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Job losses at the top could signal revival for smaller practices

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Redundancies are in the news. So is it time to dust down the portfolio and pep up the CV? When staff at the most successful practices (Grimshaw, Gensler, etc) are in danger of losing their jobs, it is easy to conclude that there is very little hope for anybody else.But before succumbing to collective paranoia, it is worth considering whether the opposite could be true.

Last week, the RIBA survey of small firms painted a picture of an industry where small practices flounder while a few high-profile practices monopolize large commissions.Grimshaw is a case in point. Its current job losses reflect the reality that, this year alone, it has completed - or is shortly to complete - eight major projects. But the fact that this building bonanza is drawing to a close suggests that the market is beginning to fragment. Grimshaw's recent buildings could be loosely described as 'landmark projects'or, in the language of our times, as 'catalysts for regeneration'. The point about catalysts is that they spark off a chain of events.The fact that the big boys have completed their tasks and are scaling down their own practices should be a signal that the much-talked-about 'knock-on effect' is about to kick in.

Post Bilbao, the notion that architecture can play a key role in regeneration has been acknowledged by everybody and positively embraced by architects.

But it is only now that we will begin to see whether we have applied the principal with any success. Now that we have our quota of galleries and cultural centres and visitor experiences, shouldn't we be seeing a shift to the smaller projects - cafes, bars, hotels and shops - which serve the new influx of visitors to the area?

Projects which large practices find unprofitable but which are perfectly suited to the smaller and mediumsized firm.

If the regeneration model goes according to plan, job losses in big practices should not be taken as a sign of imminent recession but as an inevitable stage in the cycle. And as a long-awaited signal that it is time for the smaller practice to take centre stage.

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