'Dynamic models of practice are now essential to accommodate the changing economic model faced by future generations.'

As we head into the third decade of the 21st century the enormous challenges we face societally, politically, technologically, and above all environmentally are requiring architects to reconsider the nature of their practice. Charles Darwin posited that ‘it is not the strongest of species that survive nor the most intelligent but the ones most responsive to change’.  The traditional architectural practice, with its roots dating back to the Royal Charter in 1837, is being consigned to history as we collectively evolve to address such challenges as climate change, social inequality and technical advancement.  Traditional education models, which have tended to deliver generalists rather than specialists are outmoded and will no longer serve us well. So, what does the future look like?

Perhaps a good starting point would be to share the experience of our practice and how it has evolved. Founded as what could be considered a traditional practice it became apparent over 20 years ago that such an arrangement was no longer sustainable or relevant. So, we transformed into an employee owned practice – a model that is now gaining considerable currency.

The spirit of our practice can be summarised as follows. While rooted in values of design excellence, service and endeavour, we promote a culture that reflects the Employee Ownership principle. In practice that is a culture that reflects expertise, rewards results, merges individual and group objectives, has an ideology of change and adaptation, respects individual freedom and encourages little differential in status - in short a 'flat' hierarchy.

First and foremost this has meant succession has no longer been based on share purchase or complex partnership agreements. The owners are the cohort who work in the practice at any one time. This has proven to be empowering and rewarding. We have leaders who are charged with ensuring the practice meets the needs and aspirations of all of us, not just the proclivities of a few, and we are able to respond more dynamically to change and the demands placed upon us.

The notion of ownership is also being redefined as we travel towards a future where less is owned, and more is simply experienced at the point of need.  Dynamic models of practice are now essential to accommodate the changing economic model faced by future generations. Very real problems surrounding the notion of home ownership, travel, social structures and inclusiveness require changes in the workplace to reflect this. Agile and flexible working, coupled with technological advances, are already leading to the notion of workplace being more virtual than real and a place for social interaction and idea exchange. It can become somewhere for face to face collaboration whether that be amongst members of the practice or wider project teams and somewhere for learning and skills exchange – skills developed by individuals rather than the generic one size fits all of traditional education.  2020 is already setting challenges never before faced by humanity. Architectural practice has no choice but to adapt or it will surely be a species that does not survive.

 Heinz Richardson of Jestico+Whiles