UK architects bemoan new trends of big-firm fee ‘undercutting’ and competition from non-registered designers

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The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has issued a new report detailing a troubling new phenomenon affecting small office practitioners in the UK.

The Architects’ Journal has details on some of the newfound challenges for design contracts from those not included on the UK’s official register and licensed architects who are reeling in a business climate beset by increased competition on the part of their non-professionalized rivals and a dual culture of “constant undercutting” for fees from better-positioned large firms. 

RIBA’s Future Trends report from June was the first published indicator of the concerns, which come at a time when market conditions have turned sour across all spectrums of the design sector. Speaking to AJ, London-based NIKJOO principal Alex Nikjoo explained the problem.

“We’ve recently experienced a client looking to use less experienced non-qualified designers for early concept stage design work to keep the consultant fees down, then seeking our help to deliver technical design, tender and construction stages,” he said, before adding that his team was typically left with a “well-developed concept design and stage 3 package, with an understanding of the technical issues, sometimes in these second-hand projects, the fundamentals have not been considered — stairs working, wall and roof construction thicknesses.”

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Previously on Archinect: RIBA decries proposed ARB educational overhaul

The country is also currently considering a “fundamental overhaul” to its academic training regimen and the barriers to entering practice as recommended by the Architects Registration Board (ARB) over the protests of RIBA and other parties.

It is unknown precisely how many non-architects operate in the UK currently, but the ARB has more than 35,000 names on it at present. Therefore the trend has the potential to increase in intensity over the coming years, with the only caveat being that its impacts will likely be limited to interior fit-outs/redesigns and residential projects for several reasons.


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