotiations, politicians on both sides of the great divide that is the Channel, who to date have relentlessly pursued the EU project, need to learn the same. For as HL Mencken – who was no slave to democracy (as he observed, ‘no one…has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses’) – sagely warned: ‘The urge to save humanity is almost always a false-face for the urge to rule it. Power is what all messiahs seek: not the chance to serve.’

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Christine Murray

    Contrary to the statement above, according to research by Ipsos Mori, immigration was the leading concern of voters leading up to the referendum, followed by the NHS. Further, it does not make me part of the lazy arrogant establishment simply because I think Brexit is a stupid idea. It's not a conspiracy, it's my opinion, and let's hope I'm proven wrong. In the meantime, you are right that we need to build bridges and carry on.

    Here are the results of the poll: https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3748/Concern-about-immigration-rises-as-EU-vote-approaches.aspx

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