16 Jan 2013
Here it is. After months of scouring the country we’ve pulled together the most comprehensive snapshot of Scotland’s architectural community yet assembled, the Urban Realm 100 sponsored by The Rooflight Company and Highland. It’s a collection of the familiar, and the less so, drawn from a plethora of practices old and new but united by their shared demonstration of strong design, as exemplified by the exciting new projects showcased here.
Squeezing order out this amorphous beast was no easy task, particularly with the odd curve ball thrown up by our editorial panel and readers, but by focussing on practices which have produced their best work recently, rather than trade on past glories, and factoring in the huge discrepancies in scale and resources between the largest and smallest entrants we think we’ve found the most optimum means of balancing the two.
We also asked key players from the profession to give their own New Year’s message for the future, exploring whether Hemingway’s belief that shorter study periods offer the best path to prosperity by allowing architects to work, learn and earn at a younger age - or whether new policy is needed.
a. What is the future of the profession?
b. Have architects ceded the role of lead professional?
c. How can the sector best recover from recession?
d. How will the role of architect evolve going forward?
1. Rural Design, Alan Dickson
No. Architects- 4 Total staff- 8 Year of incorporation- 2002
a. The profession is in danger of becoming irrelevant, we have failed to communicate the need and value for our role in society, and consequently we are no longer considered essential. Partly that has been been because of poor communication and leadership, but mostly because of too many terrible buildings.
b. We are seen as being responsible for the failed experiments of the 1960’s (which are currently being knocked down before our eyes) and there is an undercurrent of blame pointed towards the profession for this failure, and the consequent cost to society.
We have managed to get a reputation for adding cost to a project rather than adding value. Unfortunately this has too often been true. We are no longer trusted as a profession to take responsibility for high value projects.
c. I think it’s really simple, we need to produce the best buildings possible for our clients, free from superficiality and wasteful time-limited detailing. We need to start by creating well crafted, robust and meaningful architecture, and then get on with the job of communicating the value of good design back to society.
d. This is a long journey and should start with the education system.
It seems pointless to produce young professionals who barely understand the basics of construction. Piers Taylor (Invisible Studio) made the recent observation that the architectural education system is currently like going to cookery school, yet only writing recipes rather than tasting or making anything. He is showing the way at the AA in the form of the ‘Design and Make’ Masters programme, and this is beginning to find its way into Scotland in the form of TOG studios wonderful recent project on Tiree.
The balance of theory over practical work needs to be reconsidered, to allow students to leave university with genuine skills of immediate value to the profession and society.
2. Malcolm Fraser Architects, Malcolm Fraser
No. Architects- 10 Total staff- 14 Year of incorporation- 1999
Who is responsible for that rubbish new building round the corner from each of us? Nobody, of course: we can see where the conservation officer got their way, the urban panel made their point, the Council design leader pulled it up and the community consultation pushed it down, how that bit of (now mouldy) wood added a wee sustainability spin and where that blizzard of best-practice standards led to poor-outcomes; but, surely, nobody truly believes such influence, without responsibility, leads to quality? Amongst all the blizzard of demands we have forgotten that, above all, we need to demand a good building, with its own internal grace and integrity – a piece of architecture, in other words.
Buildings without architecture are today just another product, mediated by a sort-of focus-group consultation culture and with delivery the ultimate responsibility of the bankers and lawyers who sit behind the construction conglomerates we now put our trust in. It would be good to talk a bit more about this! And how to put the relationship between good clients, and good architects, back at the heart of the process.
3. Page Park, David Page
No. Architects- 33 Total staff- 36 Year of incorporation- 1981
a. Traditional professional roles are being eroded across the board. A better question might ask whether there is a role for people who can imagine environments in which our future needs can be met. Environments that equitably serve us all, reinforce the communities we are part of without taking a disproportionate share of limited resources. To that question the answer is a resounding yes.
b. We have perhaps been too preoccupied with protecting the structure of the profession and the historic role of the architect rather than the pre-eminent importance of the role we play. The architect is trained and practices the art of imagining future settings for economic and community life. Our fellow professionals each have there own objectives but we are necessary to give ultimate shape to all our contributions. Without us there is a danger that the end goal of contributing to shaping our places for the future will be missed, the result - an incoherent jumble. It is the role we play that we must emphasise.
c. Building for building’s sake needs to be avoided. We have hardly emerged from first of all a messianic construction explosion of anything goes, followed by the severest contraction of the building economy we have ever experienced. We need to stand back and have a conversation about the future shape of our environments and evolve a programme to deliver that across the private and public investment sectors. We can’t simply wish to get back to where we were as that was, as we now know, a hugely unsustainable and wasteful period. Structuring and aiming our future investment will create the potential for a useful rather than exploitative construction programme.
d. The architect is trained and good at thinking what the future setting for economic and social life might be. We need to use all the tools at our disposal to make these imagined future settings as vivid and comprehensible as we can. Looking forward digital tools will become ever more available to assess these new environments, not just visually but socially and physiologically. We need to be adept in the use of these new tools and be part of their pioneering development and interpretation. That way we become an essential part of the future shaping of our built world.
4. JM Architects, Ian Alexander
No. Architects- 28 Total staff- 55 Year of incorporation– 1962
a. A big question! Who can exactly crystal ball gaze on this one. You could say that the future is already here and the signs are all around us.
There are those who have work and are bidding incessantly to get the work which is almost entirely through the public sector. Then there are practices that struggle to get work and due to size and levels of PI insurance find it difficult to even get shortlisted for certain projects.
Architects do now and will in the future work in a climate of declining fee scales. What is the future? We need to vigorously promote our skill sets; design ,technical and organisational skills. Protection of function would help and increase the quantity of work and the quality of the built environment. Increased collaboration between architects and related professionals can form creative synergies and lead to a greater depth of understanding in the way we problem solve and create proposals.
b. No we still perform that role within traditional contracts and in situations up to the point of novation. Of course Project managers pore over Microsoft Project and write minutes but they still rely on the Architect to guide or advise the technical/client team on issues of design, value for money, planning, technical and innovative solutions. In many situations we may not lead in name but we are very much central and valuable to the whole process. If the industry still wants to go down a project management route should we be using our knowledge to reclaim the role and the fees?
c. Reduce or remove VAT from construction works. Increase investment in public works. Gentle encouragement to lenders but beware when the money did flow in the past there was a lot of poor projects built. We also need to work together as an industry and perhaps we will be forced by circumstance to become collectively better at what we do. We also need to find ways for younger practices to get work so as to avoid a generation gap of skills.
d. We will probably have to become even more versatile and skilled than we are already. We need to reclaim the role of being recognised for our skills. Above all we need to keep our skills as masterplanners, architects and designers .we should be open to change and opportunity... remember Alexander Thomson also built his projects. Oh and will be properly valued for our increased versatility!
No. Architects- 5 Total staff- 12 Year of incorporation- 1996
6. MAKAR/Neil Sutherland
No. Architects- 3 Total staff- 10 Year of incorporation- 1994
7. Gokay Deveci
No. Architects- 1 Total staff- 1 Year of incorporation- 1990
a. I agree with those who say ‘to succeed in the future we need to know more about how the world is likely to change’. As far as the architectural profession is concerned, thinking about tomorrow has never been more necessary than today. Continuing changes within the construction industry, a globalising economy, exploding technical information, social and ongoing environmental concerns all create the context for the work of architects. The profession seriously need to re-think strategically what they do, and deliver and what makes them different. The depth of knowledge, specialism and quality which are delivered by experts along with building a brand and reputation will be the key for future survival.
b. The architect is no longer the undisputed boss, and has to learn to welcome the integration of their work with others. Core issues such as the client’s role, the emergence of the separate discipline of project management, CPI and management of design delivery are critical determinants for the future of the architectural profession. Also there are serious technical environmental, social challenges ahead. A new set of skills are required here.
c. We need to think strategically about what we do, how to deliver a differentiated service and added value. I think the future of the architectural business will be driven by design management and a positive reputation. In the meantime, the skill set required must also shift. The financial skills should now be considered core. We need to learn very quickly that we have to be as imaginative about how we run our business as we are about design.
d. The main threat arises from the public’s perception of the ‘value’ of the architect, and the truth is that we made little progress on this complaint that the public doesn’t understand what architecture is or what architects really do. The architect needs to continue to work hard to promote the value of ‘good design’ and evidence how the wider society gains from this process. However, is it only members of the profession who can make judgments about the quality of architectural design?
We need to re-think how to educate the architects of the future. The education should not be taken in isolation from other parts of the construction industry, as we need to perceive our role as part of the construction, financial and commercial industry, and not just as a profession exclusively concerned with creative design.
My concluding summary is to use a Japanese proverb - ‘we are stronger together’.
8. Simpson & Brown
No. Architects - 14 Total staff- 27 Year of incorporation - 1977
9. Groves-Raines, Gordon McGregor
No. Architects- 10 Total staff- 19 Year of incorporation– 1972
a. The future will not change much unless architects become more vocal in what is required to create better buildings and cities. If not, the profit of the developer will again become the sole driver in the creation of buildings. Architects will continue to adapt to the changing methods of production and construction for a good time to come.
b. We haven’t experienced this in our work. We retain a lead role in nearly all of the projects we work on, though we recognise the benefit that can come from working with other professionals who can assist in the management or administration of projects, particularly on larger or more complex works.
c. The construction industry is at the service of society. As the economy recovers, so will the industry. The best way to improve will be to train better and to produce a skilled workforce within the UK. Buildings will be produced more quickly and to a higher standard, cutting out waste in time and materials. In order to win work and make projects viable all members of the design and construction team have reduced their costs over recent years. The potential danger is that a reduced profit means a poorer service from both architects and contractors. There will eventually need to be some upward readjustment of costs in order to maintain the standards expected of the Architectural profession and the Construction industry as a whole.
d. The architect must adapt to the emergence of new technology and evolving design and construction techniques and good education is critical to maintain their key position within the industry. We hope to see quality manufacturing return to the UK, and at the same time see Architects working more collaboratively with those delivering their projects. Architects have a unique skill set which enables them to visualise and realise projects in a way that no other member of the design team can and their visionary role should not be relegated.
10. Sutherland Hussey
No. Architects- 3 Total staff- 12 Year of incorporation-1995
11. Konishi Gaffney
No. Architects-1 Total staff- 4 Year of incorporation- 2008
12. Elder & Cannon
No. Architects- 8 Total staff- 12 Year of incorporation- 1981
No. Architects- 3 Total staff- 6 Year of incorporation- 2009
14. Oliver Chapman Architects
No. Architects- 3 Total staff- 4 Year of incorporation- 1997
15. ARPL, Gordon Fleming
No. Architects- 8 Total staff- 16 Year of incorporation- 1989
a. I think there is likely to be a greater polarisation of the profession into either very large, often multidisciplinary companies, working at a large scale on commercial or public projects or as small bespoke service driven organisations mainly working on small scale residential or specialist projects/ partnerships.
The procurement and risk avoidance systems will lead to a squeeze on the middle size studio type practice with the potential for companies to be absorbed into contractors organisations. The increase in contractor lead procurement will lead some organsations to follow this route – a solution which is not uncommon outwith the UK
b. I think it is more that with increasing complexity of some project content, procurement and financial strategies the importance of a pure management role has increased. I believe architects are still the only profession with the skills and inclination to take responsibility for the technical delivery of all aspects of a project but for some projects this area is of lesser importance.
At a smaller scale if we continue to ensure we provide a high level of service it should allow us to maintain the prime role managing the delivery of high quality work.
c. The recovery is likely to be a slow process with many of the levers outwith the control of the industry. One area within our control lies in helping build the confidence of clients to embark on new projects and new development.
By improving on the standard of delivery of all aspects of a project in design, finance, and programme we can offer a level of assurance that will allow clients to reassess the level of risk which development entails.
d. The role of architects will change with the evolution of digital information and off site construction. There will still be a role for the lead designer/ technical consultant however there is a great opportunity for people with architectural training to move into all other aspects of development, contracting, procurement and management if they take the opportunity.
We are trained to solve problems and take opportunities offered by the project context. This ability can be used in design but can also be transferred into a wider range of tasks. The numbers of architects in practice and in training cannot be supported without a wider view taken of these potential skills.
16. Gareth Hoskins Architects
No. Architects- 15 Total staff- 23 Year of incorporation- 2003
17. Cameron Webster
No. Architects- 4 Total staff- 9 Year of incorporation- 2005
18. Reiach and Hall
No. Architects- 21 Total staff- 35 Year of incorporation- 1965
No. Architects- 23 Total staff- 66 Year of incorporation- 1985
20. Simon Winstanley
No. Architects- 3 Total staff- 7 Year of incorporation- 1993
No. Architects– 8 Total staff - 14 Year of incorporation- 1991
22. Brown & Brown
No. Architects– 1 Total staff - 2 Year of incorporation- 2010
23. Roots Design Workshop
No. Architects- 1 Total staff - 2 Year of incorporation- 2010
24. Do Architecture
No. Architects - 2 Total staff- 3 Year of incorporation- 2005
25. Michael Laird
No. Architects - 11 Total staff- 29 Year of incorporation- 1954
26. Bell Ingram
No. Architects - 4 Total staff- 12 Year of incorporation- 1899
No. Architects - 2 Total staff- 3 Year of incorporation- 2002
28. Collective Architecture
No. Architects - 16 Total staff- 25 Year of incorporation- 2007
29. McLean Architects, Craig Govan
No. Architects - 7 Total staff- 13 Year of incorporation- 1968
a. I don’t think anyone has the crystal ball which will answer this question adequately! However, I believe that architects bring a great deal to the construction process in design value which is not necessarily recognised or measured in the ‘lowest common denominator’ approach to service delivery that is currently applied to the profession. At McLean Architects, we feel that there can be a bright future, but that value and its long-term benefits needs to be recognised more widely by sponsoring clients and users, and made a priority in the objectives of every project.
b. Yes, to a large extent they have, and it’s hard to identify any single cause. The introduction of Project Managers on larger projects in the 80’s which migrated down to smaller projects where the service was unnecessary, has certainly gone unchallenged. In particular, the erosion of service delivery due to suicidal fee tendering hasn’t helped our case. It is now extremely difficult for practices like ourselves, who try to maintain more a traditional level of ‘lead’ service, to compete with those whose objective it is merely to win turnover at any cost! McLean Architects continue to deliver a ‘lead professional’ service whenever given the opportunity!
c. Everyone in the construction industry has, over the last few years, been actively engaged in seeking ever increasing efficiencies and a lowering of their cost base. Unfortunately, the main issue now for these re-structured companies is that the anticipated return of workload hasn’t yet transpired and isn’t likely to for some time. Sure, initiatives like ‘Hub’ offer some encouragement, but even when appointments are secured, tend to extend the cash-flow pain, rather than offering real relief. In short, the industry will start to recover when there is real investment, properly funded, both public and private, in an ongoing programme of work. Public money would be a good start!
d. That really depends on whether architects are forced into a merely technical role, or are recognised more for the undoubted contribution they make to the quality of our built environment. Obviously, if architects, in order to secure work, are persuaded that minimal fees are all that can be expected, then increasingly, less time will be spent on investigating detailed and innovative design solutions, and a ‘formula’ approach will be reinforced. McLean Architects want to be recognised for the quality design they produce and service they deliver and will seek to promote this view.
No. Architects - 2 Total staff- 3 Year of incorporation- 2003
No. Architects - 2 Total staff- 3 Year of incorporation- 2002
32. Graeme Massie
No. Architects - 3 Total staff- 5 Year of incorporation- 2004
No. Architects - 21 Total staff- 39 Year of incorporation- 1911
34. Nicoll Russell Studios
No. Architects - 13 Total staff- 25 Year of incorporation- 1982
35. JAMstudio, Marie-Louise Dunk
No. Architects - 1 Total staff - 8 Year of incorporation - 2003
a. It’s an interesting question that we’ve discussed a lot at the practice. The old days of architect as top dog of the design team are long gone, but I think our practice has adapted to this changing environment well. Although there has been a lot of press about how design is being marginalised in many projects we have decided to stick to our guns and make it central to the ethos of the practice. This strategy is working well for us as we have a core of clients who use us specifically because they know we are design led.
b. Much as it pains me to admit it, yes. We are always going to need to work as part of a team, and at present the architect does not seem to have the ear of the client early enough in the procurement process, meaning we are often appointed after the Project Manager or QS. As a profession we only have ourselves to blame – I’m not convinced large numbers of architects are fantastic networkers or even very good at selling their work, and it is this lack of basic business acumen that lets us down as a profession.
c. By being extremely good at what we do and making sure clients realise the benefits that well thought out carefully designed buildings provide, not just in terms of capital cost and return for investment, but in terms of the improvement of our environment generally. It would also greatly help if the government cut the rate of VAT on refurbishment works – making it easier to improve our aging building stock.
d. I think it depends on the scale of the work you are looking to undertake. For most of our projects we still undertake a fairly typical architectural role, and we are the lead consultant. I think to a greater extent how our role evolves will depend more on a new generation of clients coming on stream and how we influence or not, their decision making processes. As a profession I think we suffer greatly from a now outdated stereotype of what architects are like and what we do – which is bolstered by the fact that, much to my chagrin, we are far too male dominated as a profession. We need the likes of the RIBA and RIAS to champion architects too! There has been a lot of chatter in the architectural press recently about protection of both title and function, the latter I believe is entirely impractical because of the wide ranging nature of the services that we can provide as part of the remit of “doing” architecture. So what would be a lot more helpful would to be to have a high profile, vocal campaign by our institutes to showcase the benefit of using and architect to lead the design team. I won’t hold my breath!!
Manson Architects, Lindsay Manson
a. Our profession has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, mainly due to the introduction of project managers as team leaders, efficient drafting, communication techniques and unfortunately the recession. The profession needs to accept that it is no longer vital that the architect has to be the leader of the design team, albeit we should be capable of carrying out that role if required. The profession needs to keep driving forward with new ideas as to how we can visually communicate our products to our clients, local authorities and the general public. We are in the enviable position of being able to stimulate through the design process how we perceive and utilise the built environment. With careful business planning through the recession our profession can move forward in a more commercially astute manner.
b. The architectural profession has been focusing too vigorously on how to maintain their status as team leader instead of ensuring that they can actually capture the market by headlining their design product. Whilst the profession needs to keep ensuring that architects should have the quality and all-round ability to deal with all matters relative to the built environment; we need to focus on the design and ensure that the rest of the design team can interface with that product.
c. Looking forward we see positive signs in amongst a lot of lethargy. This industry has always been opportunistic and this strategy must continue. We need to be creative in both the new energy sectors and in the expanding leisure sectors in order to align projects that are affordable and make a contribution to our built fabric. We live in a time-conscious environment with electronic communication consistently helping us be more efficient. Architects must keep up with this progress, and keep pioneering in innovative fabrication techniques and technology.
Below we present an alphabetical list of the rest of our top 100 practices, a century of design prowess which proved simply too bountiful to squeeze onto these pages. Each of them is a practice to watch in 2013 and we will be returning to them as the year progresses to see what more surprises they have in store.
Adam Dudley Architects
Anderson Bell Christie
Austin Smith Lord
Bain Swan Architects
Bennetts Associates Architects
City Architecture Office
Gray Marshall and Associates
James Denholm Partnership
James F Stephen Architects
John McAslan Architects
John Renshaw Architects
John Russell Partnership
Lewis & Hickey
Purcell Miller Triton
Slorach Wood Architects
Smith Scott Mullan Associates
The Morrison Partnership
Young and Gault