When the world’s economies start to move into recovery the architectural landscape will be very different, with this year’s results showing a marked shift of power to the East

You can detect a sense of cautious optimism as practices in BD’s World Architecture Top 100 enter 2010 — although it will certainly have been dented as Dubai’s main developer announced it was sinking under its debts.

It’s yet another sign that when the recovery does come, it will certainly not be a return to life as it was before the crash.

This year’s survey of global practices reveals strong indications that the money, the work and the power have irrevocably headed East. For a start, Japanese practice Nikken Sekkei is back at number one, and Chinese practice

P&T Architects & Engineers appears in the top 10 for the first time — these are the only firms in the top 10 to have significantly increased their architectural headcount.

It was a year when you could climb up the table just by staying still or shedding just slightly fewer staff than your ailing peers.

So it’s perhaps more revealing to look at changes in headcount than in ranking.

There were 13 new entries in the Top 100 table. Of the others reshuffled from last year, 53 now employ fewer architects, 27 employ more and seven have remained steady.

2010 World Architecture 100 is now available for purchase

2010 World Architecture 100 is now available for purchase

The greatest increases are concentrated in the Pacific Rim — most notably Singapore-based DP Architects’ stellar rise 49 places up the table to number 12 — while the firms employing fewer architects than in last year’s listings are predominantly North American.

European firms did slightly better, but still showed decline overall.

Overall, it was another depressing set of figures for the profession.

The Top 100 firms now employ 27,364 qualified architects, compared to 30,613 in 2008. The pace of decline has also accelerated this year, with a drop of 10.7% compared to 6.1% witnessed last year.

Figures peaked in 2007 with 32,588 architects in the Top 100 — the current total represents just 84% of that peak.

Most architects expect a decline in the West, with growth mainly in the Pacific Rim and Central Asia

 

The wider creative team fared better. This year, the number employed by the top 100 firms in that table is 39,765, down 6.4% on last year’s total but still 4.5% higher than in 2008. The ratio of architects to creatives is dropping fast — in 2007, there were 16.7% more creatives than architects. In 2008, this had risen to 38.7% more. This year, there are 45% more creative staff employed than architects, according to our survey data.

This may represent the rise and resilience of multidisciplinary practices such as Atkins, which has declared an intent to be taken more seriously as an architect, recruiting senior staff from other firms to enhance its design profile.

As well as the global rankings, we also carried out a survey of the heads of nearly 200 global practices — a fascinating barometer of what leaders in the market expect the next year to bring.

We asked respondents to rate the prospects of the global construction economy on a five-point scale, from strong growth to strong decline. While no one appears to be expecting strong growth, almost half anticipate growth, and a further 42% predict stagnation. Only 9% expect a decline and just 1% fear a strong decline.

But if there is more work, European and North American practices are going to have to travel further to win it.

As you’ll see in our Global Regions section, when we asked architects to predict the health of construction economy of different global regions, most expect a decline in the West with growth mainly in the Pacific Rim, Central Asia and, to a much lesser extent, the Middle East.

Firms completed the survey earlier in the autumn — if we asked them again now, it seems unlikely the Middle East would do even that well. It’s quite a turnaround from last year, when the Middle East was still the preferred destination for architectural services and Europe was significantly ahead of Central Asia and the Pacific Rim.

Predictions for the Chinese market typically include some very large numbers. In November, the Global Construction 2020 report, compiled jointly by consultancies Global Construction Perspectives and Oxford Economics, forecast that the Chinese construction market would overtake the US by 2018, and be worth almost £2.5 trillion by 2020, representing 19% of global construction output.

The Chinese government has declared its ambition for extraordinary architecture again and again in recent years, with Herzog & de Meuron’s Bird’s Nest stadium, the Water Cube aquatics centre by PTW Architects and OMA’s CCTV building.

At the end of 2008, it announced a $586 billion stimulus package, of which 85% was to be spent on infrastructure, seen as the heart of continued economic growth. The current five-year plan, which runs to 2010, aims for a massive increase in China’s urban population.

Next year’s Shanghai Expo, where over 5sq km will be devoted to sustainable urban design, will no doubt see many architects among its expected 70 million visitors. Already it’s the practices that had the foresight to make inroads in China during the boom who are prospering, leading to some intriguing moves in the Top 100.

Who knows what the top table will look like this time next year?