On April 8, AN shared news that London-headquartered global architecture firm Foster + Partners, one of the largest architecture practices in the United Kingdom, had resorted to company-wide staff curtailments—namely furloughs and pay cuts—as a direct result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. At the time, Foster + Partners was the first firm of such enormity to make public such measures.
Now, just over a week later, several other major international firms with headquarters in both the U.K. and United States have announced similar belt-tightening actions. Below is a list of large-sized firms that AN is aware of having done so—and, unfortunately, this list is likely to grow as the pandemic continues to upend the architecture, engineering, and construction industry. We will add to it as new examples are announced and verified. And to keep up to date on the myriad ways in which the coronavirus is affecting architecture and related industries, check out AN’s weekly Corona Column.
Zaha Hadid Architects has been in the news for other more celebratory reasons as of late, but the firm has also enacted furloughs albeit on a very small scale at this point. As reported by Building Design on April 14, ZHA has furloughed 15 of its 348 London-based employees, all in office maintenance positions that couldn’t be performed while working remotely from home. On the bright side, ZHA also announced that its office in Beijing has since reopened and has plans to further expand its footprint in China “due to an increasing workloads.”
Building Design also reported that Grimshaw Architects “was looking at putting a number of staff on furlough and reducing hours for some others.” The London-headquartered practice is also mulling redundancies in the wake of its Heathrow Airport expansion project being deemed illegal. Another British mega-firm, the venerable, 900-plus-employee practice BDP, which recently aided in the transformation of a sprawling exhibition center into the NHS Nightingale Hospital London, is also going into self-preservation mode by furloughing staff. As the firm’s chief executive, John McManus, told Building: “The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the entire construction industry has led to our decision to furlough a number of staff during the lockdown period. Our priority at this point is to protect jobs and retain our talented staff during this unprecedented global crisis.”
As reported by Blair Kamin, architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune, some notable practices that are based out of or that have major presences in the Windy City have been forced to make unfortunate adjustments. They include Skidmore Owings & Merrill, which has resorted to “sweeping cost-savings measures” such as pay cuts for senior leadership, companywide temporary salary reductions, and placing an unknown number of employees on furlough. When asked about any changes, a spokeswoman for Studio Gang gave Kamin a more optimistic response, but did not answer direct questions about temporary layoffs, saying: “By and large, we have experienced a seamless transition into the new, hopefully temporary, normal.” Perkins and Will has reportedly not slashed staff or salaries at its Chicago headquarters as a result of the pandemic. However, the firm’s managing director, Gina Berndt, told Kamin via email that the “situation remains very uncertain.”
While obviously not a firm, The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has also made drastic cuts due to the pandemic. As the Architects’ Journal reported on April 9, RIBA, which is also in the midst of an abrupt internal turmoil of a different sort, has furloughed a third of its staff, which amounts to about 100 people: “Like many other organisations, the RIBA will furlough 30 percent of our UK-based employees through the UK government coronavirus job retention scheme,” said RIBA chief executive Alan Vallance in a statement. “This will help safeguard jobs and ensure a level of financial security for the institute.”