This was the first mandatory survey of its members conducted by the RIBA, and gives a glimpse, for the first time, into the workings of every chartered UK practice. The RIBA’s executive director of membership and profession Richard Brindley described the findings as a “tale of two professions operating in different universes”. The polarized profession is most damaging to the practices in the middle; those of 10-50 employees which are large enough to have costly overheads, but not large enough to absorb them.
Large practices, employing 50 people or more, include just 3% of practices, but, thanks to their size, include 40% of registered architects. At the other extreme are practices of 10 employees or less, who account for 53% of practices despite employing a meager 10% of architects. The survey found that the majority of practices employs fewer than six people.
Read on for more results and analysis of the survey
Former President of the Association of Consultant Architects Brian Waters suggests that the split has been primarily caused by the financial crisis: “A few years ago we were all told to become bigger and more corporate like BDP. Then the recession struck and people like BDP made hundreds of architects redundant, and they all started their own practices. One big practice becomes 50 little ones.”
This opinion is backed up by the findings of BD’s own survey from March, which showed that the number of architects who are turning to self-employment to make their living is on the increase.
However, BD editor-in-chief Amanda Baillieu thinks that the problem is only partially explained by the recession. In her article she points to “the procurement rules and red tape that have allowed large firms to hoover up the majority of the work,” and calls on Sir Terry Farrell‘s imminent review of UK architecture to address the obstacles which prevent smaller practices from winning the big commissions that allow them to grow.
Caroline Cole – the director of Colander, the consultancy which compiled the report – also highlighted how difficult it was for practices to grow: “The difference between small and large practices is so stark that you can no longer say one is a good training ground for the other. If you are tiny but aspire to the kind of buildings and clients found in larger practices, you’ll have to think differently. Simply doing good projects isn’t going to win you the next scale of client.”
Cole may be hinting at the fact that the survey found that 62% of practices do not have a business plan. The survey also revealed that at all levels, practices are working for free in order to secure future work, which recently has been a particular concern for the RIBA. Cole reiterated their message on this issue, urging architects to stop selling themselves short and “wake up” to the fact that this is not a cost-effective way to win work.