It is not easy for young architects with no track record to start up in practice. Winning work is a challenge as very few professional clients will trust relative unknowns with the design of multimillion-pound jobs. This means most young practices survive on a lean diet of house extensions and refurbishments for small private clients. Progressing from these meagre pickings onto bigger, richer pastures is notoriously difficult, particularly when it comes to public sector procurement. Then there is all the bureaucracy including planning, CDM, building regulations and all the paperwork that goes with running a small business. Architects spend seven years training but receive virtually no business education, often leaving them ill equipped to manage, market and expand a small practice.
But there are some that crack these challenges and go on to be the big practices of tomorrow. These architects manage to combine design talent with business nous including the ability to persuade clients their design ability outweighs the risk of their relative inexperience. Slowly but surely these firms climb through the glass ceiling to bigger and better things.
The BD Architect of the Year Awards recognises this challenge with the Young Architect of the Year award. Unique among architectural awards for recognising a body of work, it shortlists practices that demonstrate they can bring new ways of thinking to a broad range of work and deliver enhanced value for clients and those who use the buildings. We invited BD’s shortlist of eight emerging stars to our new offices to talk about their priorities, aspirations and the difficulties facing young architects today.
SUMMARISE YOUR DESIGN PHILOSOPHY AND PRIORITIES FOR YOUR PROJECTS
Glasheen: We seek to create desirable places that people want to go back to and we do that by thinking about the end user. We try and understand the client’s business plan as well as the special opportunities of a project.
Kapasa: We often design public-facing spaces that celebrate a foreground of activity while the architecture forms a backdrop. We seek to cater for diverse and inclusive audiences such as at Tophill Low [nature reserve] where visitors include twitchers and school groups.
WHAT ARE YOUR AMBITIONS FOR THE PRACTICE AND WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR ACHIEVING THIS?
Kapasa: We aim to do good work for good people. We don’t focus on growth for growth’s sake but on quality and a diverse portfolio. Our priorities and philosophy place us at an advantage when working outside the capital because of the economic constraints we often come across.
Glasheen: Working where property values are low requires a sound understanding of the business model of a project and the special strategy then follows.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FACING ARCHITECTS SETTING UP IN PRACTICE TODAY?
Glasheen: The continual process of securing new work and establishing new clients.
Kapasa: Once you’ve formed a great team one challenge is sustaining it through the changing scale of projects and flux of business. One way we have responded is to create links with universities. We teach and in return we offer opportunities for students to gain valuable experience during busy periods. This allows us to be flexible through the peaks and troughs of business.
IF THERE WAS ONE THING THAT YOU COULD CHANGE TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Glasheen: We would like to see more short-, medium- and long-term development strategies in place for large infrastructure projects to prevent land stagnation in regional cities. Sustaining activity in cities creates a more dynamic built environment. That’s why we’re interested in short-term and temporary projects. That drives a lot of our work.
Kapasa: There should be more paid competitions and invitations to tender.That would be a massive help for small businesses.
Read more about all 5 shortlisted practices in the full article here