Find out what three architect bosses think the future holds for the sector
Building’s three-part series is looking at the health of the industry sector by sector. In the third installment we analyse the state of play for architects, with a feature to be published on Friday in print and online looking at where the opportunities and pitfalls lie.
As part of a preview of Friday’s feature see below three ‘Views from the Top’, where our panel of architect bosses set out their thoughts on the future.
Nicholas Thompson, CEO, Aukett Fitzroy Robinson
At home and in Europe, economic and political uncertainty, bail-outs and austerity measures combine to restrict market growth and hamper a return to significant prosperity in the property industry.
International investment is fuelling the London market, which is seeing a rise in property values across all asset classes. The positive impact of this is that the UK developer has to reassess its geographical exposure and revisit key regional cities to find under-valued sites to develop.
As a practice which has been focusing on the capital in recent years, we are now seeing a significant increase in regional enquiries and design competitions.
For architects this ultimately means that those who can adapt will thrive - a cross section of skill and a strong track record is becoming more important for developers who need to create the most value out of their budgets.
Practices also need to be alive to the opportunities available in new and growing markets abroad where a UK company’s reputation is highly valued.
Simon Allford, director, AHMM Architects
Three considerations define architectural practice: cash flow, winning work and pursuing ideas. The importance a practice attaches to each determines its workload, size and financial and cultural success. There is no ideal model as each model is defined by ideals.
In terms of winning work, London is the place to be. Where ambitious clients are driven on by a sophisticated market and challenged by complex planning to commission better buildings, international clients will follow. Beyond this great hinterland the market for architecture, denuded of public sector finance, has all but collapsed: you cannot win work if it is not there…
And what of ideas? We will all harness BIM as we once did CAD, we will continue to work on the occasional PFI/PPP just as we embraced D&B and technologies, procurement and regulation will inform best practice. But none of the above mechanics will ever define best architecture. Mechanics matter but thankfully, and inevitably, all good clients are most attracted to our visions of how we might design and construct an architecture of place that delights people.
Which brings me back to cash flow. Avoid the scramble to the bottom line as it makes for neither good architecture nor good business. Make sure you compete on ideas and delivery; value not cost; and be sure you set your fees at a level that allows you to invest every day in both your ideas and ideals.
Gary Whittle, managing director of global architecture, urbanism and design practice Broadway Malyan:
Since the 2010 spending review confidence in UK construction has consistently run below the average in the decade before the financial crisis. Big programmes like school building are on hold and this month the commercial property sector slipped back into recession, reflecting the impact of the Eurozone crisis, while the construction sector got off to a soft start in the second quarter.
Architects are a lightning rod for the wider sector. We face a harsh trading environment, squeezed margins, fierce competition and stalled projects. However, there are reasons to be optimistic with a gradual increase in enquiries. Plus, reports this month indicate that construction and property administrations are down and construction/engineering is the joint strongest sector for permanent job growth. Meanwhile, there are moves to incentivise new actors to finance house building and the National Planning Policy Framework promises to give the government’s pro-development bark its bite.
Like peers, we are actively exporting our expertise through an international growth strategy that, to an extent, insulates us from the UK market. All our UK offices run projects overseas and last year, for the first time in 50 years, we undertook most of our work outside the UK and Europe. Our own domestic scale and diversity enabled us to resource new offices in Sao Paulo, Mumbai and Istanbul last year, compose teams to break into Indonesia and Qatar and push into the international sports sector this year, and partner clients moving into emerging markets.