Brexit & why AEC needs to collaborate more than ever

Author: Will Needham Published on: January 31, 2020

I was pretty shocked on 23rd of June, 2016. The day of the Brexit vote, and the day I realised my view of the world was fundamentally different to the majority of the people in the country I was raised.

It’s a strange feeling to be honest.

I remember the long, heated debates with friends and family members about what life would be like after the UK left the EU, and why each those scenarios might be a good or bad thing.

Trying to understand their point of view has been challenging because I personally feel so grateful to have lived in the EU for a long time, so grateful to have worked with inspiring EU colleagues (both in the UK and on the continent), and so grateful to have travelled to a large proportion of the EU which made me the person I am today.

As I dug deep to try to understand this contrarian opinion that the majority held, I began to draw connections between this way of thinking and the subtle yet unsettling undertones that I noticed working in the UK architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industries.

I’m talking mainly about perceived superiority.

Brexiteers seem to perceive that the UK has a lot more to offer the EU, than the EU has to offer it. Maybe this is deeply ingrained in the psyche from time of the British Empire, or from the more subtle fact that English is the common method of communication used between Europeans.

Unfortunately, I noticed a similar style of thinking was prevalent in the UK AEC industries. Again, there was a perceived superiority that the UK way of doing things is obviously the best.

We have the best projects, we are the most advanced with BIM and digital technologies, the smartest cities, our con-tech startups are the best, our projects the most sustainable and the safest, so why would be need to look elsewhere?

Personally, I found this position uncomfortable. I was skeptical that the UK was ‘leading’ in anything. Sure, there’s some great work going on, but I was always so curious about what we could learn from other countries and how they design, build and manage their built environments.

That’s exactly why I started Future Distributed. I wanted to step outside what I perceived to be a bubble, and learn for myself what’s different, for better or for worse.

Since then, I’ve visited 14 countries and spoken to over 50 built environment leaders around Europe. It’s pretty clear to that not only do we have A LOT to learn from our European colleagues but, more than ever, we urgently need to be working in collaboration with them on the defining challenges on our time.

Talk on inclusivity @ Smart City Expo 2019

As the planet heats up, it really doesn’t care about political inclinations or how we manage and sub-divide land. At the end of the day, all that matters is the level of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere, wherever or whoever emits it.

I believe the ONLY way to minimise these emissions is to collaborate at a far greater level than we ever have before.

We need every employee, company and nation to be humble, open, willing to learn and actively seek out new knowledge and better ways of doing things.

We can’t carry on with a head-in-the-sand approach, because that sand is heating up.

So for me, from February 1st, nothing will have changed. I’ll still wake up with the same drive to unite people around these defining issues of our time through my work at Future Distributed.

It would be great to collaborate with as many as you as possible in the future, wherever you are from, so please do Get in Touch.

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