Today we've decided to dive a little more into a topic that we find not only interesting, but also extremely important in today's economic climate: social value and collaboration.
Businesses are increasingly recognising the importance of contributing to social value and architecture - being a profession that merges design with the relevant social and political needs of its time - is no different. It is therefore no surprise that in recent years, small architectural practices are frequently joining forces with larger firms and adding social value through this collaboration. The benefits that arise from such partnerships can be equally valuable for both parties. Why now? The UK government has recognised it is no longer enough for organisations to focus solely on profitability; they must also consider their impact on society and actively seek ways to make a positive difference. From promoting inclusive growth and sustainable development, to a more equitable distribution of wealth and opportunities within communities. One way to achieve this is by engaging with local SMEs. Small businesses are the backbone of the UK economy, representing over 99% of all private sector enterprises. According to the RIBA Business Benchmarking 2020, 96% of the chartered practices (that completed the survey) are SMEs, 78% being micro-business.
Collaboration between small architectural practices and larger firms can be a powerful force for positive change. While large firms may have the resources, reach, and established networks, smaller practices often bring fresh perspectives, agility, and a deeper understanding of local communities. By joining forces, they create an opportunity to bridge the gap between the idealistic vision of the small practice and the practical implementation capabilities of the larger firm.
So, what benefits can you expect through working with SMEs? Increased value to communities. Small architectural practices are often rooted in their local communities. With their knowledge of the local context, they can provide insights into their specific requirements, such as cultural preferences, historical significance, and environmental concerns. This localised understanding, when combined with the expertise and resources of larger firms, enables the creation of designs that are tailored to the community's needs while also meeting global standards. Larger corporations can build stronger connections with the communities in which they operate. Such collaborations can lead to the revitalisation of neighbourhoods, support for community initiatives, and investment in local infrastructure. Improved diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion are fundamental for a thriving society. In the UK, diversity in Architecture is a recognised problem. Only 31% of architects in the UK are women and only 12% of architects are from under-represented groups.
Small businesses often represent marginalised groups, including women, ethnic minorities, and individuals with disabilities. By collaborating with small businesses, larger practices can tap into a diverse talent pool and supply chain, thereby promoting inclusivity in their operations. Engaging with these enterprises helps to create an inclusive business network that embraces diversity, empowers under-represented communities, and promotes social equality.
Fresh perspectives. Small practices can benefit from the experience and expertise of their larger partners, gaining insights into project management, technical knowledge, and business development. In return, small firms bring fresh perspectives, creativity, and innovation, enriching the larger firm's approach. This mutual exchange of knowledge and skills strengthens the architectural community as a whole.
As a small start-up ourselves, we often find that large projects such as schools, housing and commercial developments are awarded via frameworks, which can be difficult for SMEs to secure a place on. Collaborating with larger companies with established access to these frameworks are an excellent way for SMEs to work on larger projects and grow their businesses.
We recommend you reading this interview between Morris+Company and Freehaus about their collaboration experience on their City of London School project. Their discussion gives an insight into how collaboration between small architectural practices and larger firms holds immense potential for creating social value and positive change. As we look towards the future, these collaborations should be sought, encouraged and supported.