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AJ100 #07: Atkins

Atkins dean trust ardwick academy manchester
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Atkins has strengthened its position as an AJ100 big-hitter by boosting its expertise, climbing three places in the rankings as a result

The firm added 19 permanent architects to its UK head count during 2016, reflecting growth in its core markets of education, transportation and ‘citizen development’ (mixed use projects). Higher education revenue was up 50 per cent in 2016/17 on the previous year on the back of high-profile wins. 

The practice’s plans for a new School of Architecture and Built Environment at the University of Wolverhampton, part of the £100 million redevelopment of a derelict brewery site, received the go-ahead in October 2016. In March this year, Atkins secured the contract to design a new college for West London College – a further and higher education college – on its Hammersmith and Fulham site as part of a £500 million mixed-use development. 

‘We’ve had a good year financially,’ says Atkins’ director Philip Watson. ‘We have plans for growth in the UK, particularly in the core markets – education, transportation, citizen development – and we will grow head count with recruitment into those sectors, definitely. We are also looking to grow our revenue.’

Growth, he says, will be down to work Atkins secured in the last financial year, which will start to deliver this year and in 2018, and also to identifying opportunities in its core sectors. Railway stations are also of particular interest to the practice, and it is developing the masterplan for the remodelling of Leeds Station to accommodate HS2 and is about to hand over the completed Cambridge North Station. 

Overseas, Atkins has seen a significant number of its projects go on site or be completed, including the opening in August of its 2,000-seat Dubai Opera multi-format theatre. 

In Vietnam, the 460m-high Vincom Landmark 81 tower – set to be the country’s tallest building – is under construction in Ho Chi Minh City. Meanwhile Atkins is on site with two buildings in Morocco as part of its masterplan for a new cultural hub in the capital Rabat: the Library of National Archives, which will document the country’s cultural heritage; and the House of Arts and Culture, providing exhibition and workshop space for artists.

Jason Speechly-Dick, Atkins’ head of architecture and design, says the outlook internationally is ‘steady as she goes’. He adds that the practice’s Middle East and Asia Pacific teams are capitalising on the fact that economies in Asia, particularly China, are ‘much more buoyant’ than had been expected.

Later this year Atkins will start rolling out Wellbriefing, an innovative design tool which won this year’s AJ100 Best Use of Technology prize. 

Currently being trialled on four projects, the tool considers nine aspects of wellbeing and captures the preferences of the building’s end-users so they can be prioritised in the design. 

‘It’s trying to make the human experience as important as the cost to build or the cost to operate, so clients and designers can make better-informed decisions about how we spend money on the built environment in an evidence-based way,’ Watson says.

Atkins, which will celebrate its 80th birthday next year with the completion of its new offices for 1,000 staff in Epsom, recently shook hands on a £2.1 billion deal for Canadian engineering giant SNC-Lavalin to take over the company. ‘The general feeling within the office is quite buoyant, in that they offer a complementary part of the business to us in building design,’ says Speechly-Dick. 

The acquisition might not help Atkins architects’ ongoing PR battle, however. 

Watson is irritated that they are always fighting against the fact people are often unaware that Atkins even employs architects. ‘“Engineering giant Atkins” is how we’re always positioned,’ he says. ‘We are a small discipline within a larger business but that doesn’t mean to say that we aren’t innovative, that we don’t do great design. 

‘We can match anybody on our day in terms of design quality.’

Atkins key data

  • Number of qualified architects in UK 135
  • Total fees per UK architect £666,700
  • Age of practice 79
  • Female architects in UK 27%
  • BAME architects in UK 18%
  • Design awards won in 2016 5
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