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Building Design Partnership has definitively held its position at the head of the list of large practices - despite having one architect fewer than last year, it still employs 27 architects more than Chapman Taylor, in second place. This performance may not seem spectacular, but bdp chairman Richard Saxon is pleased with it. 'We have maintained momentum,' he said, 'in spite of downturns in a number of sectors in which we specialise. pfi still has to bear fruit for us in a number of projects we are involved with.' The industrial, laboratories and large retail sectors are also all suffering.

'We are holding the fort,' Saxon said, 'but we have got a lot more overseas work, particularly in retail. We are winning projects against the best in the world.'

There are a number of practices showing impressive growth: Sheppard Robson with an increase of 32 architects; Aukett Associates up 42; and hok International up 33. Starting from a smaller base, Terry Farrell & Partners has put on 18 architects, a growth of nearly 50 per cent. And down in joint 99th position, Manser Associates, a new entrant, shows the most dramatic growth of all, having trebled in size to 18 architects. There are a few losers as well. rmjm has shed 16 staff, Benoy 20, Lewis & Hickey 10, Capita Property Services 10, and the Charter Partnership 10.

It will be interesting to watch a new practice which registers in an old form on these charts. Holford Associates and Abbey Hanson Rowe (respectively ranked 23rd and 35th) completed their merger on 1 April this year to form Abbey Holford Rowe. The new practice benefits from the different geographical spread and portfolios of the two constituents, and is also looking ahead to new markets. The sum of their staffing in 1998, at 95, would have placed them in 10th position. The new practice has certainly joined the big league.

Women architects

For the first time this year we have requested information on the number of women employed as architects in practices. The results are not surprising, but not encouraging either. Best score of all goes to bdg McColl with 25 women out of a total of 58. No surprise surely that this practice is strong in interiors, the ghetto into which women architects have traditionally been shunted. Other relatively strong performers are Geoffrey Reid Associates (30 women out of 82), Damond Lock Grabowski and Partners (10 out of 28)and Pollard Thomas & Edwards (eight out of 20).

It seems invidious to single out the worst performers, since many of the offenders are probably those who declined to answer this question. But there are no gold stars for hok International (six women out of 110), Foster and Partners (five out of 109), Gensler (three out of 63), Mason Richards Partnership (two out of 38), Architects Co-Partnership (one out of 21), The Charter Partnership (one out of 20), and Buttress Fuller Alsop Williams (one out of 18). Scott Brownrigg & Turner, Temple Cox Nicholls Group and Kennedy & Donkin say they employ no women architects at all.

Fee income

Foster and Partners sits in its usual place at the top of the league for architectural fee income, although it does not have the highest income per qualified architect. That accolade goes to Richard Rogers Partnership with a cool quarter of a million brought in by each architect employed there. Architects at hlm Design are also outstripping Fosters in its earning capacity. At Fosters, hok, bdp, Rogers, Broadway Malyan and Benoy, all of which appeared in the equivalent table last year, earnings per head have risen since last year, in some cases quite dramatically. At Rogers they have gone up by £42,000.

In terms of rises in total architectural fee income, the most dramatic performer is bdg McColl with an increase of 66 per cent, followed by W S Atkins Architects with a rise of 55 per cent. bdg McColl expects this growth trajectory to continue, albeit less dramatically, since it is forecasting growth of 20 per cent for 1999. Manser Associates is also in the optimists table, with anticipated growth of 28 per cent - actually relatively modest considering the trebling in staff. The most extravagant prediction comes from Wimberley Allison Tong & Goo, the us/ international practice that, with its speciality in leisure developments, is not known for its modesty.

Total fee income is, not surprisingly, largest among the multi-disciplinary practices, but Foster and Partners manages to take fourth place even in that company.

Regional distribution

In the regional tables, those newly weds, Abbey Hanson Rowe and Holford Associates, dominate the tables for the North East and Scotland respectively, showing the strengths that the regional distribution will bring to the new joint practice. Ormrod & Partners, Stride Treglown, Benoy and Percy Thomas Partnership have stayed safely ensconced at the tops of their respective tables.

The strongest region outside London and the South East is the Midlands, with eight practices in the aj100 listing. Scotland comes next with seven practices, and the Northwest and the Southwest each have five.

Working overseas

Western Europe is increasing its dominance as the strongest market for practices working overseas. It is where Aukett is doing the bulk of its work, and it is the most highly placed uk-originating practice on the list of those working abroad. Work in Australasia has fallen off to virtually nothing and there has been a significant decline in the us. The slight fall in share in other areas of the world is only a reflection of the increasing share taken by the European market.

Architectural heroes

As every year since this survey began, Foster & Partners has waltzed away with the title of most admired architect. However, it only received 22 per cent of the vote this year, compared with 29 per cent last year. This is not due to another practice scoring highly but to a slight spreading of the votes: last year joint second place went to Alsop & Stormer and Michael Hopkins with 15 per cent each, whereas this time Richard Rogers took second place with 13 per cent. Strangely, Alsop & Stormer, as it goes from strength to strength, has lost admiration, with a fall to only 6.5 per cent approval. And Terry Farrell, which just made the top 10 last year with a rating of 3 per cent, has dropped back among those scoring a mere 1 per cent this year.

The future

The same proportion of architects feel positive about the future this year as last, with 57 per cent answering 'yes' to the question 'Do you believe the future is looking bright for architects?'. This year 21 per cent believe the answer is no, compared to 19 per cent last year. The 'don't knows' have dropped accordingly. But most building types are seen as less promising this year than last year. The only two areas where confidence has grown are both, loosely at least, in the public sector: public housing and 'other public buildings'.

Asked what they saw as the biggest issues facing the profession in the future, respondents were nearly unanimous in condemning competitive fee tendering. All those who mentioned this factor considered it a disaster and an issue that needs to be addressed urgently in a joint initiative of the riba and the government.

Many also consider the Egan Report to represent a serious threat to design quality. They see its promotion of a more partnering-based approach as likely to marginalise the architect's role in the design process, as pfi and d&b are already doing. Even where Egan is not mentioned specifically there are concerns - not new - that the architect's role as leader of the design team is gradually being eroded and needs to be reclaimed from other consultants. Many practices bemoan the government's, and clients', lack of appreciation of the value of good design. There is a need to re- establish the importance of good design in the construction industry.

Education is another matter for concern. Is it producing students of the right calibre? Is it taking account of the Egan Report? There is a general feeling that standards are dropping, not just in architecture schools but across the construction industry: skilled workers are in short supply.

Many practices seek salvation in Europe. They see the ec as offering opportunities which will spread the risks of any further recession. The downside is the amount of legislation the ec will generate.

Respondents are not immune to the debate on brownfield sites, but warn that they are only likely to provide valuable opportunities if the government supports their development and provides the necessary resources.

Other issues raised included the need for a new form of contract sitting somewhere between jct 80 and d&b, and the importance of sustainable development. There was also recognition that adaptability to change will be crucial to survival.

Research by Camargue Communications. Commentary by Ruth Slavid and Deborah Singmaster.

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