New London Architecture

Nathalie Rozencwajg, founder, NAME architecture

Sunday 04 April 2021

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

 
David Taylor: Well, hello!
 
Nathalie Rozencwajg: Hi!
 
DT: Nice to meet you over the phone for the first time! I thought that we could usefully talk about the Brexit conversations that you had a roundtable about, and perhaps some of the issues that have arisen through practicing that you’ve noticed since the dreadful day! (laughs) I’m neutral! I’m neutral! 
What do you think was the most important finding from that conversation (link below) and also, what surprised you the most?
 
NR:  So: I think the most important finding was that all of the people that were involved in the conversation were people that have work or interests on both sides of the channel and actually wanted to keep things as they knew it. They didn't want to see new barriers coming up between the two countries – or entities, I should say.  However, it seems that the uncertainty around the future of practicing here and there seemed to be increasing the gaps for the reality of practice, with most practices having to now think about opening an entity in a European country, to actually have their qualifications recognised and actually be able to win projects there.
 
This is something that we had already set personally for my own practice because I have both a UK entity and a French entity. But that seemed to be the greatest challenge for everyone - to suddenly realise that they wouldn't be able to practice so seamlessly between the two: the UK and the other European countries, and what they do about this?
I think what was surprising is actually for me to see how everybody seems to think of Paris as the place to set this up
 
DT: Yes. Why do you think that is? What were the main reasons given?  I mean presumably it’s as a place to live these days - perhaps Mayor (Anne) Hidalgo’s influence on the city has had an effect?
 
NR: Um. I mean, Paris and London have always had this relationship learning from each other and also being in competition with one another. And after many years of London being at the forefront, I think recently Paris has managed to put itself back on the map with some interesting projects within Paris and in the larger area.
 
But apart from the actual evolution of Paris itself I think as a point of where you would land in Europe and actually do something from here it seems to be the most logical and easy solution. Because, obviously the Eurostar brings you from city centre to city centre and then Paris is at the centre of any other French city but also major other European cities – Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and so on. So that seems to be the reason for it to be so attractive and it surprises me because it's actually quite difficult to set up companies and business in France. But it was still something that most of those practises were actually willing to consider as an alternative to this new way of working.
 
DT: Difficult because of the insurance issue? Is it that?
 
NR: Amongst other things. But not necessarily completely. The insurance issue is common to France and most other European countries and that's always been different between France and the UK. It was mostly because to set up a company it and administer it in France is complicated; to employ people in France is both more complicated and much more costly than in the UK. So: it’s not a place where it's easy to set something up; it’s actually much easier to do so from the UK than it is in France.
DT: So, from your perspective are you a French practice? A British practice? Or a  European practice? How do you cast yourself - if you need to?
 
NR: (laughs) Yeah, actually I used to be very happy to say a European practice; unfortunately, that doesn't mean a thing anymore today.  I still consider myself very much a British practice in the sense that that's where I was educated; that’s the market I am most familiar with in terms of clients, planning systems and everything that goes around that. But I have to say that Brexit has shifted something. I mean it also means that anything I do in France or in other parts of Europe now has a slightly different meaning to it.
 
DT: Yeah. How do you split your time? Do you travel between the two offices or are you solely Paris-based?
 
NR: There’s pre-Covid and post-Covid! (laughs) and then question marks (laughs)? Pre-Covid I used to travel every week back and forth. The Eurostar was my home, really! It was like tube journey, to get into the Metro in Paris and come out of the underground in London – seamlessly travel between the two. It is actually strange or a sign somehow that Covid happened at the same time because I haven’t been able to travel like this for the past year, obviously. And somehow both happened together, and it seems like I’m in a very different situation now where I’m still very much involved with everything that is happening in London, but I do it from a distance. So I suppose that, post-Covid, I will be travelling but not as often as before because of all these new systems that have come in place. But it’s a big question mark.  It does affect you – not being in the city and feeling it on a very regular basis. 
 
DT: And the split of your work; what sort of percentage is your split?
 
NR: For me, much higher percentage in the UK than in France. I’d say yeah, probably 80:20 with 80% being international people who come to us as a UK practice to produce work for them internationally, with the name of London being what they’re coming to look for. 
 
DT: So the office in France is to service work in Europe and beyond, presumably, is it?
 
NR: Yes. Well, actually having tested many things I did prefer to separate projects by offices rather than working on them simultaneously – although it happens sometimes – but the office in France is mainly to serve projects in Paris and on the continent
DT: And so, lastly what's the upside to this? What are the positives to the situation?
 
NR: Um… (laughs). I think the fact that having created this roundtable; this group of people that share the same concern I’d say was an upside because it enabled people to come together and feel that other people shared the concern about what would happen in the future too; what we felt was normal.  I suppose one will see how it happens but maybe it will give us a little bit of a feeling of being able to handle both and be able to continue progressing in both markets.  I do feel very comfortable navigating the administrative systems, the planning system, insurance system on both because I have been doing it for a long time and it does give me an edge now to be able to do that seamlessly.
But there are also a lot of unknowns, I would have to say. Or things that we haven’t thought of before. For me one of the biggest difficulties is to suddenly have to think twice about who I employ – we are not able to employ British staff in France easily anymore and vice versa.  Which seems very ,very strange or a big difference from what we used to experience before, when it was never a question. 
And I have to say that when thinking about specifying materials you do think twice. I know things probably settle down and probably still be available, but you do just think is this still available in this market or will they rather use a British product that you’re safer to get?
That might also bring forth a new frame of creativity, but it’s a question which could be positive or negative.
 
DT:  Yes. Well, that's fascinating. Where do you feel at home? Where is home?
 
NR: (laughs) On the Eurostar!
 
DT: (laughs)  Excellent! Well, I hope it starts again soon. It’s not operating at the moment, is it? 
 
NR:  Two trains a day only, I think. 
 
DT: Oh, really?
 
NR: Yes, and they keep on sending me emails saying: ‘We’re still here!’ (laughs)
 
DT: And you haven’t been on it recently?
 
NR: No, because of the quarantine issues – we’re waiting for the vaccines to be properly spread out and then hopefully we can travel. Hopefully without too much difficulty anyway. I’ve never not been in London for such a long time since the last 25 years!
 
DT: Yeah. Well, it’s changed  a bit…
 
NR: As everyone tells me, yeah.  It will be the same, but I think everyone has to realise that you can do many things online and it is great. But still being in a city and feeling it is quite important.
 
DT: Absolutely. Well, that's brilliant. Thank you, Natalie. Lovely to speak to you and I hope you get over here soon.
 
NR: Yeah, Me too. Thank you for the opportunity. Thanks. Bye bye! 
 
 
 

 
The Brexit roundtable that NAME hosted is here

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly



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