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AJ120 #05: Capita | ESA

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147 employed architects, 24% female architects, ninth position in 2014

The Capita group has a staff of 68,000 people across the world and in 2014 it posted a net income just shy of £240 million. In the UK the group is sometimes criticised in the press for its failures and setbacks, particularly in its operations in the public sector. In the design and property arm, it employs around 1,000 people, of which 147 work for the UK-based design and architecture team. For Capita | ESA (the group acquired the 100-year-old Hull-based firm in 2011), this association will always hinder the prospect of developing an identity as an independent practice – the studio will forever stand on the shoulder of the giant that owns it. It’s a perennial problem for a firm (in its various guises) that has been in the top 10 of the AJ100 since 2010.

‘Our practice is like a traditional practice,’ says design director Christopher Boyce. ‘Eighty per cent of our staff sit among models, computers and drawings. We are very much a design-focused practice; design drives the output of the business.

‘There are very creative and capable people working here – the Capita group is quite hands-off.’

Being part of such a machine does have its benefits, too – the other parts of the property division comprise engineers, property consultants and infrastructure experts who regularly collaborate with the architecture team. ‘It offers an insight into bigger business,’ says Boyce. ‘It’s not often that you will have architects working with real estate and investment consultants. Sometimes you might find us working with wholly Capita design delivery teams. However, in other sectors you might find us engaged with a load of other consultants, like a normal architecture practice.’

The practice is looking to recruit

For the past 12 months work has continued on the integration of Capita and ESA (the company now has a unified board of directors). Boyce says that the restructuring of the studio is pretty much complete and it is looking to recruit. ‘In terms of our marketplace perception, this is a big change for us,’ he adds. ‘The work that we can now do on offices and commercial developments complements our public sector works.’ Since last year the number of qualified architectural staff in the studio has increased by more than 50 per cent and architectural fees for schemes in the UK are up more than £1 million from £14.5 million in 2013 to £15.8 million in 2014. The studio established in Poland has continued to thrive, growing over the past year. The firm has embraced technology that allows employees in the UK to work alongside their Europe-based colleagues in real time.

‘Our workload is now about 50/50 across private and public sector. That’s a big change for us,’ says Boyce. Key projects that are currently on site include the £250 million prison for Lend Lease in Wrexham, Wales and in the past year the practice has delivered the Brooks Building at Manchester Metropolitan as part of the £139 million Birley Fields Masterplan. Future projects include a £40 million project for Capital Regional in Durham and an office building on Lime Street in the City of London. ‘The big challenge in the near future will be addressing the way the public sector is going to be spending money and working out the procurement processes for the next two years,’ says Boyce. ‘The biggest opportunities lie in the private sector. We are looking at the office market regionally. We’re keen to push our commercial and private practice in Manchester and the north of England particularly.’

The situation for Capita | ESA is looking strong; the firm has climbed the AJ120 rankings, with total architectural fees earned slightly down on last year at £16.2 million. With the new majority government and such a comprehensive support network for the firm, it would be a surprise if the next few years do not prove fruitful. ‘I think we are a high-quality design practice,’ says Boyce. ‘We could do with shedding the problems that we have had with brand awareness and image.’

AJ120 Capita

AJBL Capita



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