Sunand Prasad, RIBA President 2007-09

Architects earnings are significantly low in comparison with other construction industry professionals, let alone lawyers and doctors. The reality is probably worse than the published figures because of the hidden cost of the long hours culture. This topic is already on RIBA President Jack Pringle’s agenda and will be high on mine if elected.

There is no quick fix for architects’ low pay, but I am convinced effective action is possible. The key must lie principally in changing the nature of the market for architectural services by convincing clients of their value. That requires sustained action on a number of fronts. I propose the following six-point plan to tackle the problem of low earnings and will make it a priority if elected to serve as President.

  1. Architects must not give away their skill and labour (charity excepted). If sharing a risk with a client early in a project, typically at planning or bidding stages, practices must try to ensure that there is a commensurate reward for success e.g. in the shape of proportionate enhancement of the total fee if, and as soon as, the project proceeds. Developers and bidders large and small understand the principle of risk and reward and of paying for value added. I support Roger Zogolovitch’s work in developing a value related fee system.
  2. Architects should, wherever possible, reclaim services the profession has stopped providing, such as project management and cost control. Thousands of practices doing small works do this anyway, but often at no additional charge. Clients prefer fewer consultants and will see the value of a more integrated design service. Offering services that have become the province of others can carry risk. The RIBA should develop advice, support and training to ‘top up’ expertise and to reduce and manage such risks.
  3. ARB must direct more attention to dealing with people holding themselves out as the equivalent of architects claiming to deliver the same service at cut price
  4. The RIBA competitions service should promote stricter procedures to reduce the enormous cost to practices of competitions. It should explore simplification and standardisation of submission material, which would have the added advantage of making it easier to compare designs, especially by the lay members on judging panels. Although in themselves competitions are not a major expense for most of the profession, they breed the idea that architects will do large amounts of work in the hope of winning a job.
  5. Although there are a number of commercially successful practices, large areas of the profession need to invest more in business training. The RIBA offers some business skills training and could develop and offer extended CPD modules, for example in fee management. And it is time that schools of architecture offered students more knowledge of cost and the principles of managing businesses, something they welcome. That is the surest long-term way of ensuring that architects do not go on underselling themselves on the one hand, and on the other, that they better understand clients’ businesses.
  6. The RIBA should develop more comprehensive and better-targeted client guidance, with the help of expert and exemplary clients, to help improve their own management of projects. There is much to be learnt from initiatives such as CABE’s guide “Creating Excellent Buildings” which has helped many people setting out on commissioning construction projects.