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Does the latest chapter in the SMC Group's relentless expansion (pages 10-11) confirm Paul Hyett's prediction that medium-sized architectural practices have had their day?

Certainly, SMC's directors are keen to present it as a logical response to changes in the market - another weapon in the fight for the 'town-centre regeneration, schools and hospitals, and mixeduse developments' which have benefited the 'larger, integrated architectural businesses' over the last decade.

It's a perfectly sensible strategy, but one entirely at odds with SMC's claims that its charges are not integrated at all; that, on the contrary, they are to maintain their individual identities and to be managed with a 'light touch'.

So which are we to believe? The fortunes of its most famous acquisition suggest that there is scope for personality to ourish within the SMC ranks. Alsop is as irrepressible as ever, his projects as amboyant, his profile just as high.

The message to potential recruits is clear: the addition of the SMC prefix has no discernable impact on creativity or critical acclaim.

But Stewart McColl's confession to the Scotsman that he has been targeting 'wellestablished firms run by the second or third generation of management' suggests that the Alsop purchase is to remain an exception.

The preference is for practices 'less likely to face fisuccession issuesfl', where sense of ownership is weaker and staff may be ready to cede control.

The eponymous founder/frontman is too much trouble altogether. Yet the Alsop acquisition has already paid dividends. Would-be recruits can reassure themselves - and their clients - that they are joining the ranks of Stirling Prize-calibre architects, rather than giving in to the demands of the marketplace, or sacrificing their independence. How many new recruits would have joined the SMC ranks had Alsop not already made the move?

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