A flat-lining EU economy, the construction industry in crisis. This is not a good time for an architect's visit to the UK, you might think. So why did Sandra & Leif Tollé come to Cambridge seeking meetings and with plans for a UK architectural practice (Tollé Green Architecture)? Add to this, their underlying ethos of social responsibility. Surely this was a no-brainer in the free-market UK economy currently led by a right-leaning government!
The answer as to why the visit was successful has four parts:
1. German green retrofitting and new-build expertise
This contrasts with a much stronger and longer green tradition in Germany and Scandinavia. Experts reckon that these countries have a lead in green construction of between 10 and 25 years.
The existing housing stock in the UK also provides significant challenges with regards to retrofitting. A previous article about Ecobuild 2012 mentions hard to treat properties in the UK http://miltoncontact.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/looking-back-on-ecobuild-2012.html.
The Green Deal is expected to accelerate green practices in the UK.
In all our appointments with UK partners, expertise was seen as the key advantage provided by Tollé Green Architecture. This comes from a German parent practice with decades of experience in dealing in major industrial construction. There is also considerable retrofitting expertise, not only in single houses but also in multiapartment blocks (see: Practical examples of retrofitting in Verden, Germany http://miltoncontact.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/practical-examples-of-retrofitting-in.html).
2. Taking an international perspective
Tollé Green Architecture is looking for UK partners and locations to work with. They came with a clear proposal, including potential German institutions as partners. Preliminary contacts were made through Milton Contact Ltd, the British Consulate and UKTI.
The East of England is an ideal location for forging such links. This is due to the combination of universities (Cambridge, ARU, UEA) and green networks (Cleantech, UKCEED, Enterprise Europe East). There is a training centre with existing European connections (Smartlife Low Carbon). Furthermore, in this region, companies like HSA Accountants have a familiarity and competence in assisting companies with EU connections.
3. Social perspectives
The social element of the company was the one that received a mixed response. It was irrelevant in some meetings and struck a strong chord in others. With Triodos Bank, it was essential, as they are an ethical and social bank.
A social philosophy is not incompatible with good business in construction, as shown by Scansca's successful Seven Acres development in South Cambridge (Trumpington http://homes.skanska.co.uk/Projects/Seven-Acres/).
The current economic climate is also changing the social fabric within the UK. The private housing market has seen a shift towards staying put and improving existing properties. Prices and circumstances are pushing more people to rent rather than house buying. The rise in fuel prices has exacerbated fuel poverty. The National Housing Federation quotes 4.5 million people in housing need in the UK with 1 million children in overcrowded accommodation. Many housing associations are experiencing increasing financial pressures.
Conversations with Peterborough based UKCEED and Cambridge's Eclipse Research revealed that UK policy makers and cities are therefore looking for solutions. They wish to achieve improvements in the environmental-, social- and economic aspects of an area.
4. Constructive partners
The world and its economies may seem to be globalised. However each country and region has its cultural, social, economic and construction related customs and regulations. Armed with their expanded knowledge, Sandra & Leif Tollé will find UK partners for their European collaboration in the short term. In the longer term they will establish Tollé Green Architecture as part of the UK's green construction expertise.