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Dot.commers can teach architects a trick or two


However galling it might be to watch dot.commers make their millions, it is worth considering the implications of their stratospheric success. Firstly, it marks a widespread acceptance of the fact that ideas are worth big money - a concept which architectural clients are often slow to grasp. Secondly, it demonstrates the extent to which a company can flourish given initial financial stability, and finally, it shows that investors are susceptible to self-promotion and hype.

Traditionally architects have been unwilling to turn to the City, labouring under the rather quaint illusion that any investment in the practice should come out of surplus fee income. The City, in turn, has not exactly courted architects. The market is uncertain, and the profits notoriously low. But a good dose of investment capital can help to counter both of these problems. By using the money to increase the range of specialisations, a practice can build up a degree of protection from the vagaries of the market place. And stability, in turn, irons out some of the problems which gnaw away at profits. How many architectural practices are currently on costly short-term leases, because they lack the confidence to take on long-term obligations, or the capital to invest in property of their own? How many architects are deprived of a decent contract because their employers do not know whether they will be able to sit out the next recession?

Architects are actually beginning to show the same ambition as the newer professions. hlm Architects is to be quoted on the stock market when it completes the takeover of communications and marketing company, Osprey Communications. The deal is expected to make each of the three directors worth an extra £4 million - a sum which seems extraordinary in the architectural world, but which wouldn't raise an eyebrow in cyberspace. By buying up other architectural practices and marketing agencies, the company plans to double in size within the next 18 months. Newly christened RockArchimedia, the company has even given itself a new-media style name. There are lessons to be learnt: project the right image, talk up your product and think big.

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