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We may not like Brexit, but it will present fresh opportunities

Will Hurst
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Times of economic uncertainty have often been good for architects, while an end to austerity could boost housing supply, writes Will Hurst

It is three weeks since the country voted in the EU referendum and the avalanche of news this set off has still not come to a halt.

The still-shifting post-Brexit landscape has been characterised by financial market volatility and an orgy of political resignations which have threatened to make any kind of reporting or commentary outdated, as the AJ team can attest.

For architects – the vast majority of whom were on the Remain side – both the outcome and its messy aftermath have been unsettling at best and painful and frightening at worst, given that jobs have been lost and European architects working here fear for their right to remain (see this week’s AJ Coach).

One small practice quoted on the AJ website described the result as a ‘total disaster’ and predicted it would lead the country into a ‘downward spiral’. But politics aside, is the profession right to be so gloomy? While there’s every reason to be concerned about the longer-term threats (free movement, foreign investment, post-Brexit trade deals and so on) surely we should recognise that the new environment also presents opportunities.

Let’s not forget that times of economic uncertainty can be good for architects with the drive and agility to succeed. AHMM got going in the recession of the early 1990s and enterprisingly found one of its first jobs by refitting a kebab shop. The firm now works for Google, has a Stirling Prize under its belt and sits in fifth place in the AJ100.

A study by the Architects’ Council of Europe showed that markets outside of Europe were more important for UK architects

Equally, British architecture may well prosper abroad despite our impending withdrawal from the European club. The recent AJ100 survey of the UK’s largest architects found that their UK income had risen 8 per cent compared to 2015 while overseas income had rocketed 26 per cent and now makes up more than a third of total income. This continuing globalisation has also been noted by RIBA president Jane Duncan and has informed a key plank of the RIBA’s five-year plan. And while leaving the EU does place a question mark over trade with other EU countries, this made up only 3.9 per cent of UK practices’ turnover according to a 2014 study by the Architects’ Council of Europe with other markets outside of Europe more important for UK architects. In addition, a weaker pound will only help British architecture as an export industry.

Then there is housing, where there are also grounds for optimism. As Colin Marrs finds in our news analysis on post-Brexit prospects, while the share prices of volume housebuilders have been hit, those working on schemes in the private rented sector are generally bullish and there is at least the prospect that a relaxation of austerity could lead to direct government intervention to boost housing supply, perhaps in the way that the last Labour government did in response to the last recession with its Kickstart programme.

Since the result emerged, the AJ has produced a large number of (very popular) Brexit articles, which you can find here. As the shock subsides and attention turns to what comes next, our aim is to help you navigate the shifting business topography and find your way to terra firma.

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