"Will architects exist in 2025?"
- RIBA Building Futures


the Royal Institute of British Architects' think tank, Building Futures, have published a report predicting dramatic changes in architecture practice by the year 2025. 

The following details are from the RIBA:

Will architects exist in 2025?

Launch of RIBA Building Futures’ The Future for Architects? report

The demise of the mid-sized practice, a dearth of work in the UK, and no more ‘architects’; the architects' profession could look radically different in 2025, according to a new study by the Royal Institute of British Architects' (RIBA) think tank Building Futures.

Setting out a radical vision for the future, The Future for Architects? examines how the demands of a global economy and economic recession have transformed business practice, and projects the evolution of these trends into 2025 by questioning:

  • Who will design our built environment in 2025?
  • What role might those trained in architecture have in 2025?
  • How might practice change by 2025?

The study looks at how architects practice now, and predicts how this could change in the future.

One of the top issues highlighted in the study was how the label ‘architect’ is perceived to hold practices back in terms of the type of work they are able to do. Some practices have already created offshoot companies with a separate identity and different branding to their main practice avoiding use of the title ‘architect’, in order to reach more diverse markets and branch into areas such as lighting design, product design, industrial design, interior design, installation design, branding and community consultation. Many practitioners are not ‘architects’ in the formal sense recognised by the RIBA and the ARB, yet still have a significant role in affecting the built environment; this prompts the question whether the RIBA might need to consider evolving the 20th century definition of what it means to be an architect in order to fit better with the broader 21st century reality of the profession, or whether the title should be used at all. Students and graduates echoed these concerns, and saw the label ‘architect’ as restrictive and as creating a barrier between themselves and other professions such as planning and urban design.

Amongst those interviewed there was a call for architects to ensure they could navigate the dramatic changes taking place within the profession, particularly by improving their financial literacy and ability to offer a service that embraces the client’s broader aims and goes beyond ‘building a building’. The greatest threat was envisaged for medium sized practices, who were considered likely to threatened by larger practices with an established commercial approach towards clients, and global interdisciplinary consultancies for their ability to quickly complete different scale projects at low cost, leading to a polarisation of practices by size. One large practice felt that in the longer term future, the architects' practice could become far more nimble by reducing to a very small core group with established links to a range of cutting edge technological consultants, enabling them to keep up with advances in technology, programming and skills by having access to the best practitioners in each field.

The decline in demand for architects’ services in the UK (dropping 40% since 2008) highlights how the UK’s finite market has pushed architects with larger scale aspirations to look overseas for work. In many cases, larger practices looking to work effectively abroad are gaining local expertise by recruiting directly from local schools of architecture, and establishing a talent pool for each office. However, a number of small practices felt that working abroad was not a viable option for them.

Speaking today, Dickon Robinson, Chair of Building Futures said:

“This report seeks to stimulate a discussion about the challenges and opportunities which architects in the broadest sense face, in the hope that the ensuing debate will put them in the best position to succeed.

“The past fifteen years have been particularly interesting. The combination of lottery funding, Millennium euphoria and the global debt binge have been a great period for architecture. Our cities have seen radical change. Most now boast examples of exemplary contemporary architecture, and many have been transformed by architect designed residential towers and retail developments. For perhaps the first time the public perception of architecture has been informed by direct experience of well designed buildings large and small, and by the popularity of television programmes on architecture.

“However, this burst of activity, and its consequent creation of an employment bubble, has tended to obscure the continuing changes in the construction industry that creates the context in which architects work. Architects are not alone in needing to respond to the impact of a globalising economy, exploding information technology capability and cultural confusion. However in the face of a continuing erosion of traditional architectural skills to other players, the profession seems peculiarly vulnerable to a nostalgic backward glance at a bygone age in which the architect was the undisputed boss. Fortunately it is clear that many young graduates see nothing but opportunity in these extraordinary times; if they are to be fulfilled it is important that our professional institutions work to create the conditions which will optimise their chances.”

The Future for Architects? report can be downloaded at www.buildingfutures.org.uk

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Posted on Monday March 7th 2011 at 4:28 pm by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • MW

    Architecture seems to be following the path of the same technology that it relies on currently. The whole world is connected by technology and architecture is no exception. Architecture however, parallels the framework surrounding the industry of technology. Technology was once a secluded and privileged culture that has now engulfed our society. I believe architecture could have that same result.

    Through the beginning of my graduate studies, we have been looking at the framework behind open source architecture and the affect it could have on the future of our profession. When I first looked into the idea of open sourcing architecture it seemed off-putting. The idea of opening up the creative process for anyone to be involved in seemed to undermine the profession and open up a whole other issue of legality when it comes time for construction of one of these ideas. Not to mention the idea that once paying jobs would now be harder to come by with work available free of charge.

    The more I read about this framework the more it seems to make sense to me. It puts aside the egos of firms and designers that purely further their own agendas and provides a solution where everyone benefits. The idea of providing this design process to cultures that can’t afford it makes sense as long at the work is protected from people who are purely trying to use it for personal gain. It is a whole different way if looking at the scope of architecture. If it evolves correctly, architecture could be an even bigger part of our built environment, branching out into sectors of our culture that have never been before.

  • Maggie

    It is true that the fact of the professional is changing. For me, personally, as a graduate student I have been able to try and understand these changes during my studies. Like you have said, graduates are looking for opportunities beyond the traditional firm practice. During this past semester, my class was able to talk to recent architecture graduates who took a different path. These graduates started their own digital fabrication business. I believe that there is a trend for young architects to seek out other opportunities due to the economy. In addition, to these graduates my class talked during the semester to an architect who recently started his own design – build firm. This type of firm is a growing trend due to the changing of the profession where as you stated that the architect is no longer boss.

    I agree that architects need to respond to the impact of a globalising economy, exploding information technology capability and cultural confusion in order to survive in the future. Anthony King states that the main question an architect needs to think about is who are we building for in a world where “everyone’s ‘local’ is becoming someone else’s ‘global’”. If you consider this question, the role of the architect becomes even more important in forming the “direct experience of well designed buildings”.

    I think in a world where as, you state, large firms are looking aboard for work, the role of an architect in fact increases and not decreased. This is due to the fact that then the architect comes into the question of whether or not to respect the local traditions were they build. One of the arguments against respecting the local traditions state that the architect’s job to “remake the world into a new image of a more desirable future”.

    So I believe that architects will truly exist in 2025, the question is how they will design on built environment.

  • Anonymous

    "In the year twenty-five twenty-five,
    if architecture still survives,
    if charettes are still alive,
    you may find…

    In the year thirty-five thirty five
    aint gonna draft, won't need no maylines
    everything that you designed that way-
    is in the BIM that you used today.

    In the year forty-five forty-five
    mouse hand hangs down by your side
    stare at youtube- blinded by the light,
    no more specifications left to write.

    In the year fifty-five nine
    No wall sections remain to design-
    every church, school, and doghouse too,
    is extruded as a fast-set-ting goo!

    • Lucas


  • Appanrtely this is what the esteemed Willis was talkin’ ’bout.

  • Anonymous

    There is no doubt that the future of architects will change. Everyday I ponder whether there will be any jobs when I am done with school and if this was the right career choice. It is becoming harder and harder to find internships and jobs in the field. However, in an interview at a multi disciplinary firm the other day, I was told that while the work load in the architecture field has declined, the work load in construction, planning, and program managing has not. This is what was keeping the firm busy with projects still. So maybe the future of architects needs to be more diverse. Starting in college, architecture classes need to broaden to include courses in construction, planning, preservation, etc. Maybe minors should be required. While in college it is extremely easy to broaden the range of classes in which you take. For practicing architects in the field already, there should ways in which to overlap work between disciplines. This would make the person more marketable in many different fields eliminating the brand of architect placed on them. We will not only be able to design buildings but we could also act as construction manager or we could get away from design and plan.

    Population will always continue to rise and buildings will always continue to be built and renovated. The role of the architect may diminish but the role of designing and building will not. It is my opinion that disciplines will start to merge where they are all distinctly divided now.

  • Ajax

    The changing nature the Architect is a topic often discussed in my classes at graduate school. In fact, the class I took on professional practice focused as much on using your abilities to adapt to new markets as it did on ethics and AIA documents. We spoke with two panels this semester, and both had used their architectural education to take paths outside of the traditional firm structure.
    I believe that the “traditional” practice is changing due to Building Information Modeling. As interns learn to draw three-dimensionally, the copy-and-paste details days of CAD continue to dwindle. This means that graduates have a better holistic understanding of building much sooner than they might have 10 years before. Intersect these people with a generation of architectural students prepared to look outside the traditional career path, and you form the beginnings of entrepreneurship.
    I agree with “Anonymous” above in that the range of courses offered in school should include planning, construction, and other disciplines. My undergraduate education suffered due to emphasis on architectural history, and a total lack of construction prep. I would love to see the possibilities if graphic design and marketing were incorporated into an architectural curriculum. A lot of what we do is craft a public image for a client. I see no reason why creativity with an emphasis on broad appeal should be ignored.
    Every career changes over time. Architects will still exist in 2025, but they will almost certainly be different than they are today. I’m excited to see how they adapt.

  • Luis Cueva

    Luckily the year 2025 is only 13 years from now and judging by the speed of technology in the past 12 years, I have absolutely no idea what tools we will have. The truth is that Apple´s collider-like new facility by Norman Foster (which won’t be new in 2025) gives us a hint on their plans on establishing themselves as future corporation/empire, which tells us that collaborative technology will be ultimately the way to go, at least for several years. The role of the architect will be the same, let´s not make the mistake of giving technology imaginary life as we did with money. This is a human planet and it is governed by humans, not by computers or cash. I myself am a technology geek and as an architect I know that the world´s universal language is the dollar, so understanding different points of view regarding our role is not unfamiliar. Architects in big corporations are treated as assets because they are under a business model, they are not treated as a creative core. Now of course the market will overlook this because creativity is not tangible, therefore not measurable, but innovation is because it translates directly into profit. Perhaps us architects must accept that there is a place for us after all, instead of wanting to do everything or many things at the same time.
    Technology makes the world more precise and the best tools we used to call software are now applications that we can specialize in and use because maybe they have reached a point where they can organically evolve with hardware and not being obsolete every couple of years. They can adapt, and so can we. If we could go from Architect (from the word arkitekton, meaning all techniques) to Building Designer perhaps it would be a more appropriate term nowadays. I think the term architect is earned by our ability to dream and experience space in an imaginary world, something a machine cannot do, yet, and if they did, Why would we need analysts if we already have Google analytics?, Why would we need teachers if we already have Wolfram Alpha?, Why would we need secretaries if we already have Siri? The law is one and one only, so why would we need lawyers?
    It´s the human aspect of the relations what mankind does not want to lose, and the buffer between a client and a building is the mind of the architect. In 2025 things will be a lot different but the essence will be the same, but one can only predict so far in advance. Perhaps in 2100 teleportation is possible and all concepts of communication and transport are different, like 1900 compared to 2000.
    To conclude I would like to say that architects are not made in school, they are born out of pure curiosity and inventive, spontaneously at a very young age.
    Luis Cueva

  • kkuk

    The role of the Architect is undoubtedly going to change, but I do not believe the title of architect is going to become extinct. The profession is one that needs to be reevaluated. I think one of the issues is that the public does not understand the role of the architect. While talking with peers who have graduated they mentioned how they have found jobs creating installation pieces, and find it better to classify themselves as artists instead of architects, because they feel it helps them get projects. Architecture is not about making 2d drawings on the computer, it is much broader. Architects are problem solvers and have the abilities to design and develop solutions for a gamut of clients’ wants and needs. These abilities need to be broadcast to the public, so they understand why an architect is needed for a project.

    The demand for innovative thinking is wanted and needed in the world today, architects need to remarket and refocus the services they can offer to a client. Today, because of the global debt and current economic state of things companies are looking to renovate, not rebuild. The architecture profession needs to become more diverse, looking at how to brand and transform what the architect can personally bring to a project. I do not believe the label of architect holds the profession back, but rather the misunderstanding of what it means to be an architect is creating this tension being placed upon the profession. An architect needs to be thought of as problem solver, not someone making line drawings on the computer.

  • ARA

    There is no denying that our profession is a changing business with a bar that is constantly being raised. In just the last twenty years we’ve seen a shift in expectations of architecture from inhabitable art to performative design, which was best summarized by Thom Mayne (I believe) who said, “the day of designing forms is over.” Even more recently we’re seeing parametric modeling programs like Revit and Grasshopper grow in popularity, soon to be a resume proficiency standard for new hires. With the nature of things getting to be as competitive as they are, both as a result of advances in technology and scarcity of work, is it possible that architects are now being asked to expand their role?
    It was mentioned in a previous blog that some multi-disciplined firms have expanded their work as a way of staying in business and I too have found this to be true. When visiting a large multi-disciplined firm recently I was very eager to see what type of integrated design work I would find—be it landscape architects working alongside urban planners or mechanical engineers with architects. I find that the potential for a project grows immensely when these barriers are removed and disciplines begin to inform one another. Instead, what I found were a handful of odd jobs such as energy assessments of existing buildings and something called “program management” with a team of accredited architects assigned to them. The firm was participating in a real design project here or there, but the bulk of their work consisted of these side jobs. Is this what our practice has been reduced to? I for one have not invested the last four years of my time in school for this. I respect the fact that only 10% of a project is schematic design and what we do in school is a fraction of the real thing, but I truly feel that the work that firm is doing is not architecture. So, again I ask, is this a sign that the architects’ role is changing?
    I say that it doesn’t have to, at least not in this way. Sure, the term “architect” may have acquired a certain stigma that some would like to avoid, but the solution doesn’t lie in doing contingent work just to seem more valuable. I know of an architect who started his own project several years back after practicing for many years with a larger firm. He recently began work on a house for a friend of which he is both the architect and the general contractor (hence the expanded role). Rather than picking up side work, he has assumed an additional role within the same project which, yes, requires more knowledge, but also reduces costs and gives him more control and precision as he executes his design. I also admire this because it makes the architect seem more valuable in the public’s eye.
    I think that this individual is setting an example for how we can improve our practice without sacrificing our values. We must expand our knowledge of our adjacent disciplines which feed in to the larger product. In doing so, we become a greater asset to our firm and to our clients. I do not expect all architects to become licensed in multiple fields, as this might then put others out of work, but we need to acquire a larger skill set which directly enhances the work we are doing rather than supplements or funds it. In doing so we would retain the role we’ve always had while continuing to meet the bar.

  • KTemp

    The role of the architect is changing, and yet we are trying to measure the worth of what an architect does using traditional standards. There are many answers to the question “what does an architect do?” and there are many tools that architects use to do those things. And yet the current standards we use to define an architect go no further than space planning and structure.
    Today’s global economy and economic recession is forcing architects to use our ingenuity to create new opportunities for ourselves, thus blurring the present day distinction of the role of the architect. The current state of things is causing many professions – not just architects – to rethink the way they do things. Even after the economy stabilizes, I see this trend continuing. By 2025, I think the entire professional world may be redefined. Rather than select groups of highly specialized individuals, professions will be driven by how versatile you are and how much creativity you can exude.
    To me, one of the principle roles of an architect is facilitator. They must be able to bring together many different groups with different specialties together to complete a single project, which traditionally has been in the built environment. Why can’t this role carry over to a contemporary mode of problem solving? The problems we are facing today are complex and multifaceted and it will take interdisciplinary efforts to find solutions. An architect possesses the unique ability to facilitate many different disciplines while envisioning an end result. I think that these strengths are what will ensure the architecture profession continues on into the future. Whether the problems are related to the built environment or not, the role of facilitator and planner is always needed.
    The professional world is changing and architects ability to adapt will be our advantage in the years to come. I think now is the perfect time to explore our role and our relationships to other professions. At the moment, it may not be so important to define what it is an architect does and who is an architect and who isn’t. I think what is important is to continue to push our boundaries. Let everyone find their niche and apply it as they see appropriate. The label “architect” has always been synonymous with “versatility” and “ingenuity.” We should not forget that and turn that into our biggest strength.

  • EST

    I do have to agree with many of the above comments about the changing role of architects. We are diverse in our skills and it is important that our education and the way we brand ourselves advertises, not only our skills as architects, but our skills as planners, problem solvers, interior designers, product and furniture designers, and graphic designers. It is my opinion that with a background in architecture, we are equipped with the skills needed to be successful in any and all of those related fields. There are so many architecturally educated individuals out there doing something outside of the traditional realm of “architecture” but still very much using their education and degrees. By marketing ourselves as all of these things, we can begin to broaden the scope of architectural work instead of limiting ourselves.

    I also believe that the movement toward “sustainability” is going to help strengthen our field and make architectural work more valuable. Though it is a slow process, we are moving in that direction and the knowledge and understanding of these systems and technologies is something unique to our field. The information that we possess in the area of sustainable design and technology is going to make architects indispensable.

    I truly believe that in order to continue to progress the profession we must not settle for work that is just “available”, we must continue to be innovative, creative, and illustrate why we are valuable. There are too many firms just doing what it takes to make ends meet and to get work, but that is not what we are taught throughout our educations. We are taught to be thorough, to develop a concept and carry it through the phases of design, to come up with a unique work of art that is both aesthetic and serves the needs of the user and we must not get away from the reasons why we are considered professionals—because we possess information and skills that others do not—we are valuable. We cannot just “settle”. We have to fight for the field to continue to progress into something that is innovative, utilizes technology, is knowledgeable in many areas, and is VALUED as we attempt to make a more beautiful, functional, technological, and sustainable built environment.

  • NH84

    “Will architects exist in 2025?”… Well, I hope to be an architect in the near future, and will hopefully still exist in 2025, so I will say yes.

    I would agree that the perception of architects and our role in the development of the built environment is changing for the majority of those in practice and those of us on our way into it, as does any profession in a given time period. Whether this is specialization or working in the broader terms on an entire project from design through final building I believe that the architect will exist in some form throughout the foreseeable future.

    As defined an architect: “Practices the art or science of building; specifically: the art or practice of designing and building structures and especially habitable ones” (merriam-webster). This I believe has and will always be true; however, we are in control of how to deliver our services which changes through time to better serve our clients. For example architects being involved in the project delivery method of design-build which “takes away all of the finger-pointing, litigation, and lack of accountability frequently found in the traditional, fragmented design build method of delivery. Owners have flocked to the concept of one-stop shopping in which general contractors have been quick to take the lead role and sign on as the prime design build provider.” (Architecture Student Handbook 131) This is where I believe the future of architects will excel in solving the everyday problems of our built environment and less involved in an institutionalized environment where acclaimed “form architecture” is created.

  • Njr

    I agree with the comment that the title "architect" is limited. The general public thinks that architects ONLY design buildings. Part of the problem might just be that, we as architects need to educate the masses on the vast array of things that architects are capable of doing in terms of design, planning, and problem solving. Most people have this image of a man in black, with his square glasses sitting at a drafting table, literally. I also think the title architect has lost its savor because there are so many other professional titles with the same name architect, for example there are now software architects, IT architects, and systems architects. It’s obviously a tough job market, but I think redefining and highlighting what skills we can bring to the table will help diversify the projects we will be able to work on. Although the career in general right now seems a little depressing, I think it is also a time where we can reevaluate what it means to be an architect and bring something different to the table.
    Will architects be around in 2025? Hell yeah! The 40% decrease of architect services in the UK cannot be looked at as a qualifying statistic to determine what will happen in 2025. Why? Because, it was looking at the data from the start of the recession till now. If the study was done at the start of the 21st century when architecture was booming, then the results would have been totally different. Things will inevitably change, (hopefully sooner than later).

  • ARM

    The profession of architecture is always evolving and changing and as technology progresses it is natural that the role of an architect is likely to change with it. With that being said, I do not believe that the term ‘architect’ itself is going to disappear anytime soon, and especially not by 2025. I feel that many when asked to picture or describe an architect instantly jump to the stereotypical image of what one used to be and they may be someone who does not fully understand the breadth of what architects do and have the potential to do. In that sense I can see how to some the title of ‘architect’ is restrictive, but instead of changing the title of ‘architect’ why not work toward changing the way others view and think about those that are architects.

    Throughout my undergraduate schooling and now into my graduate studies we are constantly told to push the envelope with what architects do, to stretch the boundaries of what we as architects can do as students, interns, and professionals. Architects are creative people and those that do not understand the broad range of things we are able to do are the ones stuck with the mindset that architects are only people that design buildings. That description barely begins to scratch the surface. As an undergraduate student one assignment I had was to pick a recyclable material that usually ends up in a landfill and use that material, without modification, as a building material. This is likely not something that someone outside the architecture profession would see as a role of an architect, but it absolutely is. We come up with creative solutions to challenging problems.

    Much like the profession, I think the term ‘architect’ will also be ever-changing but does that mean the term itself needs to change or be eliminated to cater to diverse markets? Not in all instances. There is absolutely a right time, place, and reasoning for changing the title when need be, but one can always come up with a right time, place, and reason to justify any move. If we manage to change the way that people think of architects and what we do there will not be a need to constantly attempt to define what it is that we do.

  • mwb

    Architects must not be dismissive of the changing landscape of our profession. Doing so, would only result in the irrelevancy of architecture to today’s design problems and portray an elitist attitude of the profession. Traditional examples of the architect are ineffective in relating to the situation at hand. As MW mentioned, our efforts as architects should be placed upon creating design for the greater good. Personally, I don’t think that the phasing out of architects will occur over time. Our design services will always be needed, especially in large projects, including those of institutions. To manage a project of large scope, a certain level of expertise is needed, which the architect uses in the best interest of the client and environment.

    That being said, the compact and agile architectural firm of today retains the ability to select projects and diversify. These firms have been able to recognize and harness technological and business model changes to their advantage. I think fostering this movement creates a challenge for architects to remain on the forefront of technology/innovation. We will be required to generate well informed and proper design responses from various sources, none of which we are experts in. Architects must act as an editor in a sense, selecting and aggregating knowledge from each party affiliated in a project, to design with a purpose that is markedly different from traditional methods of the past. Achieving that, would be taking the most genuine advantage of technology and the wealth of information it presents to us. This could allow the detail and functionality of a project to be greater attuned to the needs of clients of any type, than ever before.

  • Zeke

    The future of architects is now, because the world of architects and architecture is changing every day. I think that with the adaptive role of architects in the world today, the word ‘architect’ has indeed become too restrictive in our endeavors to find competitive work. My one concern would be whether or not schools and the education system, which we architects are put through, will compensate for this change and adapt to the diverse market demands. I feel that right now the academic world and practical world of architecture are too openly divided. At times, I question whether or not I’ve been taught enough to jump right into the real world, if I have the right tools, or if I am even still as committed to this career choice. And maybe, this is because we students feel that we are being taught as future architects instead of being taught as future designers.

  • Zeke

    I foremost see myself as a future architect, but with the future of architecture and the state of the present economy the way it is, I see myself secondly as a designer. This shift in ideology I think will allow architects to succeed in the long run. Right now, the perception of architects is too fundamentally set in this image of people building buildings. If we can make an attempt to broaden this perception, then we can increase the spectrum of jobs and work. It will assist the profession in diversifying itself, and will permit the additional distribution of projects and skill sets.