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Interview: New Stride Treglown chair reveals growth plans

Stride Treglown’s newly appointed chair David Hunter discusses the pressure on fees and the company’s plans to grow 10 per cent every year

What next for Stride Treglown?
We’ve 250 staff. I’m inheriting quite a machine and there are a number of opportunities that are poised. We have reasonable UK coverage but would like to expand. London and Cardiff have around 20 staff, I would like to grow these organically over time to 40 or 50. We are not going on an acquisition spree but we’ll look at any opportunity which presents itself.

Are you looking to acquire in a particular sector or region?
We are looking at both. There are opportunities we think in the south coast. That is looking like one area in the UK which is particularly active. Seventy per cent of our clients are contractors. Almost all have offices in the south east and south west but there’s a gap down from Winchester to Southampton.

Do regions offer better potential than focussing on London?
The view from outside London is there are still an awful lot of people who require a good responsive architectural service and to be completely seduced by London is not absolutely necessary. There will be increasing opportunities for regional practices to develop. Because we are based in the southwest outside the London scene it gives us a different perspective, we have to look harder, and look further and be more resourceful.

Are fees more competitive in any one sector?
Pretty much across the board there is a despairing spiral downwards. We’ve seen some very suicidal bids and we have been pretty competitive ourselves. Some of our clients are not taking those suicidal bids The University of Southampton for example take the average as the best.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Things are going to be bad for a long time. In successive recessions when belts were tightened we found different ways of doing things and that became the new norm.

Things are going to be bad for a long time

In that respect there is unlikely to be a big bounce back in terms of fees. In terms of numbers of people in practice I’m more optimistic.

What are the major pressures affecting business at the moment?
Making our fees go further. We increasingly have less and less time to do what we do and the number of projects where we get the opportunity to properly reflect on design solutions is becoming more and more pressurised. To get a school up to planning application design in six weeks is not going to produce the best building no matter how good a designer you are. I hope it changes.

Are you worried about the next generation of architects?
We’ve been discussing how we might offer some element of architectural education in a practice of our size. Our human resources team is already working closely with universities in teaching the softer side of BIM. This is a new source of fee income for us, not just from universities but from contractors aswell.

Does architectural education need to become more flexible?
Absolutely. Some of the best people we have joined us after finishing their GCSEs and are now pursuing technical degrees but I don’t see why it shouldn’t apply to architectural input as well.

Merchants Quay in Gloucester Docks by Stride Treglown

Merchants Quay in Gloucester Docks by Stride Treglown

How can large AJ100 practices support women in architecture?
We have a good split and I’d be surprised if there was any pay differential. I am determined to get more senior female architects and team members. We already have some really great female architects who are actively driving forward Women in Property in our area.

What are you predictions for the coming year?
We have been going for 60 years. For us it is a question of evolution rather than revolution. In terms of the architectural profession more broadly this is a critical time for us to reassert our central ourselves at the centre of the creative process of generating buildings. All kinds of new tools are becoming available to all the disciplines involved. But there needs to be an idea at the centre of that process.

Has coalition policy created any long term benefits for architects?
The simplification of the procurement process could be a great bonus. But I don’t think the contributions of Michael Gove have been very helpful. He made sweeping gestures about the value of design not knowing what he really thought about it. Political statements about planning have not been encouraging.

Has planning reform had any benefits in the short term?
We don’t perceive it being any easier at the moment. It is a cause for celebration when you actually get a planning application lodged and through those hoops. We have planning consultants in our team so we can make sure the path is as smooth as it can reasonably be.

Has the RIBA done enough to help practices during the downturn?

We have developed despite the RIBA. I don’t think anything it has been doing is particularly effective. I doesn’t have a huge impact on decisions we make day to day. It plays so little a role which is an indictment of how it operates at the moment.

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