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AJ100 2010 interview: Alan Robson, Feilden + Mawson

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‘We have tried to keep ahead of the curve, especially with regards to expenditure, reducing it before the work declines’

How have you coped with the last year?

We have tried to keep ahead of the curve, especially with regards to expenditure, reducing it before the work declines. This has involved more management time on projects and asking all staff to be more flexible with what they do on projects. Sadly we have had to reduce staff numbers and not take on as many trainees.

Have you made any changes in the way your practice operates?

We have certainly been more selective on what we bid for and about our fee bids. There have been a lot of very low fee bids and we are not keen to ‘buy work’ - that does not make  financial sense. We have begun reporting in more detail on staff usage on projects, to make sure we are as efficient as we can be. We have also increased our marketing efforts, especially to existing clients and our professional network.

Are there any sectors or parts of the world in which you see particular hope?

We have done overseas projects, mainly when users or clients have wanted our skills on buildings they are working on, hence our work in China, Malaysia and the Middle East. However, over the years this has become less pro  table and certainly UKbased work has been more pro  table for us. We are always on the lookout for ways to transfer our skills to similar projects abroad - does anyone know of a country seeking a supreme court?

What exciting projects are you currently working on?

We are working on several governmentbuilding refurbishments with challenging programmes and deliverables, but I can’t make public where these are. There’s also an interesting education/commercial public building in Lincolnshire. We’re finishing the external works around the Supreme Court, a new public space in Parliament Square, London, which is interesting. We’re also working with hospital trusts on their historic buildings, finding new uses for buildings and spaces on the estates. There’s a little museum in Sheringham, Norfolk, which is a real community effort, plus some interesting housing work in London and East Anglia.

What do you think your practice will be like in five years’ time?

Hopefully back to 30+ architects. I suspect we will be doing more private-sector work as UK government spending is reduced. Retirements will see a new generation of partners coming onto the scene, which is always an exciting prospect.

What is the greatest challenge facing the architectural profession?

It seems to be increasingly marginalised by others seeking to take over the construction role that was once the domain of architects. We really need to fight for this role.

If you hadn’t been an architect, what would you have been?

There wasn’t really any choice for me, but I would probably have been an architectural historian.

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