London urged to ‘stay open’ for world design business

Tuesday 27 June 2017

© Agnese Sanvito

London must concentrate on its ‘fundamentals’ of tolerance and diversity if it is to retain its position as a global design hub.

That was the view of London & Partners chief executive Laura Citron as she addressed the latest in a series of events at the NLA arranged to debate its standing as a global capital of built environment expertise.

Citron, who is in her ninth week heading up the mayor’s promotional agency said that it was clear that the UK capital is facing challenges, notably as regards security and Brexit. But we ‘need to think a lot more about how we talk about our values, internationally’, and ‘double-down’ to keep up the narrative of London’s openness, given a vote of confidence by investment from companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Snapchat in the last 12 months. ‘Let’s be confident in our fundamentals’, said Citron, adding that she felt the factors that have made us ‘leaders’ – including its educational establishments and culture - will endure. The built environment sector is at the heart of many of the mayor’s priorities, Citron added, and has a key role to play from issues such as affordable housing and smart cities to clean air and green tech. ‘We can’t be complacent but we have every reason to be confident’, she added, ‘in our fundamentals and resilience.  London is open; let’s work together to keep it that way.’

aLL Design director Will Alsop said that London is a capital for design but whether it remains so was another matter. One of the key issues affecting the city was that it was ‘pretty unaffordable’, and PM Theresa May’s moves to allow those EU nationals who have been here for five years was a concern – what about the rest? In the 1970s and 1980s, the city was a hive of activity: ‘London was about ideas’, said Alsop. ‘I sometimes wonder whether it still is.’

AKT II co-founder and director Prof Hanif Kara said skills were indeed a concern, given his practice has some 26 nationalities across its 250 staff and which he feels is not untypical in the capital. But there are hardly any exciting places in the world that are unconnected to London. ‘I would have no identity if I wasn’t in London. would say it will remain the capital of design as something that changes the world’, he said.

Farrells associate partner Effie Kuan said communication was the key, with much of the practice’s expertise Hong Kong brought back to London, while KPF principal Mustafa Chehabeddine said making sure that talent is available is perhaps of paramount importance since London is a ‘transient society’ and a place where people can stay for 4-5 years or make a whole career. Clients seeking to build, say a 700m tall tower in Kuala Lumpur, come to London not for built precedent, but for the design expertise here. The risk with Brexit, however, added Chehabeddine, is that unplugging one element may lead to much more ‘unravelling.’ 

David Taylor

Editor, New London Quarterly 

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