What will the architecture profession look like in 2025? According to the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) think tank Building Futures new survey, we have a tough road ahead of us. The year long study asked, who will design our built environment, what role will architects have, and how might practice change by 2025.
Our global economy and the economic recession have effected our business practices and the RIBA has taken a look at how these factors have transformed our profession and what trends we may see continuing in the future. The survey suggests that not only will architecture firms have to focus on a financial and business approach rather than predominantly design-led offices, but also company names are predicted to drop ‘architect’ altogether and insert ‘spatial agencies’ and ‘design houses’.
“In order to compete against the cheaper workforces from the emerging markets and the financially savvy mega consultancies, the architect must learn to speak the language of the client particularly to become financially literate. In addition to financial literacy, the client-savvy architect must be able to see beyond ‘building a building’ and offer a service that embraces the client’s broader aims – becoming a problem solver as well as a designer.”
Even more concerning is the projected shift in size of an architecture firm, multi-disciplinary mega practices are the anticipated new norm. The medium-sized 50-120 employee firms based mainly in London are at high risk to be squeezed on fees and acquired by larger firms becoming extinct to the profession altogether.
Parts of the industry that could remain relatively stable according to RIBA are the small local general practice, the international star architects, specialist niche practices, and the traditional regional delivery driven practice.
“A number of practices we interviewed were planning to formalize the diverse services that they offer,” said the report, “too many architects were carrying out pre-project work for free, claiming this would never happen in any other profession.”
The demand for architect services within the UK has continued to decline, suffering a 40% reduction since 2008, and the survey also predicts architects will be forced to branch out to other areas of the construction industry. The report added, “the RIBA would then have to redefine what an architect does in order to fit better with the 21st century reality of the profession.”
Interviewing architects as well as engineers, builders, and students the RIBA survey also suggests that UK designers should anticipate new competition. Foreign architecture firms from both Asia and the Far East, as well as luxury fashion houses such as Gucci could possibly flood the market in the coming years creating difficulty for existing architecture practices.
“An architect needs, as a matter of urgency, to be able to sell their skills with reference to cost to be of use to the client. The profession must face up to the reality that the context within which it now practices has changed so dramatically that the skill set required must also shift – financial skills should now be considered core.”
Although the results of the survey are a bit daunting, there is an evident opportunity to actively participate in shaping the development of the profession. These circumstances provide an ability to not react after luxury fashion houses start designing mixed-use skyscrapers, but rather be a player within the future of a profession that could provide “opportunities for architects have never been greater”.