The Future for Architects?

A provocative report from the RIBA’s think-tank ‘Building Futures’ continued to generate comment in the architectural press last week. The report predicts that the building-design industry will become increasingly globalised, with a smaller number of very large multi-national studios using overseas labour to beat their UK rivals on fee-bidding for work. Mid-sized London based architectural practices will feel this squeeze worst of all, and even award-winning ‘starchitects’ will struggle as global design-brands move into designing buildings and interiors. Good news then for international multi-disciplinary mega-practices, but also for the traditional small practices which make up the bulk of the profession away from London. According to the report:

It is highly likely that there is one part of the profession that will show resilience to the changes of the next decade: the small general practice and the sole practitioner working for private clients with local builders. There is a unanimous feeling that these small practices can and will continue to practice in a similar way to now, and that they face comparatively little competition from other professionals or practitioners.

Good news for us at Lucas Hickman Smith and many other Norfolk practices!

Building Design magazine covered the report (behind BD’s pay-wall’ I’m afraid), and in the same issue the regular ‘Opinon’ column posed the rather odd question ‘Should Architects Offer to Work for the Big Society?’ At first the two pieces seemed unconnected, but the answers given by Surface-to-Air’s Pascal Scheurer and Jo Wright of Fielden Clegg Bradley were telling. Surface to Air gave a clear ‘yes’ and Fielden Clegg Bradley a rather grudging ‘no’. I linked the two articles in a letter which BD ran last week:

By the time I read your front-page story (“End of the architect?” February 25), my Tweet-pal @emberson had already pointed out that “reports of the death of architecture have been greatly exaggerated; repeatedly”, so I came to it in a sceptical frame of mind. But then I turned to the Opinion column (“Should architects offer to work for the Big Society?”), which made me think again. Here was a small, light-on-its-feet studio prepared to think positively about changing circumstances, and an established, mid-sized, design-led practice playing “stick-in-the-mud”. Maybe there is something zeitgeist-y going on, after all.

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