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AJ100 analysis: Return to the good old days?

Analysis index image   Purple
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It has taken almost a decade, but the number of architects employed by the nation’s largest practices is now within touching distance of the record highs before the recession

2016.09.07   AJ100 Graphs   Architects Employed 1995 2016

2016.09.07 AJ100 Graphs Architects Employed 1995 2016

The AJ100 league table, the annual bellwether of the industry’s fortunes, reveals that architect staffing levels reached near pre-recession levels in 2015. 

The 106 practices in this year’s league table collectively employed 6,811 ARB-registered architects in the UK, 793 more than the previous year.

Comparing like with like, the practices which also featured in the AJ100 last year together employed 793 more architects in the UK at the start of 2016 than they did at the start of 2015 – a 14 per cent increase.

2016.09.07   AJ100 Graphs   Total ARB

2016.09.07 AJ100 Graphs Total ARB

The data was collected earlier this year before fears over the EU referendum and market uncertainty took hold, leading some practices to make redundancies. But there is no doubt about which practice remains the UK’s largest. Foster + Partners tops the rankings for the fifth year in a row, adding 95 architects to its UK personnel. Norman Foster’s company now boasts 407 qualified architects within its 1,221-strong permanent UK workforce.

2016.09.07   AJ100 Graphs   Most inspiring architect

The practice billed a huge £190 million in architectural fees – up £5 million from the previous year and more than four times the amount racked up by the architects in second place, BDP (£43 million). And in our survey Norman Foster was again named by AJ100 practices as the architect who most inspires their work, topping a list of more than 30 people – all male.

2016.09.07   AJ100 Graphs   Chart toppers

2016.09.07 AJ100 Graphs Chart toppers

The employees, however, honoured the late Zaha Hadid with this year’s Contribution to the Profession award, decided by vote. Her practice has also climbed four places into third spot after doubling the number of UK architects on its payroll from 118 to 236.

Overall, 77 practices added to their tally of registered architects, while only 16 practices reported employing fewer architects in the UK than at the start of 2015. Collectively, the AJ100 practices employ nearly 36,000 people in this country, including freelancers and those on short-term contracts. But three huge multidisciplinary firms – Atkins, Capita ESA and Jacobs – account for more than half of this number.

Steve McGuckin, global managing director at Turner & Townsend and a former architect with Grimshaw, says: ‘The growth in the size of practices in the AJ100 is not surprising.

‘The increase in scale of the major projects, the return of investment in infrastructure and the number of masterplans that are at or near to the green light means, inevitably, that the top practices have scaled up in response to the value and number of projects on the go.’

2016.09.07   AJ100 Graphs   Aggregate income

2016.09.07 AJ100 Graphs Aggregate income

Income to UK offices for jobs in the UK and overseas was £1.255 billion in 2015. The most successful 20 practices in terms of UK fee income account for half of this, with Foster + Partners alone making up nearly 14 per cent of the total.

Ninety-nine of the practices that appeared in last year’s AJ120 reported their fees for both this and last year, and among these the aggregate fee income was up £131.4 million, a 12 per cent rise on last year’s total. This is less than last year’s increase of nearly 21 per cent but is still impressive growth, particularly in a sluggish economy.

The findings echo those of the RIBA’s Future Trends Survey. Adrian Dobson, the institute’s executive director of members, says: ‘Workload growth has been strong throughout the past year and this is the 12th consecutive quarter in which we have recorded workloads rising, as the value of work in progress begins to climb back towards pre-recession levels.’

He adds that it was also the ninth consecutive quarter in which the practices surveyed by the RIBA recorded an increase in staffing levels.

Dave Madden, director and owner of recruitment consultant Mustard, also believes the AJ’s figures reflect the profession’s re-emergence from the economic doldrums. ‘The AJ100 data definitely matches how we feel in the marketplace right now,’ he says. ‘We have a few clients currently in that enviable position of turning work away. [While] there is a little worry that, because the market is so residential-driven, it can’t last, the sensible companies seem to be hiring in skills in new markets.’ He adds: ‘Because of the sustained growth in the market it has also meant that hiring has stayed as a priority but firms are still looking to stay lean and are demanding very specific criteria.’

2016.09.07   AJ100 Graphs   Short term contracted employees

2016.09.07 AJ100 Graphs Short term contracted employees

A growing phenomenon is the use of short-term contractors and freelancers – 78 practices reported employing at least one person on these terms, adding up to 3,338 positions. In one firm, short-termers and freelancers constitute a quarter of the workforce, although 6 per cent is more typical.

Ken Shuttleworth of Make, ranked 24th this year, sounds a word of warning about the data. He says: ‘[The figures] show the market’s continuing confidence last year when leaving Europe wasn’t on the agenda, but don’t really reflect the current feelings that everything is in “pause” mode, awaiting the outcome of the referendum. The increase in temporary contracts shows this nervousness. It will be interesting to see next year’s figures if the UK exits the EU.’

2016.09.07   AJ100 Graphs   Best Archi School

And where can one expect the best architects of the future to come from? If the respondents to the AJ100 survey are to be believed, they are likely to have trained at the Bartlett, Bath or the Welsh School of Architecture in Cardiff – first, second and third respectively in survey respondents’ ranking of architecture schools. The Bartlett, which celebrates its 175th anniversary this year, has been the number one school of choice for the past 13 years.




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