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The AJ100 survey reveals some uncomfortable truths about the profession

Christine Murray
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Despite a booming workload, architects failed to get a pay rise this year. Should they go on strike? asks Christine Murray

The AJ100 is an annual barometer for UK architecture, and this year’s analysis shows a resilient profession nearing its pre-recession height, at least in terms of the number of architects employed by the top practices. What the numbers don’t show is that since this data was collected, jitters have hit the market. In recent weeks a number of AJ100 practices have reported redundancies, including Stanton Williams, Keppie and Farrells.

Some practices are citing Brexit as the root cause of recent malaise. The results of the referendum may cause only a brief economic blip – as our AJ100 analyst Bruce Tether predicts – or have a lasting effect, but one thing for certain is that the timing of the referendum couldn’t be worse. The fall in the price of oil, the slowdown in foreign investment and fears of an overheating property market have created a perfect storm.

According to the Financial Times, investors have begun withdrawing cash from real estate funds ‘at the fastest rate since 2008’, while recent figures from the Home Office revealed an 80 per cent fall in the number of investor visas granted to foreigners in Britain in the year to March – from 488 Chinese citizens to just 35, and from 196 Russians to 34 – as a result of stricter regulations.

Other findings from the AJ100 survey present some unwelcome characteristics of the industry. The economic boom of 2015 – which saw 70 per cent of practices charge higher fees and an increase in aggregate fee income of £131.4 million – was only of real benefit to the upper ranks of the country’s biggest practices.

While directors paid themselves more, the jobbing architect earned less, with the salaries of all junior staff declining in real terms when compared to the Consumer Price Index.

More positive to see were minor inroads with respect to diversity. While the practices collectively employed 13 per cent more architects, they employed 17 per cent more women in 2015 than in the previous year, and 24 per cent more black, Asian and minority ethnic architects. There is still a long way to go however – the overall makeup of AJ100 architects is 89 per cent white and 70 per cent male.

It is sad that practices have failed to share the wealth and make meaningful change during this buoyant period in the profession, especially as we now face future uncertainty – or certain economic troubles in the face of a ‘vote leave’. Perhaps young architects, like young doctors, need to take a stand on pay. 

Hellman AJ100 2016

Hellman AJ100 2016

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