Ian Ritchie Architects

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European Identities, 1987

Yes, there is a European Heritage.

At the risk of being over simplistic, democracy, fraternity and equality lie at the heart of the European moral base. This enables all Europeans, both East and West, to share and develop a common cultural history. This culture acts as our discreet bonding agent. Equally, since late mediaeval times, there has been a European cultural belief in the Individual (Luther). The antithesis of this is found in Asia.

European nations have, on historical evidence, a tradition of `making new nations’. In this respect, it is not surprising that the idea of Europe should take shape. Europe has been, and still is in one sense, a community by fate rather than design (East and West Germany, Alsace, Basque etc.). Running through this European tradition has been a reticence to establish strong intellectual (scientific and artistic) links. Of course there have been exceptions (Milton travelled to meet Galileo: Erasmus came to England etc.) and today the `European nation’ endeavours to create joint projects (ESA, Airbus etc.). However, these links remain tenuous despite European student rail cards, cultural tours, package holidays etc. and `publishing’ which, more than any other mechanism, helped to create Europe and together with intelligent telecommunications gives all Europeans the opportunity of recognising their individual and national identity within Europe and the world.

It is in this context that PSR can play a small part in the continued evolution of Europe, without diluting or neutralising the individual or regional qualities in favour of a Europeanisation of art and architecture, but in fact, through identifying differences as well as similarities, highlight, inform and strengthen the European tradition in all its diversity.

It is only by participating in a European context that one can experience a `sense of Europe’. This is the same for both individual and group and provides PSR with its raison d’ĂȘtre.

From my own architectural participation in Europe, I feel it is possible to put forward some observations. First, however, it is pertinent to place these experiences in the context of a British heritage and values, which essentially have inclined to support the inventor or craft skills of the individual. From my brief sojourn in Japan in 1970, one was immediately conscious of the Japanese willingness to place more importance on the group as a more valid model for development. Implicit for me in the British approach is cosiness and insularity and this has, in general, led to a resistance to change and a reluctance to share ideas or communicate with the `rest of Europe’ and, significantly for Britain, a conservative attitude to new ideas and the inability to foster and develop them at home.