When I started the London Festival of Architecture is 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 Ken Livingstone and the 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 they handed out the jobs, so in the eyes of the Department of Trade, 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 Thompson, the indefatigable director of the LFA, the GLA Economics division has carried out detailed research into the commercial impact of architecture. They have found that there are some 4,240 offices in the capital’s architecture sector which produced £1.7 billion 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 per cent. That was 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 per cent 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 £382.5 million and £453.9 million 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 per cent) 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 form 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 Londons success as the financial sector reallocates 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 capitals wellbeing.
This article first appeared in On Office magazine