An RIBA Building Futures report says architects will have to become better businessmen to compete with foreign firms.
UK architects will have to toughen up and become better businessmen if they are to have any chance of surviving the next 15 years, an RIBA report into the profession says today.
The survey – from RIBA think-tank Building Futures – claims the profession urgently needs to modernise and become more commercial, with too many firms pursuing architecture as a vocation rather than a business.
“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.”
Architects are also told to brace themselves for an invasion of new foreign firms from Asia and the Far East and the demise of design-led businesses.
Building Futures chairman Dickon Robinson said the UK would be attractive to firms looking to break out of their traditional bases. “We have already US and Australian firms here. Why will the Indians and South Koreans not follow them?”
Bigger multi-disciplinary firms like Aecom will become the norm, the report predicts, while the name “architect” could disappear from firm’s names and be replaced by “spatial agencies” and “design houses”.
We have US firms here. Why will the Indians and South Koreans not follow them?
Robinson added 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.
But smaller firms of less than a dozen staff are likely to fare better, the report claimed, as they increasingly specialise in offering a bespoke service to local clients.
The RIBA, the report added, would then have to redefine what an architect does “in order to fit better with the 21st century reality of the profession”.
Even star architects are apparently under threat with predictions that luxury fashion houses could design new buildings.
“If Gucci decided to get into tower blocks and hotels, clients might like the idea of a building designed by them,” Robinson said.
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 report also notes that since 2008 there has been a 40% reduction in demand for architects’ services in the UK, and predicts 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. It also said too many architects were carrying out pre-project work for free, claiming this would never happen in any other profession.