The Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) has released information revealing the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on architectural practice’s across the country.

The research has come to light through two surveys, one conducted back in July 2020, and one over a year later, that reveals that a slowdown in projects and shifts in employment have been the biggest changes to the architectural profession in the time of the pandemic. Over 135 practices around the country that employ approximately 4700 architects completed the surveys. Respondents vary in practice size and geographic location.

The results of the surveys highlight the changes of the nature of the profession, including opportunities for projects, a consolidation in remote working and how a lack of face-to-face contact has impacted relationships with clients, and importantly underscoring the importance of innovation in best surviving what the researchers have dubbed the ‘ collective Covid-19 hangover’.

The AIA’s second survey has revealed that 55 percent of respondents have retained and grown their client base, while a further 7 percent retained and sustained their base. 35 percent of respondents had lost and replaced their client base, with only 3 percent of total respondents losing and failing to replace clients.

The pandemic has shifted project opportunities available to architects. One-off residential projects have increased in the midst of the pandemic, but there has been a sharp decline in a number of sectors in terms of opportunities. Commercial opportunities are down by 30 percent, multi-storey residential are down 29 percent, retail down 21 percent and culture and entertainment opportunities down 21 percent.  

The July 2021 survey saw 48 percent of practices observing a decline of mental health within their practices due to the pandemic. The AIA believes a number of lockdowns in that time would see mental health decline within more practices.

Human contact and connection is imperative for architects gaining contracts for new projects. While only 10 percent of respondents reported that their relationships with existing clients had been negatively impacted by the shift to exclusively virtual interactions, 29 percent reported a negative impact on relationships with new clients.

78 percent of survey respondents have indicated that they interact with clients through a new COVID norm, that includes a mix of online and face-to-face engagements. 

The working from home revolution has certainly impacted a lot of remote working policies for Australian architectural practices, with 36 percent indicating that they have introduced flexible working approaches that were not implemented pre-pandemic. This is on top of the 26 percent who already had a flexible work policy in place and in contrast to the 25 percent who expect their team to eventually return to full-time work in the office.

The survey also highlighted the impacts of a shift to remote working. Views diverged on whether working from home impeded creativity with one-third of respondents believing it did whereas the majority (60 percent) believe creativity remains unchanged.

An overwhelming number of respondents thought design outcomes were unaffected by remote working. On questions of communication, productivity and collaboration, the results were mixed with respondents more or less evenly split on whether working from home has had a positive or negative impact.

AIA CEO Julia Cambage says practices that have looked to innovate their business model should be praised for their efforts.

“As we have learnt over the last year and a half, the world can change overnight,” she says.

“While the pandemic continues to affect the operation of architectural practices around the nation, this survey shows that members are responding well with agility to changing market dynamics.

“This report contains important findings made possible through the support of our National Corporate partner, the Built Environment Channel and I encourage members to leverage them.”

National President Tony Giannone says members of the AIA must look after one another at a time when people are lacking human connection and support.

“As leaders and responsible employers, we need to do the best we can to support our colleagues through the hardships created by this pandemic.”

To download the report, click here

Image: Reuters