Practices can win substantial work from growth in the infrastructure sector
Amid the massive volatility in global stock markets that we’ve seen in 2016, a dose of good business news emerged this week that could well benefit architects.
Construction output is forecast to rise by 3.6 per cent this year and return to pre-recession levels for the first time while next year’s predicted growth is an even healthier 4.1per cent, according to the Construction Products Association.
And, despite a massive government-backed drive to increase housing numbers, the reason for this boost for a sector worth around 6% of Britain’s GDP is not housebuilding. Instead, it’s infrastructure work like road, rail and energy projects driving the growth.
Many architects overlook this area – but they shouldn’t. True, water and sewerage work contains limited opportunities for architects as does road work, which is currently all about the introduction of electronics, advanced signage and other smart technology. But rail and, to a lesser extent, energy are both fertile territory for designers, even if the bulk of the work comes indirectly through associated regeneration. Think of rail projects like Crossrail and HS2, which involve not just new and refurbished stations but also related upgrades to nearby neighbourhoods and high streets. The £45 billion HS2 has a dedicated design panel for good reason and, while the bulk of Crossrail’s £15 billion-worth of work is now done and dusted, only this week the London Borough of Hillingdon advertised for multi-disciplinary design and architectural practices to develop public realm and landscape design plans around two Crossrail Stations at West Drayton and Hayes & Harlington. In terms of energy schemes, while the reactor within the £25 billion Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset will probably be constructed with little to no architectural input, it’s a different story with the surrounding facilities, including workers’ accommodation, office and retail space.
So where to start for architects keen to find work in this buoyant sector? Speaking to experts in the field, the advice seems to be to look not just to the main infrastructure client but to others working in partnership with them, such as local authorities like Hillingdon and contractors specialising in this sector. Given the AJ’s growing focus on our architects’ businesses you can also watch this space for more on infrastructure work and all its associated opportunities.