Can architects grasp the business opportunities a ‘new normal’ presents?

One of the most important survival traits of the human species is its ability to adapt to a changing environment quickly. The economic environment architects find themselves in at the moment is unique, volatile and uncertain. While this might be worrying to many firms, turbulence in the marketplace brings with it opportunities, so what are they, and where do you find them?

We have spent more time in our homes than in any other period in recent history, so the importance of how our homes function, flow, and make us feel is more relevant than ever.

Architects looking for opportunities should focus on how design can improve our homes, both in practical ways and also in more holistic ones. Homeowners not hit by the economic fallout of Covid-19 will want to improve their homes in terms of general layout, styling and even its storage space, but they also want to understand the influence that their home has on wellbeing.

This offers architects an opportunity to use the full complement of their skills to design spaces that encompass everything from improved air quality and increase of natural light to the use of colour and how it affects our mood, and even the integration of plants into the home.

These are all skill sets that architects already possess, so perhaps it is time to market these skills and their benefits in a clear and concise way. Many clients will want to make the most of their current space: can that additional bedroom become a multifunction space that acts as a guest room, home office, or store even?

For clients who do not need to move, what alterations can they make to improve the look, feel and functionality of their home? These are all problems that architects are eminently positioned and trained to solve.

The rise of the garden office/studio is a welcome side-effect of the coronavirus pandemic and presents yet another commercial avenue for architectural practices. In addition, potential changes to permitted development rules, coupled with the predicted reduction in demand for serviced offices, may well lead to landlords choosing to convert existing commercial premises to residential.

This phenomenon would present a unique opportunity for architectural practices. Many of these sites will be in central locations and present interesting opportunities for architects to demonstrate creative and inventive schemes that meet both the design demands of potential tenants and the commercial demands of the landlord. This is a difficult and challenging task, but one that many architects would relish.

However, this is not a time for them to rest on their laurels, nor indeed on their design credentials. It is in fact a time for them to be proactive and, dare I say it, to adopt a more ‘salesy’ attitude.

These chances will not fall into the laps of architecture practices, no matter how deserving they might feel they are. The opportunities need to be aggressively pursued, using all the tools at an architect’s disposal: social media, websites, newsletters, video content, and so on.

This is the perfect time for architects to adapt and take advantage of the opportunities that a turbulent marketplace offers. It’s not going to be easy and will require investment of both time and money.

But, for those practices which take the leap of faith, which take the time to really think about how to engage with these opportunities, the pandemic could just be the making of their businesses.

Kunle Barker is a property expert, journalist and TV presenter on ITV’s Love Your Home & Garden with Alan Titchmarsh, and Renovate Don’t Relocate with Sarah Beeny. He is a presenter and curator of Grand Designs Live with Kevin McCloud

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