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It's time to build a new foundation for practice

It’s time to take a hard look under the hood of your practice and sort it out, says Christine Murray

Recessions are, they say, a good time to ask big questions. It’s hard to plan for the future when bad debt is still bankrupting practices. But if we are near the bottom, it’s time to build a new foundation from which to grow.

There is still an underlying altruism in architecture and architectural education - a shared desire to better society through good design. And when architects band together, as major contributors to the GDP as part of the construction industry and as global ambassadors for UK building design, they should be a powerful and respected voice. So why has the status of architects fallen?

Support and activism does exist in the profession

Support and activism does exist in the profession. There are more than 8,000 signatures on the petition to extend the Pritzker Prize to Denise Scott Brown, suggesting a real desire to recognise women and men equally. There has also been a groundswell for our More Homes, Better Homes campaign to enshrine good design in housebuilding standards. The RIBA launched a similar campaign for minimum light and space standards this week with a standard letter that can be sent to your local MP.

But calls on government for equality or better living standards by the profession can be undermined by the state of architects’ own houses. Out of the recession of the early 1990s came a more streamlined profession with better processes and a way of collaborating more closely with other consultants. But what the current recession has revealed is that not every practice became a professional business.

Now is the time to become truly professional - charging for early design work and putting in place proper HR and support

Now is the time to become truly professional. This means charging for services that you haven’t been charging for, such as early design work. It also means putting in place proper HR and support - decent maternity leave,
and reasonable working hours. It requires a more concerted effort to promote equality - our report on gay architects last week revealed the profession does less than the armed forces to promote sexual diversity. It will also require solidarity, for the whole profession to stand together to put a stop to disgraces such as fee undercutting. Before the economy returns to growth, take a hard look under the hood of your practice and sort it out. By your own deeds the future profession will be judged.

Join us at the BCO conference

I’ve been writing, thinking, living and breathing offices this week in the lead-up to the annual BCO conference (15-17 May). Ahead of the conference we’ll be publishing an office special, with essays from BCO chief executive Richard Kauntze, AHMM’s Simon Allford, Ben Adams and FAT’s Sam Jacobs and a selection of recently completed projects, including MoreySmith’s new offices for Argent. We’ll also be launching an exciting ideas competition for the future of office receptions, so stay tuned.

At the BCO conference I’m chairing session 4B, Survival of the Fittest, with panelists Benjamin Lesser of Derwent London, EPR Architects’ Jason Balls and Hoare Lee’s Ashley Bateson. The intention is, after a few short presentations for inspiration, to discuss the drivers of well-being, creativity, productivity and sustainability in offices over tapas and wine.

How do we sell sustainability as the obvious commercial choice? How do we make the property industry less wasteful in natural and human resources? How can we design our workplaces, including fit-out, for a longer adaptable life span? And finally, does the UK have the right balance of skills and craftsmanship to deliver better
office buildings? If you are coming to the BCO conference and would like to join us, prebook our session here.

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