Architecture resilient post-pandemic, finds RIBA Business Benchmarking 2023 report

Latest News Wed, Dec 6, 2023 7:52 AM

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has published its annual Business Benchmarking report.

Exclusively available to RIBA Chartered Practices, the report tracks business trends across UK architecture practices, relating to pay, areas of work, revenue, expenditure, profitability and global areas of growth.

This year’s report assesses the twelve months to 1 May 2023. It reveals a resilient profession successfully bouncing back from the pandemic, with UK-based RIBA Chartered Practices remaining a powerhouse of the UK creative industries.

The report shows a turbo-boost in revenue, returning to a long-term trajectory of growth. The profession has proved a global success story, with large practices successfully growing their revenue from international work, and profits increasing slightly despite high inflation pushing up overheads and salaries.

Key trends revealed in the 2023 RIBA Business Benchmarking report include:

  • Growth has returned spectacularly, with a 17% increase in total revenue from all RIBA Chartered Practices up to £3.6 billion. After three years of no growth, things have finally got back on track, returning to a long-term trajectory of growth.
  • Revenue has increased across work sectors, with a 28% increase in Private Housing, a 25% increase in the Commercial sector, a 25% increase in Health, Education and Public sector work and a 22% increase in mixed or alternative sector work.
  • Average practice revenue has grown across the board, with small and medium practices performing particularly well.
  • Profits increased by 2% overall compared to last year’s findings, but profits as a percentage of revenue fell.
  • Much of this year’s growth comes from large practices (100+ staff), which have increased their share of the market from 41% the previous year to 45% in 2023. Because so many large practices are in London, the capital’s share has increased to 70%.
  • There has been a colossal 43% increase in international work, with work in Europe especially strong, followed by North America. Large practices (100+ staff) have tended to look outside the UK for their growth and are responsible for 86% of international revenue.
  • Findings show that practices employ around 38,000 staff – a slightly lower figure than last year.
  • Staff are slowly becoming more diverse. Male architects dominate senior roles, and gender equality is closer among Assistants and junior Architects. This year’s findings show that 60% of staff identify as male, 40% female and <1% non-binary/other.
  • This represents continuing progress towards a more balanced staff composition, as the proportion of males was 62% last year and 63% the previous year. Ethnic diversity is changing at a similar rate. Findings indicate that 84% of staff are white (81.7% of the population of England and Wales are white according to 2021 Census data) compared to 85% last year and 87% the previous year.
  • New analysis for this year’s survey shows that the amount of staff time spent on billable work ranges from 46% of Partners/Directors/Sole Principals’ hours, to 72% of the hours of Architects with 3-<5 years of experience.
  • Practices predict revenue will grow by 5%, but expenditure is predicted to rise by even more, 6%. This year’s squeeze on profits looks set to continue.
  • 71% of work comes from projects within 50 miles of a practice’s main office.
  • 38% of work comes from repeat business; 24% from word of mouth.

RIBA Head of Economic Research and Analysis, Adrian Malleson said: “This year’s findings show a remarkable recovery. Despite the challenges faced since 2020, UK practices have once again proved to be resilient, adaptable, and innovative.

“After two years of reduced income, total practice revenue has risen sharply. There has been growth across almost all sectors, prompted in part by the post-pandemic domestic ‘race for space’. And the profession continues to lead the way in the design and creation of safe, sustainable, and prosperous villages, towns, and cities.

“Overseas work has increased dramatically – and Brexit doesn’t appear to be holding UK architects back from growing their commissions across the Channel, with the biggest leap in overseas work coming from the EU.

“This growth in overseas work isn’t just an economic success story, it’s also testament to the profession’s global reach, its ability to adapt to different places and people, and to produce building design that resonates around the world. Architecture continues to contribute to one of the UK’s enduring successes – its creative industries.

“In the face of adversity, architects have once again displayed remarkable resilience, navigating external difficulties, including the pandemic, product scarcity and high inflation. The latter has taken its toll over the past year - while revenue has skyrocketed, profits have increased only marginally.

“We are not yet out of the woods. Practices still face high inflation, causing overheads to rise and eat away at profits. Increased interest rates make project financing more expensive and difficult to obtain for potential clients. The planning system is holding back and even halting projects, and the stagnant general economy weighs on client demand.

“But even against this grey backdrop, practices are not gloomy about their prospects. For the first time, this year’s report gives information about expectations for the coming year. In 2023/24, on balance, revenue is expected to rise, and more staff are expected to join practice. Innovation continues, as the profession embraces new ways of working, emerging technology and working in new sectors as routes to increased profitability.

“We actively monitor trends and opportunities on behalf of our members. Adaptation and innovation in the way architects conduct business will be key to maintaining resilience. We will continue to offer high quality support to all our members, helping them to thrive wherever they live or work.”

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