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Malcolm Fraser Architects cease trading

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August 25 2015

Malcolm Fraser Architects cease trading
Malcolm Fraser Architects have announced that they have ceased trading as of 21 August after losing a battle to make the business profitable.

The decision brings to an end a practice which has delivered award winning work since its formation in 1993; including important work in the performance arts sector such as Scottish Ballet and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow and DanceBase in Edinburgh. Most recently the practice delivered a new museum for the Western Isles at Lews Castle, Stornoway.

Malcolm Fraser commented: “The work we did is beautiful and important.  However we have been unable to make it profitable.  I am immensely proud of what we have done over 22 years and the influence it has had.  I hope my colleagues here, and the clients and ongoing work we had, will continue with other architectural practices.  I, myself, will continue as an independent Consultant, but will also work with other architects, including on existing, long-gestating projects.”

The practice employed 15 people and won no fewer than eight RIBA Awards since its formation and secured the 2002 Doolan prize for DanceBase.

23 Comments

Shiny Beast
#1 Posted by Shiny Beast on 25 Aug 2015 at 11:11 AM
That's a crying shame. Genuinely sorry to hear this. After all the good work produced.
These ridiculously low fees for public work are driving practices to extinction.
Stephen
#2 Posted by Stephen on 25 Aug 2015 at 13:11 PM
Very sad to hear. He appears to be an architect with a social conscience as well which is shamefully rare. Very hard to make a practice work without selling out as most of the more commercial firms in Britain have done.
Fee competition amongst architects and the competitions system (free design work) really has created a race to the bottom. Let's be honest, there is now little that most so called architecture practices provide that many large contractors or architectural technicians can't.
Jamie
#3 Posted by Jamie on 25 Aug 2015 at 14:17 PM
Never afraid to admit when he was wrong
A Local Pleb
#4 Posted by A Local Pleb on 25 Aug 2015 at 14:21 PM
Their demise reflects how low a value, those procuring buildings, place in high quality design. Through experience I would also generally question the basis of costing advice client's used to establish the budget plan at a project's outset. A realistic cost base would perhaps mitigate some of the grief architect's endure.
Cat Hemingway
#5 Posted by Cat Hemingway on 25 Aug 2015 at 14:59 PM
So very sad.. One amazing Architectural practise and a fantastic team.
Rodney
#6 Posted by Rodney on 25 Aug 2015 at 20:22 PM
A black day for Scottish Architecture.
My heart goes out to the staff.
With regard to current fee levels i would agree it is a race to the bottom.
I would suggest the Scottish Governments Hub programme has a lot to answer for.
Peanut bob
#7 Posted by Peanut bob on 25 Aug 2015 at 20:50 PM
A good example of why architects are losing their position. Good quality design is not always expensive or radical. Architects want to stop moaning and realise you provide a service. You would' tubby a car from a manufacturer who designs a car which meets their needs and desires over your own. Why should clients be expected to pay the bill for you guys trying to feed your ego's!
Big Chantelle's love child
#8 Posted by Big Chantelle's love child on 25 Aug 2015 at 22:27 PM
#7

" You would' tubby a car from a manufacturer who designs a car which meets their needs and desires over your own."

What exactly are you trying to say there? This reads like a good example of someone who, not only makes little sense, but does not understand the complexities of the industry, and very fine, blurred, lines between cost, quality and profitability.

"Why should clients be expected to pay the bill for you guys trying to feed your ego's!"

Hmmm. Interesting point. One would expect that for MFA to be remotely successful in completing buildings over the past 22 years that they may have had more than one Client, and hence, Clients would know what they expect with the quality of output created by them. The general view that Architect's are all egotistical probably has some grains of truth to it, in that traditionally the role was hierarchical, but that has largely been superseded since the 80's so is not so familiar nowadays. In fact it is this weakening of the position that is one of reasons why many Architects are suffering.
nairb
#9 Posted by nairb on 25 Aug 2015 at 23:42 PM
Malcolm Fraser and his colleagues exercised passion, concern, sensitivity and integrity in all of their architectural efforts. Their demise is both sad and disappointing. Colleagues is it not simply too late to blame the Hub and similar control creations... turn your angst and concern against the RIAS , RIBA , etc. They have sat back and watched the embers glow. At least now awaken to the reality that this profession is in deep s........t.
DG
#10 Posted by DG on 26 Aug 2015 at 06:10 AM
On this very site - at this very moment - I see two openings at superb design offices: Hoskins and Richard Murphy. Neither of whom can be described as anything but wonderful, creative passionate offices. But clearly growing, employing, creating jobs and presumably have the cash to support these most welcomed opening.

Maybe these guys - in parallel to doing fantastic work - also get their buisness models right?

Let's keep all of this in perspective. Sad though these job losses are, maybe as a profession we have to toughen up. You get nuttin fur nuttin!
RoddyRo
#11 Posted by RoddyRo on 26 Aug 2015 at 07:23 AM
Its all Westminsters Fault.........and MI5
Walt Disney
#12 Posted by Walt Disney on 26 Aug 2015 at 10:06 AM
So it took until comment number 2 for the blame to be apportioned to clients and commercial practises. Could you honestly think of any other service provider or manufacturer that would blame the customer for their failure? How ridiculous and how arrogant.

Architecture is a business. Its a job. You hope to enjoy what you do but first and foremost you should be putting food on the table, getting a roof over your head and maybe getting a nice wee holiday in the summer. If that's 'selling out' then count me in.

Architects are always at the front of the queue to criticise other architects and potential clients. How on earth does this make the profession stronger and give customers greater confidence?

"The real world today comes hurtling at you like a runaway truck, and either you can freeze up and let it run you down, or else you can jump to the side, take a flying leap, clamber on board, and struggle your way through the window and into the driver's seat,"
CADMonkey
#13 Posted by CADMonkey on 26 Aug 2015 at 15:05 PM
I don't think it was a good idea to slag off his client last year. http://www.bdonline.co.uk/malcolm-fraser-launches-attack-on-former-client/5066577.article
Brave perhaps, but it may have scared people off.
His very public support of Scottish Independence may have been a factor.
james
#14 Posted by james on 26 Aug 2015 at 16:55 PM
#12 hmmm... Dear Walt, with MFA at the end owing £300k+ and owed £300k+, I would be more sympathetic. Surely, it is well known that certain big commercial organisations will take architects to the cleaners (it's called theft) through willful non-payment of fees knowing full well, that architects practices have no financial or human resources to pursue the matter through the courts. How else would you end up being owed £300k+? Maybe, they should have employed the services of Dutch Schultz right from the kick-off, but then again, your architectural 'professsional education' doesn't cover either debt collection, or the art of making concrete boots.
It's an injustice.
Stephen
#15 Posted by Stephen on 26 Aug 2015 at 17:21 PM
@ 12.
Walt, what on earth are you talking about? Where in my comment did I apportion any blame to the client? That the system rewards a minimum of design effort for a minimum fee is my only point.
There are numerous commercial practices out there spending next to zero time on design. That's how they turn a profit and that's a disgrace, but it's also inevitable. They have created a race to the bottom, but it's not 'to put food on the table' of its desperate staff (a bizarre allusion of yours to some fantastical and necessary benevolence). Those staff do quite well thank you, at least in comparison to design led firms like Malcom Fraser and the directors do even better. But, those firms devalue the profession to a point where the architects role is becoming unnecessary. They undermine themselves and the fee nosedive is the evidence. In the situation they've created, the idea of protection of role is impossible to imagine. There is no role that only 'architects' can do.
What to do about the situation is very difficult to imagine, but if the RIBA/RIAS could countenance withdrawing support for free design work (unpaid competitions), then that might be a start. Every client with any nous, knows they can get to stage C without paying a penny.
DMS
#16 Posted by DMS on 27 Aug 2015 at 13:37 PM
I am not an architect but have many connections to the sector through the nature of my business. Many posts have highlighted, quite rightly, the quality of MFA's creative output and of Malcolm's vision and social conscience. His high profile in the sector has made the demise of the practice all the more unbelievable. Perhaps his profile and outspoken nature served to work against him however? Perhaps his strong nationalist stance also backfired? Perhaps his idealistic approach to creativity was out of kilter with the post-recession economy which is an increasingly cynical and harsh environment? Who knows?

Malcolm is a gifted architect but, like many in the profession, is perhaps not blessed with with the sort of hard-assed business mentality that is undoubtedly needed to survive and thrive in the current era.
I have the benefit of looking from outside of the profession, as a businessman who has survived the downturn, and would stress the following point: If a medium sized practice with a high reputation for design integrity can go bust in the middle of an economic upturn, then the whole situation must serve as a wake up call to the architectural sector. Practices will have to assess the state of their balance sheets and look to prop these up if amber alerts are flashing (mergers, overhead cuts, rationalisation, fee increases etc). They must also work on the assumption that margins and fees will NEVER return to pre-2008 levels. This will be hard for many in the profession to accept, but lessons must be learned from those practices who have survived and even thrived in tough times. It is wrong, and indeed high-handed, to suggest that such businesses have 'sold out'; rather they have assessed and accepted the reality of the new world order and adapted their business model to suit. Somewhere along the line, MFA probably didn't do this and, very sadly, paid the ultimate price.
Malcolm Fraser will bounce back because he is too good an architect not to, and has too much to offer. Somewhere out there, someone will work out how his talents can be brought to bear for the benefit of society and how he can play to his strengths.
When the dust settles however, the architectural profession will work out that its a crossroads and must make the right decision as to where it turns next.
D to the R
#17 Posted by D to the R on 27 Aug 2015 at 13:49 PM
Eh Penaut Boab? Yer no making sense ?!? .... People go to BMW for a a smart motor .... they know what their buying. Clients know what their getting when they employ a particular architect ... that's call the selection pal
Stephen
#18 Posted by Stephen on 27 Aug 2015 at 15:39 PM
@ 16
DMS, your comment is well considered but I disagree to some extent. The built environment is everybody's backdrop and betrays the priorities and aspirations of a society. It has the potential in small part to engender joy, inclusivity, anger, apathy or alienation. It's a legacy that almost every building will embody for longer than any architect that designed it will likely survive for. It's too important to hand over to market forces and greed. That may seem idealistic but I don't think it's high handed. There are clear examples of practices which are able to marry quality with financial stability - one of the key differences (that make this model work) is that their staff are generally paid less and work longer hours, and many of them do so because they care deeply about following a proper design process to produce the best possible environment.
There is no general understanding outside of architecture (and sometimes even inside it) of how different that process can be between two practices, but that difference is marked. The current environment incentivises laziness and greed.
CADMonkey
#19 Posted by CADMonkey on 27 Aug 2015 at 21:07 PM
What a load of blurb....

Maybe its just down to taste.
Perhaps people didn't like their style.
The Story Telling centre looks to me a bit portakabinlike, not a good insertion to the Royal Mile in any way.
The external appearance of his HBoS Mound extension is so utilitarian it offends everytime I pass.

As far as fees and terms are concerned its down to the firm to decide when they pitch for public work. Don't blame the system, maybe they just pitched too low.....and helped the "drive to the bottom"...obviously they did.

As far as I can see MFA were increasingly efficient in terms of their scheme design and design detailing. Just look at their recent award wining projects. So not at all clear what went wrong.
ron
#20 Posted by ron on 28 Aug 2015 at 09:54 AM
The issue is abundantly clear
There is an oversupply of Architects in Scotland and like it or not, we are going through a market correction process at the moment
There will likely be more casualties to come I’m sorry to say
Supply and demand economics
Whether you like it or not Architecture is a business which susceptible to market forces
kenny kitchens
#21 Posted by kenny kitchens on 28 Aug 2015 at 12:58 PM
I don't know why all you architects are bleating. You've only got yourselves to blame because:

1. You work at risk.
2. You see architecture as a calling rather than an a business.
3. You relinquished the most profitable part of your business to surveyors who do a quarter of the work for approximately half of your fee.


Nairn's Bairn
#22 Posted by Nairn's Bairn on 29 Aug 2015 at 00:27 AM
It's odd that in the week Malcolm Fraser's practice goes down the pan, his wife Helen Lucas is advertising for staff on this very page: http://www.urbanrealm.com/recruitment/736/Architect.html
May I humbly suggest that Helen share the secret of her success with Malcolm, or perhaps just take on some of his now-redundant staff?
Bill S
#23 Posted by Bill S on 29 Aug 2015 at 01:02 AM
#22, that advert actually dates from the 22nd July 2015, more than a month before the above revelations.

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