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Reasons to be cheerful

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Even in hard times, there are opportunities that architects should pursue, says Paul Finch

It is a decade since I wrote an editorial for The Architects’ Journal; I return for a brief period as acting editor while we find a replacement for Kieran Long, who has left us to pursue (among other things) a career  in television. For the next few weeks, this column will be filled with different voices, all with an AJ connection.

Until 18 months ago, the profession had enjoyed 12 years of stability – an unprecedented experience in recent decades. Underwritten as it was by the Private Finance Initiative, prospects for the next few years are not immediately promising, since this government has already spelled out the consequences of its own management of the economy: a 50 per cent cut in capital spending over the next five years. Note that capital spending is not the same as public spending, since the latter, alas, includes debt repayment.

As previous recessions have shown, architects are resilient, and good at adapting to changed circumstances. The question is, what new fields of work might become available, or what existing fields might represent richer pasture for creative professionals, working in territory that continues to be of significant public concern?

The big picture is not changing much: a relatively rich and stable country with a prosperous economy (despite the debt); an increasing population (note the demographics on age disposition); a huge housing requirement; governments committed to major environmental programmes; plans for major infrastructure investment; and so on. This is a time for the profession in general (including schools of architecture), and practices in particular, to think about what it is they could be providing over the next decade.

Underlying this is the prospect of the profession establishing a new relationship with a public that is interested in its values and aspirations, provided they are relevant to the prevailing social and economic circumstances. That relationship might be based on the trust that bankers, the financial community and their accountancy and audit hangers-ons have utterly lost.

Paul Finch is acting editor of the AJ, and its editorial director. He edited the magazine from 1994-99

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