January 9, 2018
When I started practice in 1990, the architecture profession was strictly governed by the RIBA, which prescribed fee scales for all types of projects. These shackles were loosened in the 1990s and architects were allowed to compete with each other on fees and to advertise for work. Architects have become much more entrepreneurial since, as initiators of projects.
The 1990s was a hedonistic time in London at the height of the big bang and the deregulation of the financial markets. Work was easy to come by and projects were exciting, allowing one to make a choice about where to go.
However, one thing I have learned is just how sensitive architecture is to the vagaries of the markets. Since the early 1990s there have been a number of booms and busts. The last, in 2008, we are still recovering from. These are difficult to predict, and my philosophy has always been to diversify and spread the risk over a number of sectors.
The projects of the early 1990s were led by the private sector and developers. The boom and bust has reduced the number of speculative developments. Clients have been looking for end users to reduce risk before even commencing a project. Public sector projects and public private partnerships have grown, although the regulation for bidding for such projects has discouraged some, as much of the risk has shifted to the professions.
Fundamentally, as architects, we do the same thing now as we have done for centuries. We produce information focused around a particular design. Now we produce more of it, as the demand for information has grown based on its availability through the use of computing.
Technology has changed the profession enormously. In the 1990s CAD was in its early days and much of the information was still hand-drawn. CAD has changed the way in which information is produced and disseminated. Computers were also in their early days and communication was by post and fax.
Today, we email drawings and information, and talk less. There is an urgency about everything, including response times, yet we do not build in a substantially different way to the way we did then. It is still largely bricks and mortar, and assembly of components by individuals on site in all weather conditions. There are more factory-produced components and I am sure that this trend will continue to grow on Greenfield sites, in particular. However, much of our work will always be within existing cities and around existing infrastructure, and that will continue to grow as it needs renewal. That in turn limits standardisation and will continue to require the involvement of the architect as a problem solver to find bespoke solutions.
The professions in the building industry have diversified, with a whole range of new groups of specialists becoming involved: the planning consultant, the energy consultant, etc. There is a host of others who are doing the work previously done by the architect in simpler times.
As the demand for information continues to grow, and risk management becomes a major driver in the industry, this specialisation will continue. Collaboration between architects, who themselves specialise in different sectors, will continue to expand, driven by clients who seek to reduce risk.
The profession is about design and there is much more awareness of design by the general population through programmes like Grand Designs. Those practices producing good design will continue to flourish as long as there is a desire for that. I believe those that will struggle will be the information producers, as more and more can be produced by computers. It has always been a focus of my practice to be design leaders and to innovate.
Work outside of the UK will continue to grow, despite Brexit. British architects and their design skills are in high demand. The effects of technology and the Internet mean that one can develop projects remotely and more easily than ever before.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) is the new technological driver and provides an inter-disciplinary platform for the professions to work together on projects.
The future is exciting as we are able to produce technical solutions, through the use of computers as a tool, to ever more complex forms which enrich our lives.