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AJ100: Reasons to be cheerful amid the gloom

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The AJ’s industry survey reveals a profession resourceful enough to respond to challenging times, says Kieran Long

The AJ100 is the single most reliable source of data about the state of the British architectural market, giving a unique insight into where we stand – and never has this insight been more valuable.

There are some grim hindsights. In last year’s survey, the credit crunch was only the sixth biggest problem facing architects, according to those polled. So much for architecture being a bellwether sector. A year later we are in the throes of a monumental crisis, and the talk is of how many redundancies people are making. Now, there is no doubt what poses the most critical challenges.

But there are reasons to be cheerful. The AJ100 survey reveals the profession to be diverse and adaptable, with surprisingly few big practices putting all their eggs into one basket. For every SOM, whose reliance on the office sector has seen it drop from 21st to 100th in the league table, there are more whose workloads have been diverse enough to withstand the worst. Also, continuing growth overseas has made the profession far more robust than it might otherwise have been.

How you view the data will depend on whether you are a glass half-full, or glass half-empty kind of person. On the face of it, things look grim. The data relates to the calender year 2008, and many of the redundancies that the profession has seen have happened after the period it covers. But there are signs of confidence returning, and a sense that the worst may be over. Larger practices are receiving instructions from the more cash-rich clients, and both residential and commercial developers are looking for innovative ways to progress projects.

On the other hand, the AJ visited the British Council for Offices conference last week, and heard very little talk of ‘green shoots’. It seems developers share chancellor Alistair Darling’s view that a return to growth will not occur until the very end of this year or beginning of next.

But I’d rather be an AJ100 business than a British property developer. While markets in this country will take a long time to recover, the UK’s architects work all over the world, in many of the economies that will rebound sharply. Let’s hope that the UK continues to be an export market for design services – the industry will benefit as a result.


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