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INTRODUCTION

AJ 100

UK architecture is changing fast. This year's most notable 'newcomer' to the AJ100 is the SMC Group, the acquisitive publicly quoted company which has vaulted immediately to second position. One year ago we knew that it was growing fast, but since the figures were calculated from the previous December, it did not then qualify for our listing.

If the ups and ups - and then some downs - of SMC have provided the biggest business story of the year, the spotlight has also been on the succession-planning architectural lords. Richard Rogers, in the practice's most triumphant year, has brought two new names into the title, to recognise the contribution of two key younger directors. And Norman Foster has secured the future expansion of his practice by signing a long-awaited investment deal with a private-equity group.

This snapshot of life at the top end of the profession is also reected further down the scale, with mergers, takeovers and of course new launches - often through splintering from larger practices. We have included some data this year - and even an award - for practices that are not yet in the AJ100. It will be interesting to see, in the course of time, which of them make it on to the chart. If and when they do, they will have to be fairly large. The size of practice that can sneak into the AJ100 rises inexorably. As recently as 2003 a practice needed only 21 architects; now it needs 28.

If you want a job with any of these practices, and you are talented, the prospects look good. Recruiting enough capable staff is one of the major concerns, even for those practices with an outstanding reputation.

Procurement and sustainability issues also provide some sleepless nights.

But overall, the AJ100 practices are a buoyant lot, with optimistic predictions, and enthusiasm for talented work. And so they should be. To reach this level is an indication of success, and this annual feature is a celebration of that success.

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