Architect promotes studio directors to joint UK managing directors to turn around domestic practice

Listed architect Aukett Fitzroy Robinson (AFR) has appointed two joint UK managing directors to turn around its ailing domestic practice.

In an exclusive interview with Building, Luke Schuberth and Suzette Vela - who have both been promoted from studio director roles - said the UK division would target further work with high-end clients.

Schuberth and Vela will report to Nicholas Thompson, chief executive at AFR.

AFR’s UK practice has had a difficult few years, with turnover dropping three-fold from £17.3m in the year ended 30 September 2008 to £5m in 2011. The firm also closed its Bristol office.

It’s too bullish to say we’ll start growing but there’s a quiet confidence

Luke Schuberth, AFR

But the rate of decline has slowed significantly - UK turnover dropped just 12% last year, from £5.7m in 2010.

Schuberth said that the practice had “done well” in the second half of the 2011 financial year and was on course for solid performance this year after a number of high-profile wins, including a 87,900m2 development for Imperial College London for the BBC’s Wood Lane studios in west London.

But he warned AFR could not guarantee a return to growth in the short term.

He said: “It’s going to remain tough for a while. It’s too bullish to say we’ll start growing but there’s a quiet confidence [in the practice].”

Vela said the practice was targeting growth in offices, hotels and interiors work and was well positioned to capitalise on an expected shift towards refurbishment due to its “very high” levels of expertise.

She added the job share with Schuberth would allow them to share managerial responsibility and “keep focus on clients”.

John Vincent, who has been managing director of AFR in the UK since 2005, will step down from his current role and chair the practice’s executive architecture business, in addition to his other project director roles.

Revenue at the group as a whole rose 16% last year from £7.9m to £9.2m thanks to an eight-fold increase at its Russian practice.

But it posted a £1.2m loss, partly caused by write-down costs from the closure of the practice’s Warsaw studio.