FOSTER'S DECISION TO STEP BACK FROM MANAGEMENT SHOULD REAP DIVIDENDS
The main focus of the AJ100, and rightly so, is which practice is the biggest. As you can see in our coverage (see News on page 11 and the AJ100 feature on pages 27-100), this year the result is not entirely expected. But among the headlines there is a more concealed story - if one can use that word about the UK's most high-profile architect.
Norman Foster did not hog the limelight at the AJ100 dinner last night (Wednesday 23 May).
His practice was not the biggest, nor the fastest riser, although its concentration in one location meant that it was recognised for employing the largest number of architects in London and the South East of England.
But Foster + Partners did earn the highest architectural fees (see page 78) and also boasts one of the highest earnings per individual architect.
Despite its already phenomenal growth, the practice is still forecasting a 49 per cent rise in fees over the next year. Although these predictions were made before the news of 3i's investment, the practice had already announced its expansion plans, and so must have taken the expected investment into account.
It is interesting that a practice that is already so successful sees room for growth not only in income but also, as it must with investors to satisfy, in profitability. Foster appears to have a Midas touch, plus the ability to hold together an ever-growing body of work. His decision to take a back seat from daily management and concentrate on design should reap dividends - until the time when even he decides to retire.
The growth ambitions of Foster, the introduction of younger partners by Rogers, and the deliberately non-individualistic approach of BDP are very different models of succession planning by the country's largest and most successful practices. The next few years will reveal which is the most viable approach.
Younger architects would do well to pay close attention while planning their own career paths.