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RIBA report urges architects to toughen up or die

25 February 2011

Architects need to become more commercial and competitive if they are to survive, Building Design reported.

A new report from RIBA think tank Building Futures claims the profession needs to become more commercial and throw off the image of the “gentleman architect”.

“It can sometimes seem the long shadow of the gentleman architect still hangs over the profession,” the report said. “To grasp [future] opportunities architects will need to develop greater financial nous and commercial acumen.”

The findings were drawn up after a year-long survey which involved interviewing architects along with engineers, builders and students to find out what the profession will look like by 2025.

The demise of design-led businesses and the rise of bigger multi-disciplinary firms like Aecom will become the norm, the report claimed. At the same time it predicts new foreign firms from Asia and the Far East are increasingly likely to locate in the UK.

“We have already US and Australian firms here. Why will the Indians and South Koreans not follow them?” said Building Futures chairman Dickon Robinson.

Robinson said that design-led practices, employing between 50 and 120 people and mainly based in London, would be most at risk from bigger multi-disciplinary outfits because of the types of jobs they did. “They will be squeezed on fees and I’m sure some will be acquired by larger firms,” he said.

The report also found that there has been a 40% reduction in demand for architects’ services in the UK since 2008. Consequently it predicts that architects will branch out into other areas of the construction industry.

“A number of practices we interviewed were planning to formalise the diverse services that they offer,” said the report.

However, smaller firms of less than a dozen staff are likely to fare better as they increasingly specialise in offering a bespoke service to local clients.

The report, which is by Building Futures and does not represent the official RIBA line, added that the RIBA itself would have to redefine what an architect does “in order to fit better with the 21st century reality of the profession”.

It went as far as to predict that the name “architect” could disappear from firm’s names and be replaced by “spatial agencies” and “design houses”.

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