Business models, technology and staffing: Three experts on what is in store for 2015
3D printing will enter the mainstream in architecture
Perhaps the best indicator of how technology will develop this year can be found in trends that emerged in 2014.
Over the past year, 3D printing became mainstream in many areas, with 3D printers now in use at the International Space Station, and even Barack Obama having his own 3D-printed bust. But how does this relate to architecture? Will 2015 be the year that this technology is applied to construction?
A few milestones were reached in 2014 that would suggest this is the case. Arup undertook a research study where it optimised a 3D-printed node connection. Although this work is still at an early stage, and the cost of the node is prohibitive for use on a live project, there are potential applications for architecture.
Also in 2014, a Chinese company used concrete to 3D-print 10 houses in 24 hours. Although the results were crude and the added advantage of this method over a typical pre-case construction process is disputable, it does again serve to demonstrate that this technology is now feasible at a commercial level.
Foster + Partners has restarted its concrete printing project and, together with companies such as Skanska, Lafarge Tarmac, Buchan Concrete, ABB Robotics and Loughborough University, we are now looking at commercialising this process – a move that we believe will make concrete printed building elements a reality in the near future.
- Xavier De Kestelier, partner, specialist modelling group, Foster + Partners
Practices will need to assert their raisons d’etre in order to thrive
If the nature of Colander’s workload is anything to go by, then we are entering a new phase in the economic cycle: increasingly, our architectural clients are examining why they are in business and what they want to achieve – simply remaining in business does not equate to fulfilment; practices want to reassert their raison d’être.
The ubiquitous challenge is to raise client expectations so fees return to something resembling equity. This critical task is beholden on the whole profession – a collective explanation of the value that architects bring to their clients is long overdue.
Meantime, the recession has brought radical changes, and already practices are adapting. Two examples:
Firstly, reflecting clients’ piecemeal procurement, many practices now specialise by work stage: the number of firms delivering other architects’ designs – expertly and beautifully – is increasing.
Secondly, global markets have been embedded in the psyche of even small practices, and the interdisciplinary collaborative teamwork that goes hand in hand with international work is flourishing.
These and other changes have a profound effect on the leadership and delivery of projects. Success no longer depends just on the quality of a design idea but also on the business model that brings it to fruition. The shrewd practices will spend time and energy on the ‘business of architecture’, to ensure that they can coax their dreams to reality.
- Caroline Cole, founder and director, Colander
Practices will need to work even harder to recruit and retain talent
The architecture industry begins 2015 with a renewed confidence. My team works with practices of all sizes in London, around the UK, and abroad, and we expect 2014’s encouraging performance to continue into the new year.
Given the consistent upturn in workloads, our clients have been able to focus on improving practice infrastructure. I would suggest this should be a priority for all architects in 2015. Practices need to work hard to attract high-calibre staff and retain valued team members. Larger practices, those with low staff turnovers and well researched salary bands, have developed more personal benefits packages and developed programmes to help employees thrive. More consistent workloads at small and medium sized studios have allowed directors to raise salaries, take the office on trips abroad and present their teams with a range of exciting new projects. These studios can now, once again, offer invaluable job-running experience, client interaction and involvement on projects from concept through to completion.
Job seekers now have a much wider choice, with practices hiring at all levels. We’re witnessing how candidates are more attracted to those larger practices that promote a more collaborative work ethic, sharing competition entries with smaller or medium sized studios, making for a richer experience for all involved.
Sourcing good staff will be even more tricky in 2015, and retaining talented people will be of utmost importance as the talent pool dries up even further.
- Tamsyn Curley, director, Place Careers