Over recent years, I’ve noticed more and more architectural practices of all sizes bidding jointly for work in the UK. This represents a major shift in the way practices operate domestically.
Joint venturing with another practice presents opportunities and issues for both large and small firms.
Larger UK practices working internationally have a long history of partnering with local firms on projects in order to navigate local regulatory issues, language barriers and sometimes to smooth things politically. These collaborations have generally produced successful projects, and it seems this approach is starting to be adopted in the domestic market.
Joint ventures are a good way for smaller practices to get access to large projects, while on the flip side, they allow large practices to offer a fresh design approach by bringing in a self-contained external design team on a project by project basis.
Take the planned Kensington Olympia redevelopment by Heatherwick Studio & SPPARC. The joint venture allowed the two firms to bring ‘the best of both worlds’ to the project. While Thomas Heatherwick is acclaimed for his studio’s soulful and interesting design, SPPARC has a record of accomplishment with hotel and large mixed-use developments.
One of our clients, WR-AP Architects, described their own move into joint ventures in the Architects Journal:
“We have begun to strike up alliances with other architectural practices where we offer a combined service to provide the security in numbers that many clients request.”
A troublesome twosome?
As with any kind of partnership, joint ventures demand additional considerations to those required when operating independently. Neglecting the extra project planning required in a joint venture could lead to failure. Among the important areas to consider are how the two firms will share or split the design of the project.
More practical points to consider:
- How will the two firms’ cultures ensure that they can work harmoniously together?
- Will the working practices need to change and what happens if director/partner personality clashes appear?
- Then there is the question of who takes the lead in client management?
- Also what would happen if your partner couldn’t complete their elements of the work? Who is responsible?
The keys to successful collaboration
While clear leadership is needed in an architectural collaboration, it is also important that the joint venture is decentralised to some degree, empowering architectural teams further down the pyramid to make their own decisions.
The ability to compromise is also needed, and the leaders of collaborative teams can benefit by always giving prominence to at least one opposing view, in order to retain balance to the project.
Crucially, architects in joint venture teams must keep their ability to look at the bigger picture, and not get tied down with an overload of information.
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