It’s been a turbulent twelve months for architecture in the UK.
Brexit was almost universally opposed within the industry, with 282 architects signing an open letter in May warning that the UK’s ‘global creative success would be severely weakened’ if the country voted to leave the EU. Since the vote to leave was passed, anxiety has continued to rise, with many fearing that Britain’s weakened relationship with the EU will impose a barrier on both trade and labour, the lifeblood of the architectural industry.
The economic fallout of Brexit is not the challenge facing UK architecture in 2017, however, and in this week’s blog, we take a look at 3 of the most serious challenges facing UK architecture in 2017.
The construction industry generates as much as 40 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, making it the top global consumer of raw materials. Consequently, the architects of 2017 have a special responsibility to design buildings which are socially, economically and ecologically sustainable.
The current volume of natural resources being consumed in the construction of buildings is highly unsustainable and will lead to significant environmental damage if left unchecked. One of the biggest challenges to architects who are conscious of the importance of sustainable design is that sustainable options are often neglected and considered of secondary importance early on in the design process. When energy analysis is undertaken, it is generally further down the line, any amendments often prove problematic to incorporate into the original design.
While the ecological damage caused by the construction of buildings presents a huge challenge to the architects of today, there is also opportunity to be found, and those architects who do take up the challenge will find themselves in great demand in the growing green sector.
A recent survey by RIBA Appointments revealed that 74 percent of employers, and 82 percent of students felt that architecture course fees were too high, while almost half of students and graduates said that the customary seven-year course should be shorter.
Since university course fees were almost tripled in 2012, architecture students have been hit particularly hard. The seven-year long course, the cost of field trips, software and expensive tech means some students can expect to graduate with astronomical levels of debt.
The pressure of study and the huge burden of debt appears to be taking a serious mental toll on architecture students, with more than a quarter of UK architecture students seeking medical help for mental health problems related to their course. Nearly one-third of those surveyed said that they regularly worked through the night, while another third said that, despite the cost of studying, they had been asked to work in an architecture practice for free.
The problems in architectural education seem to mirror those elsewhere in the higher education system: overworked students, burdensome debt and few genuine work placements. Yet there is also a feeling that the problem is particularly serious in architectural education, and that, besides anything else, the education being provided simply isn’t good enough. Alex Wright, from the UK architectural education review group, recommends offering shorter courses and letting students carry out studies alongside paid work, saying that “there’s a growing realisation that maintaining the status quo is no longer an option”.
Skilled Labor Shortages
The skilled labour shortage in the UK has long been a great challenge in the architectural industry. Skilled people in the construction industry are the most in-demand professionals in the country according to a 2015 report from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation/KPMG, with skilled surveyors and architects, particularly sought after.
According to Bernard Brown from KPMG, the UK is ‘in the grip of an industry-wide skills shortage which shows no signs of abating. The risk is that the shortage of skilled labour in the sector could impede Britain’s major building projects.’
The skills shortage of 2015, and the warnings of the threat it posed to ‘major building projects’ has only been exacerbated in the following two years, with the vote to leave the EU, in particular, causing much consternation in the industry. In September 2016, the RIBA and the RICS wrote a letter to Brexit Secretary David Davis expressing its concerns over the effect of Brexit on architecture and construction in the UK. The letter warned that the skills shortage could implode if the industry is denied access European trade and labour.
President of the RICS, Amanda Clack, said that ‘there is a real concern within our industry that if access to a skilled workforce is further restricted, Britain could stop building. My colleagues and I would urge government to keep this at the front of their minds when they come to negotiate our withdrawal from the EU.’
With so much uncertainty continuing to hover over the future of the UK outside of Europe, the architects of the UK will be hoping that the government takes stock of their concerns, and comes to an agreement with the EU which alleviates, rather than further exacerbates, the continued labour crisis.