Confidence soared in the profession last month despite ongoing uncertainty in the economy, RIBA survey finds

Architects are expecting their workloads to increase for the first time in seven months, RIBA’s Future Trends survey has found.

The institute’s monthly temperature check of the profession found optimism soared last month despite ongoing uncertainty in the wider economy.

More than three quarters of practices which responded said they expect their workloads to increase or stay the same over the next three months, with just one quarter expecting them to decrease.

Future trends feb 23

RIBA’s Future Trends workload index jumped into positive territory for the first time since last July

The survey’s index of workload expectations shot up by a “remarkable” sixteen points to +5, RIBA said, which is the first time the figure has been in positive territory since July 2022. Any number above zero indicates respondents on average expect their workloads to increase.

The rise was most marked in the South of England, where the index rose by 22 points to zero after seven months in negative territory. All other regions saw growing confidence, with the Midlands and East Anglia rising by 21 points, the North of England by 14 points and Wales and the West by 7 points. Only London, which fell below zero last month, remains pessimistic about future work with a score of -2. 

RIBA head of economic research and analysis Adrian Malleson said the report “marks a welcome return to positive territory”.

“It has been a difficult and uncertain few months for many practices, so recent market stability is welcome,” he said.

“With a recession still on the cards for the UK and ongoing obstacles in the profession, the coming months are likely to remain challenging. 

“However, the near-term prospects for architects look better than they have been for several months. Confidence is growing, with some practices reporting an increase in enquiries, more new commissions, and an uplift in clients deciding to move ahead with projects.”

The outlook for smaller practices has risen sharply by 14 points and stood at zero in February, while medium and larger practices, those which employ 11 or more staff, returned a buoyant figure of +31.

Expectations of future staffing levels, which have shown resilience in recent months amid fears of an economic downturn, remained positive last month despite falling two points. 

One in ten practices anticipated staff cuts over the next three months, with small firms outside of London and the South of England most likely to be looking at reducing their headcount.

Architects also reported more pessimism about the impact of the current EU trading arrangements on their work than when first asked in 2021, with 1 in five 5 practices expecting a negative effect on their coming workload when asked in February.

The increase in workload confidence will also be overshadowed by a surprise jump in the rate of inflation yesterday, which is expected to lead to the Bank of England increasing interest rates today for the 11th consecutive time from 4% to 4.25%.