31.05.2016A plea against Brexit

Read the full article by Alexander Gutzmer online here.

Translation: Chipperfield plea against Brexit

Architects and their observers like to pride themselves on their political relevance. Like a mantra, they demand more social commitment for their discipline. This stands in stark contrast to the reality in major debates where often little is heard from the architectural profession here.

Substantial debates regarding the present difficult European situation are also seldom to be found. The currently increasing nationalistic centrifugal forces are highly problematic - also not least for building culture and architecture and building culture. Something is falling apart to pieces here. Europe, which is rapidly drifting apart, is not only an economic region but also a cultural project. If this should fail, architecture in all countries of the continent will lose an important guiding framework.

In this context, I find the impending ‘Brexit’ particularly virulent. For me, Britain belongs to Europe and is a part of Europe. The Europe, in which I live and write, is the same that is being negotiated in Britain. I studied at the Goldsmiths’ College of the University of London, where I discussed European construction, the large cities on the continent but also Europe in general a great deal with architects. In a lecture titled “Reading the City” the sociologist Michael Keith, who currently teaches in Oxford, conveyed to me the flâneur-like exploration of the culturally defined topographies of European city centres. Rem Koolhaas held lectures at Goldsmiths and started joint research projects with my PhD supervisor Scott Lash. The local “Centre for Research Architecture” devised a highly fascinating socio-critical research project focussing on architecture and urban planning. These are all contributions to European architectural discourse that I would not want to miss under any circumstances. Especially considering the fact that Goldsmiths, with what feels like 90 percent non-British-European students, altogether constitutes one of the most European research institutes.

Another architect, who regularly stops by at Goldsmiths, is David Chipperfield. In 2014 he was part of the jury for a new art gallery on the South London campus. Due to his numerous buildings in Germany, this native of London is already one of the most European architects. He has now made a striking plea against ‘Brexit’. Addressing his fellow Brits, Chipperfield describes “his” Europe as a major cultural project. He wants to preserve this, not least in order to positively influence the mindset of the Brits themselves. For him, Europe is the chance to make Britain more culturally sensitive and in particular to enrich its architecture. He writes “Indeed it is difficult to imagine how our cultural institutions could function without these intellectual and practical connections, and how isolated our profession would become, detached from the influences and inspiration of our continental colleagues.”

This is a remarkable idea. And, coming from a Brit, even one we Europeans can take an example from. That is to say, we question too little, what we ourselves have from Great Britain. In doing so, we should have an interest in Brits taking on a more active role in Europe. I would not want to live in a Europe that forgoes Anglo-Saxon impetus. This also applies to the culture of individualism, which is quite certainly more pronounced in Britain than it is on the other side of the channel. I do not care so much for the continental European collectivism with its permanent overemphasis of the State. The UK could form a valuable corrective here, but only if London raises a strong voice in Europe. A voice, which Chipperfield presently finds lacking: “To be honest, our current lukewarm participation makes us look very weak from a European perspective. Our cultural connections are real, we share a history and, whether we like it or not, we share a future. The English Channel can no longer ‘protect’ us from the Continent.”

The channel is narrow and is becoming more so, says Sir David. Let’s hope he is right about this.