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2011: New practice predictions

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Over the last two years the professional landscape has changed radically with a wave of brave new practices emerging. The AJ asked some of these pioneers what 2011 will mean for the profession

Gavin Hutchison of Hutchison Kivotos
Founded January 2010

Architecture does not have a right to exist and it needs to make a pretty good case when finances are tight. The profession allowed itself to be castrated by the last Conservative government. We need to make sure that we fight our corner this time around. RIBA has its work cut out.

Whatever our political views are on (a half-baked policy called) Localism, it is a huge opportunity for architects.Planning Consultants are rubbing their hands in glee at the inevitable confusion and conflict that will result from a devolution of decision-making.

Architects should be using the new paradigm as a way of reconnecting with their communities at the grass roots. We are in the best position to act as honest brokers. We need to be prepared to skill up to compete on all fronts and to smooth out the development cycle. We need to be more entrepreneurial in our outlook and look at other areas of business where we can prosper.

Glyn Emrys, director of Emrys Architects
Founded December 2009

2011 may be the year we finally abandon the OJEU process. Originally designed to open up the market, it has evolved into a process that generally only rewards box-ticking large practices. The squeezed middle, as always, will have to be more creative to prosper in 2011.

Graeme Laughlan, director of Raw Architecture Workshop
Founded June 2010

2011 will be the year of the small practice and working for the big boys will remain tough. Prolonged pressure will continue to be exerted from the top down meaning more people will be reaching for the ejector lever. If you’ve got bottle, then 2011 is a great time to start a practice.

People are improving rather than moving and clients would rather pay architects’ fees than Stamp Duty

The private housing market will surge and sustain small studios. People are improving rather than moving and clients would rather pay architects’ fees than Stamp Duty.

Rud Sawers, director of Rud Sawers Architects
Founded September 2009

With banks still unwilling to take risks and underpin development, the public and alternative funding sources will hopefully be put into place. This strikes a chord with David Cameron’s Big Society picture and recognises the need for less red tape and bureaucracy in getting buildings off the ground.
Clients will select architects who can demonstrate and deliver ‘value for money’ in terms of design and meaningful sustainable payback with their buildings. By reducing overheads and becoming ‘light on one’s feet’, architects will need to continue to react to the changing economic landscape.

Sandy Rendel, founder of Sandy Rendel Architects
Founded January 2010

With the profession increasingly under siege from the pressure of an aggressive fee climate, an erosion of our recognised role and a weakening public perception, it feels that the last bastion of defence must be quality of design.

The last bastion of defence must be quality of design

This should be the most unique and valuable thing we can offer. The paradox remains that, in our environment, as the hardest thing to quantify it is the hardest thing to sell.

Chris Rhodes, founder of Chris Rhodes Architect
Founded May 2010

Localism remains important in 2011. Quite often an architect may find the bulk of their work outside with their general locale, but it will have been their immediate vicinity, certainly in my own experience, where the word of mouth, networking + contact making primarily takes place.  Family and friends may help to catalyse opportunities further afield, perhaps for initial work and particularly in this digital age where a small practice can appear global at the touch of a button, but without the cultivation of grass-roots contacts/relationships, the foundation from which a national reach may extended from might not be there and a regular stream of bread and butter work may not be tapped into.

Martin Ebert of Studio Meda
Founded June 2009

The increasing level of specialisation in the profession will be a big future trend. Ever-increasing levels of bureaucracy, specialist technical requirements and a litigation culture will force architects into particular niches. The general practitioner who can one month build a small school, and a swimming pool the next, will die out. Architects will increasingly provide specialist services such as sustainability, DDA, restoration or healthcare. Larger practices will be able to combine these skills under one roof, smaller practices will specialise.

Timothy Smith of Timothy Smith & Jonathan Taylor
Founded February 2010

It is imperative that practices charge realistic fees, and that we realise the value of our input into any project from the very small to the very large.If this does not happen there is no future for architecture – our cultural promotion begins with ourselves.

Re-use and refurbishment are a sustainable way forward for all sorts of projects. But planners, conservation officers and VAT policy should all work constructively towards this end. Permitted Development (PD) guidelines are based on an ideal which is so unusual that the scheme does not greatly reduce the planners’ input, as they need to be consulted early on and planning officers will never give a useful answer without recourse to their team leaders. PD guidelines need to be re-appraised, not resorted to as policy on those projects that require planning permission, as is often the case. If architects rely for their income on the requirement for very small jobs to submit a planning application, we are not selling our true skills adequately.

Jon Matthew at 5plus Architects
Founded October 2010

My old boss, a Scotsman, a sage and an architect’s architect, gave me two bits of memorable advice. First, don’t ever design a mushroom-coloured building and second, small is beautiful. In his opinion, a small office was fewer than 35 people and that a practice of more than that required superfluous overheads.
In post-recession 2011, can a large ‘mega’ practice compete on quality/price when local clients need local solutions to local problems? Our recent experience would suggest otherwise. Fees inevitably drop in tough times. It would seem that large offices, drunk on public sector fees and now nursing a hangover, seem yet to understand what is going on around them. We wish them well.
Smaller things make the better statement – smaller portions, smaller houses, smaller cars and local communities.

Tomas Millar of the Millar + Howard Workshop
Founded February 2009

As people get used to less money being around, this has a subtle but profound effect on the work we do. Smaller budgets might mean fewer and smaller projects, but it also means reconsidering both the way we design and the things we build. During times of austerity, the challenge facing the designer is to make sense of simple, familiar objects; to review and to re-evaluate what is essential. When things are pared down to necessity, we must take a second look at standard products and find new uses for existing buildings or materials – and this is hugely exciting.

Dan Newport of Re|form
Formed January 2010

We’d like to see the RIBA getting more involved at grass roots level and lobbying on behalf of protection of function rather than the ARB’s half-hearted title protectionism in 2011, This would ultimately give them greater standing within the profession, and not just (publically) associating themseves with the more showy events such as the Stirling prize which I think creates a false elitist view of what the Riba should be all about. 

Over the festive period I was chewing over the state of the profession with my brother-in-law who’s also an architect in co.Donegal. From the despondency he imparted I think the state of the irish economy has virtually destroyed the building industry, especially in the outlying counties. It made me sad for his situation, but also thankful that we still have opportunity and the possibility of work here.

Patricia Eckenweber of Bubble
Formed December 2009

At the best of times, the slow response times from our Planning Departments has a decelerating effect on the development progress of projects. We accept that regulatory controls are necessary and planning officers do have to ensure compliance with policy, but too often, it would appear that a lack of resource is behind these delays.  Our concern is that  in the worst of times, the spending cuts within the local authorities will mean these delays can only become greater.

Localism with its emphasis on local residents having a major say will lead to many more planning refusals

To make matters worse,  the notion of the `big society’ and `Localism’, with its emphasis on local residents having a major say on whether an application will receive approval will lead to many more planning refusals.

Dipesh Patel at Pattern Design
Founded early 2010

For the profession in general my prediction is another hard year; although many of the practices we work with seem to be seeing an upturn. Large practices which have offices - rather than just work - overseas seem to be the strongest.

Because of our size and the work we have already secured we hope to have a stable year and hopefully grow a little. That is a huge change from our first year which, while fun, had a few false dawns and we were always wondering if we would make it to the end of 2011. The nature of the profession is really interesting. Many of the larger consultancies are growing by acquisition. This serves to create large process focused practices; their very size, ownership structure and systems make them quite conservative in terms of finance, process and design. Fees are less than they were and this must be very difficult for big practices with large overheads.
We have been quite firm on fees; our rates are competitive but we don’t want to give the work away and certainly not make a loss. This is very hard but I think it gets you good clients; those that want to select on fees alone are best avoided.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I have worked alongside a number of new practices in the past three years, encouraging them to punch above their weight and always to ensure they are engaged for an appropriate fee.

    With reference to winning new projects learning to listen is vital to long-term success. That way a new practice can rapidly gain a reputation for design solutions that meet the brief and exceed the client's expectations.

    The other thing that I attempt to get across to client architects is that they should always communicate the benefits of the features that have been incorporated in their design.
    'The proposed fair-faced concrete walls and the polished concrete floors are not just aesthetically pleasing; they also contribute thermal mass, which means that the energy requirement will be less'.

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