Most AJ100 practices remain optimistic about growth prospects; those that prioritise creativity charge higher fees; and use of BIM, drones and 3D printing continues to rise
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This year’s AJ100 data paints a rosy picture, reflecting the major growth across the profession in the past 12 months. Asked ‘What is your outlook for 2016?’, the vast majority of the AJ100 practices – 73 per cent – said they were optimistic.
The figures echo the findings of the RIBA Future Trends Survey, which has, in most months, reported a positive outlook for the profession, particularly among those working in the North.
2016.09.07 AJ100 Graphs What is your outlook
However, there has been a drop in confidence compared with the sunnier results from last year, when a huge 84 per cent said they were optimistic about the future. This dip is perhaps caused by a reported slowdown in London’s high-end residential market and early uncertainty over the EU referendum. Despite this, Gerard Daws of design management consultancy Plan A, says that few of its architectural clients were predicting a return to the ‘dark days’ of 2010. ‘Most practices expect to ride out the current nervousness,’ he explains.
‘Across the UK, there are still a number of high-profile mega-schemes to keep the big practices happy.
‘Likewise, the oil price is levelling in the Middle East and, if the polls are correct, the distraction of Brexit will come and go in the short term.’
Asked about recruitment or contraction plans for 2016, all but five of the AJ100 practices said they expect to grow in the UK, although most at a steady rather than a spectacular rate. However, if all the reported plans are realised, the total head count of permanent employees in the AJ100 practices will increase by a whopping 3,300 in the UK.
Practices were asked to rate the factors that contribute to the making of a good architectural practice across six criteria – being a good place to work, client satisfaction and repeat business, peer recognition, profit margin, ability to win new business and creativity. Client satisfaction came out top, with an average of 22 points. Peer recognition was considered least important, with an average of seven points; indeed, 11 practices gave no weight to this at all.
Comparing responses of different groups of practices reveals that those charging higher fees placed less weight on client satisfaction and repeat business, with creativity being ranked most highly, followed by the practice being a good place to work. These practices also placed slightly higher weight on peer recognition, and less weight on profit margin than the firms who billed at a lower rate.
In contrast, those who charge relatively low fees put greater weight on profit margin – perhaps because they must.
Those in the ‘middle’ in terms of fee rates placed greater emphasis on client satisfaction and repeat business than on all other categories.
The growing use of drones on projects is among the key changes in how practices work on a day-to-day basis, according to those featured in this year’s AJ100.
In 2015 almost eight out of 10 firms said they had no experience of the emerging ‘eye-in-the sky’ technology; 12 months later that proportion has dropped to 68 per cent, with one practice saying it is using drones ‘extensively’.
2016.09.07 AJ100 Graphs Working Techniques
Less surprisingly, Building Information Modelling (BIM) use has continued to balloon. In 2015, 59 per cent of AJ120 firms said they were using BIM extensively – in 2016, 74 per cent of firms in the AJ100 are doing so. Only one firm says it had yet to have any involvement with the technology.
There has been further growth in 3D-printed models too – with only 16 per cent of practices not yet using the technology.
Meanwhile the nation’s largest firms are less likely to employ a director of sustainability or equivalent, measure their carbon footprint or engage in low-carbon continuing professional development. This could, however, also be down to sustainability becoming more integrated into everyday working practices.
2016.09.07 AJ100 Graphs Sustainability