Chris Darling examines five issues he believes will shape the profession over the next 12 months.
The Role of the Architect’s Profession
The last few years have reversed the conversation about the diminishing role of architecture as a profession, with many positive signs that architects are turning back the tide of marginalisation.
The coverage of architecture in mainstream media has helped bolster interest in the profession, and is also evidence of its recognition and revival. We are fortunate to have worked in an era in which the high profiles of Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and the late Zaha Hadid have placed British architecture at the global forefront.
Architecture is now more important than ever in the national conversation; I think the root causes of the Grenfell tragedy may be traced back to a disconnect between design and implementation. This therefore presents a considerable opportunity: Design and Build isn’t going away, and I would like to see the profession relish this opportunity to promote its own form of Design and Build going into 2018.
Workloads and fees
Architecture is inextricably linked to the performance of the UK economy. Working within a backdrop of Brexit and a slowing economy, we may see workload generally dropping as the property market reflects the economic outlook. In the short-term however, there has been a surfeit of architects looking for places, and we have had no problems in recruiting the workforce we need. Looking in the longer term post-Brexit, the status of EU nationals becomes a greater concern.
Returning to a reliance on work visas, as in the early 2000s, would be a nightmare for those who manage practices. As well as being an extremely time-consuming process, they come with an inherent risk that any mistake or misunderstanding could lead to criminal prosecution. As a practice that is around 40% non-British, the uncertainty surrounding the status of our workforce worries us and will require close attention over the next 12 months.
I look ahead with foreboding at the prospect of the government giving millions to Local Authorities for public housing, as they lack the project management, supply chain or client structures necessary to fulfil national housing needs. I would much rather engage with the private sector via Section 106s, who would be far more able to manage the complexity of delivering thousands of new homes to suit government objectives for 2018.
However, the current 35-40% target for affordable housing is far too high a barrier to place upon developers. Over the last year we have seen schemes stopped as a direct result of this threshold, which becomes self-defeating as supply is restricted and prices are pushed further upwards. I am certain that a reasonable level of 20% would deliver massively both in supporting the whole market and building more affordable homes.
The type of homes built over the next 12 months will be dependent on ongoing government policy. The past year has seen PRS and the associated modularisation prove difficult to facilitate in the face of high land values; I will be interested to follow the Chancellor’s planned investigation into stalled schemes to determine the outcome on land value.
Architects in Practice
As we have always collaborated, file shared and developed long-term relationships with our partner design team consultants, we found it somewhat patronising to have BIM thrust upon us. I felt the criticism about the need to collaborate would be more relevant to the public sector, where appointments are re-tendered more frequently than in our experience.
However, after the initial flurry of unrealistic excitement, we are seeing BIM settle down into established protocols of good practice. Our new graduates are now working and thinking predominately in 3D, and Revit is progressively gaining market share over Autocad, which are fantastic developments. Whilst I would welcome an entire project being delivered via a singular 3D BIM model, I believe we are probably a decade away from seeing this, but I would personally welcome it. Especially if we could secure for ourselves overall custodianship of the model.
I am incredulous that in 2017 there are still persistent gender gaps in the profession. The new rules requiring companies to publish their gender pay gap should inspire all industries, including ours, to address these issues more stringently over the next 12 months and beyond. The Royal Institute for British Architects could, and should, be doing much more in this respect; developing a minimum standard for ‘Chartered Practice’ status and being willing to ‘name and shame’ where these standards slip.
Reform in education could be another avenue to help promote issues of representation. Whilst I believe a more intensified 4 year course should be the direction the industry is looking towards, the education cabal is a big juggernaut to turn around and I cannot envisage that major changes will be made in the near future.