How do you grow a practice in the worst recession in living memory?
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At Devereux Architects, staff numbers rose by 50 per cent in the past year, and fees earned in the UK went up by 40 per cent. But anybody looking for a simple solution will be disappointed.
Part of the practice’s growth has come from being in the right place and winning the right work, and some has come from structural changes or acquisitions. Started in the 1930s in London, Devereux was bought three years ago by PM Group, an international practice of architects, engineers and project managers. It also bought Dewj’oc Architects, which had offices in Newcastle and Sedgefield, and merged the two, opening further offices in Plymouth and London.
Healthcare is a particular strength of the practice and it is currently working with HOK on Barts and The London hospitals. Devereux has also, says managing director Darius Umrigar, developed a sub-specialism in mental healthcare ‘which needs a very humane, tailored approach.’
The practice’s first incursion into healthcare was the design of a hospital in the Caribbean in the late 1950s. Now it has returned to the region, designing two hospitals for the Turks and Caicos Islands. About four years ago it also began concept designs for healthcare schemes in Abu Dhabi, including a maternity hospital. It also has prospects in India and, through the PM Group, is shortlisted for PFI work in Poland.
Education is Devereux’s other key area, although much of this has grown out of healthcare, for instance education areas at University College London Hospital. More recently, it has moved into school design.
These sectors are expected to suffer, but Umrigar is optimistic. ‘In the last recession, health trusts merged and regrouped,’ he says. ‘If this happens, there will be masterplanning and development control work.’
The practice has been concentrating on winning places on frameworks. Some shun these because they are seen as a way of being locked into work at low fee levels for too many years. But Umrigar disagrees. ‘There are ways of developing a relationship that leads to a flow of work.’ With a number of frameworks and a growing emphasis on winning work overseas, Devereux is planning to stay healthy - and continue to grow.
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