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Get ready for a scary ride on the double-dipper

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It’s almost official, so get your practice ready for the next recession, says Christine Murray

I hate being the bearer of more bad news, but the profession seems to be entering the double-dip. I’ve spoken to a number of architects who say their firms are making fresh redundancies; one said, ‘this is the real recession, the last bit was just a warm-up’. And this week in the news, Carey Jones lost half its directors, RMJM is to close its Cambridge office, Archial’s shares were suspended and the RIBA Future Trends Survey said workload predictions among architects have fallen for the sixth straight month.

At the AJ, we’ve noted how the new economic paradigm is changing the shape of the profession. It’s not all bad, just different. There’s been a surge in new practices – we’ve covered 43 start-ups in our New Practice column since its inception 11 months ago. These small, flexible firms have low overheads and can survive on the bread-and-butter of housing extensions and refurbishments. They’re also well-placed to act as developers, identifying sites in their local area and teaming up with planners and local government.

This is the real recession, the last bit was just a warm-up

Mid-sized firms are in the most precarious position. With the dip in public projects and slow uptake in the private sector, there is simply not enough large-scale work in the UK to sustain their overheads, so by necessity they are pushing into Europe, China, Libya, or merging with practices that are already there.

As for the large-scale firms, I met two different developers this week who both said architects need to reclaim professional practice. They claim PFI ruined the profession by browbeating architects into becoming glorified graphic designers and exterior decorators. Developers want architects to regain control by embracing project management, planning applications, and upping their in-house knowledge regarding green specification, as well as research and development. They believe the days of outsourcing are, or at least should be, over.

This may not be happening yet, but developers are telling us it needs to. What does the future hold for your practice? Do let us know.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • John Kellett

    If the practices going under are those that favour unsustainable bids and employ cheap labour then I am not too concerned.
    Those of us who have never been glorified graphic designers and exterior decorators can get a look in again! I, for one, have never not 'embraced' project management, planning applications and production information etc as well as having continually 'upped' my skills in all areas.
    There will only be a 'double-dip' recession for the profession if the media talk us into one. There is more than enough architectural design to be done, we just need to ensure that it is architects doing it, not politicians or 'consultants'! I am fed up with architects getting the blame for badly designed buildings that were designed by non-architects and committees. To make ends meet I have often had to 'draw up' dreadful schemes designed by non-architects!
    In my opinion the numerous new small practices, including my own, can only be sustainably successful by growing into larger multi-disciplinary practices and the sooner mine gets there the better.

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