The AJ100 survey presents a snapshot of a resilient and optimistic profession prior to the pandemic
It seems hard to imagine now, but AJ100 practices entered this year in a spirit of optimism after another resilient year for the profession. Bruce Tether, professor of management at the Alliance Manchester Business School at the University of Manchester and Research Director of the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre, analyses the data.
Asked to grade their expectations on a scale between very pessimistic and very optimistic, 65 per cent declared themselves to be optimistic, compared with 39 per cent last year.
A further 5 per cent identified as very optimistic, up from 2 per cent the year before.
Only 3 per cent were pessimistic, a fall from 13 per cent the year before, and none were very pessimistic. Last year’s largest group – ‘neutral’ (45 per cent) – had fallen to 27 per cent by the start of 2020.
This optimism was also reflected in growth expectations. Slightly more than half of the AJ100 practices expected to increase their architectural head count in the UK during 2020, while the remainder expected to remain the same size. Just one practice expected to become smaller.
This positive outlook seemed well-founded after a resilient year in which aggregate architecture fee income to UK offices rose by 5 per cent to £1.375 billion, while the number of architects employed at the AJ100 practices was fairly constant, nudging up from 6,972 to 7,001.
Given that this year’s cohort was 104 practices, one more than the year before, the figures are nearly equivalent, with the minimum number of employees for inclusion in the AJ100 this year – 26 – down two from the year before.
For the ninth year running, the largest employer of architects in the UK is Foster + Partners, with 381 architects – up 19 from last year.
BDP is again second, but has narrowed the gap to just 20, after increasing its architect numbers by 31.
After a rise in architects of 19 to 285, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris has overtaken Zaha Hadid Architects (270, down three) to move into third position.
Sheppard Robson (180, up three) has moved into fifth place, swapping places with Allies and Morrison (170, down 12). Grimshaw (152, up 10) remains in seventh position.
The top 10 is completed by Atkins (151, up 14); Hawkins\Brown (137, down three), Stride Treglown (125, up 12) and Scott Brownrigg (121, down 10). Together, these 10 account for nearly one third of all of the architects employed by the AJ100 practices, while the top 23 account for half of the AJ100’s architects.
Additional reporting by Pamela Buxton.
|2020 Rank||Practice ||2019 rank||Qualified architects in UK||Permanent staff in UK||Architecture fees paid to UK offices||Architecture fees paid to UK & overseas offices|
All fees rounded to nearest £1,000 *Perkins&Will architecture fees for UK offices only
Aggregate UK employment of architects increased by 140, with more than half (57) of the practices increasing their head count of architects among the 99 practices appearing on both this and last year’s lists.
In absolute terms, BDP grew fastest, adding 31 architects in the UK, followed by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris and Fosters, both of which added 19, then Wilkinson Eyre (+18) and WATG (+17).
In relative terms, WATG led the pack with a 45 per cent increase in its number of UK architects, followed by Perkins&Will (+27 per cent, which includes the acquisition of Penoyre and Prasad) and Corstorphine + Wright (+25 per cent).
In absolute terms, PLP reduced its architect head count by the most (down 33), followed by NORR (-21). Together with Rolfe Judd (-17), these firms reduced their architect head count by a third or more.
In terms of numbers of architectural staff, Corstorphine + Wright reported the greatest absolute and relative expansion (+47; up 36 per cent), followed by BDP (+43), Atkins (+40), Fosters (+37) and AHMM and Jacobs (both +36).
Squire and Partners reported the greatest absolute contraction in architectural staff (-38), while in relative terms Rolfe Judd contracted the most (-39 per cent). Populous, Bond Bryan and NORR also reported contracting their architectural staff by 25 per cent.
This year, the AJ100’s total number of permanently employed architectural staff was 12,053, up 29 on the previous year, while total permanent employment including non-architectural staff was 29,102, up 1,411 on last year’s total.
As always, this figure is heavily influenced by the few large multidisciplinary businesses in the AJ100 – Atkins and Jacobs alone account for about 45 per cent of this employment. Fosters and BDP remain the largest ‘pure’ architecture practice employers, with 1,172 and 1,016 permanent employees respectively.
During 2019, 10 practices opened new offices in the UK, three fewer than last year. Three of these were in London (Broadway Malyan, Corstorphine + Wright, Stephen George + Partners), two in Leeds (Purcell and tp bennett), and one each in Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Manchester. Seven practices also anticipated opening UK offices during 2020 and three anticipated closing offices during 2020.
These pre-pandemic findings of a stable and optimistic picture broadly tally with the data from the RIBA’s Future Trends survey, according to RIBA executive director professional services Adrian Dobson.
‘The overall pattern is similar, but the Future Trends data suggests that 2019 was a little more muted for practices in general than the AJ100, with workloads being maintained but at a level about 10 per cent below 2018, and employment levels remaining good, but salaries slightly depressed,’ he says.
‘I agree that last year was one of resilience – I’d say 2019 was a surprisingly good year,’ said Vince Nacey of building industry analysts The Fees Bureau, adding that, while the impact of Covid-19 on the profession is currently unknowable, the inevitable recession will be far worse than the last one.
Recovery may depend on how far the government will be willing, or able, to stimulate the public sector.
‘Architects generally suffer far greater in comparison with construction in general, and construction suffers far more than overall GDP. Even if GDP falls by just 1 per cent, we’d expect a 12 per cent ensuing fall in the architectural market, and we’re looking at something far grimmer than that,’ he says.
Dobson anticipates some recovery as construction sites get back up and running, but says that concerns persist over client confidence and the future pipeline of work.
‘Our best guess at present is that we will see a sharp contraction in architectural workloads in late summer or autumn but that, with the right government stimulus to public and private sector investment and the re-invigoration of the housing market, there could still be a strong recovery in 2021,’ he says.
More data insight from AJ100 2020 – including fees and salaries – will be published throughout the week
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