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The extraordinary extent of the ambition of the SMC Group has been revealed after company bosses announced that it hopes to become the biggest practice in the world by the end of next year.

The hugely acquisitive listed firm believes it could be employing 1,000 architects within the next 14 months.

At the last count BDP, number one in the 2006 AJ100, employed 281 architects.

Indeed, growth at this level would see SMC overtake HOK - with 937 - as the largest architectural business on the planet.

If most of the 1,000 architects were UK-based, this would see SMC employing roughly 5 per cent of the active architects working in Britain.

SMC founder and chief executive Stewart McColl has made it clear that he wants to develop divisions in all major sectors. Earlier this year he set up both SMC Healthcare and SMC Education to exploit these specialist markets.

The practice - which regularly makes fresh share offerings to help pay for its conveyor belt of takeovers - is keen to have its divisions competing with the top practices in each sector, for example taking on the likes of Nightingale Associates in healthcare.

McColl has recently insisted that there are many more acquisitions in the offing, publicly stating that he would soon be taking over an office with a similar reputation to Will Alsop's practice, which he bought earlier this year.

He has also stated that he is 'not finished yet with Scotland' - despite recently snapping up the Parr Partnership, one of the biggest practices north of the border.

'There are sectors that we are not covering significantly at the moment, such as transport, and we are also keen to do more large-scale healthcare, ' SMC director Gordon Watson said.

'We have not got much in the way of the shopping-centre market either. Adding more talented people in established practices to the group is the way to resolve this.

'Last time we looked, HOK employed 937 architects, and that makes them considerably larger than us, but we predict that there's room to become bigger.

'I'm sure we will be the largest in the world sometime in 2007, ' Watson added.

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