19 Apr 2017

Peter Murray: As we prepare to leave the EU, London needs its architects more than ever

Words by  Photo by Alexis Jang

New research from GLA Economics shows how the commercial impact of architecture on the capital’s economy spreads far beyond Clerkenwell

When I started the London Festival of Architecture (LFA) in 2004 it was focused on Clerkenwell. We calculated that the up-and-coming area was home to more architects per square metre than anywhere in the world – an accolade boosted by the recent arrival of Grimshaw and BDP. In spite of this headline statistic we found it very difficult to convince London mayor Ken Livingstone and the Greater London Authority (GLA) to be as generous to us as they were to other London festivals. Architecture did not seem to feature as we thought it should in the lexicon of creative businesses like fashion, design, games and advertising.

The reason for this, it appeared, was that the RIBA had decided that the future of architectural export lay with the construction rather than creative industry because it handed out the jobs, so in the eyes of the Department of Trade and Industry, architecture was classified as building rather than creative design. Things have changed quite a bit over the years, but the LFA always lagged behind in its ability to raise public sponsorship, lacking the figures to prove London’s importance as an architectural design hub. No longer.

Through the sterling efforts of Tamsie Thomson, the LFA’s indefatigable director, the GLA Economics division has carried out detailed research into the commercial impact of architecture, published in Working Paper 86: London’s Architectural Sector. It found that there are some 4,240 offices in the capital’s architecture sector, which in 2015 produced £1.7bn in gross value added (GVA). After accounting for inflation, the compound annual rate of growth in the GVA of London’s architecture sector since 2009 was 7.6% – faster than the creative industries and the London economy as a whole. There were approximately 22,800 jobs in London’s architecture sector in 2015, with one in four architect occupations in the UK based in London. Encouragingly, approximately 40% of architectural staff were female – a considerably higher figure than the rest of the UK.

But it’s not all about exports; the research found that between £382.5m and £453.9m of London’s GVA could be attributed to architecture-related tourism. So that’s good for the heritage sector. More worryingly, around one-third of the jobs in London’s architecture sector were taken by non-UK nationals and of this, the majority (73.3%) were EU citizens. So movement of labour is going to be very important post-Brexit, if London is to retain its status as a global hub for design and construction skills.

The research highlights the significance of architecture’s role in London’s economy and the need to protect it as the government negotiates our exit from the European Union. It also reinforces the importance of events like the LFA in drawing attention to the sector.

The creative industries are going to be crucial to London’s success as the financial sector relocates to other centres. Congratulations to Tamsie and GLA Economics for reminding us that the mother of the arts can still hold her own in both her creative and her commercial contribution to the capital’s wellbeing.

How can architecture continue to hold its own? Tweet @PGSMurray & @onofficemag

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