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Facing up to major challenges of the recession

By Margaret Canning

Published 30/01/2013

Architecture has been transformed by the downturn in construction, with many firms cutting staff numbers before looking abroad to survive.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said the business services and finance sector, which includes property-related industries such as architecture, as well as legal services and banking, had seen output more than half since its peak in the second half of 2006.

Between 2007 and 2012, the numbers of architects, town planners and surveyors seeking work grew from 30 to 215.

Mr Ramsey said: "It's almost like the whole property downturn has fundamentally changed the outlook for the sector as all firms have to be outward-looking, whether they like it or not, because of where the work is.

"Most firms could in the past afford to be quite insular. During the boom and Celtic Tiger there was plenty of work and they didn't have to look beyond these shores but now they do."

The shock of the recession brought a major challenge for architects. Alistair Beckett of Hall Black Douglas, which currently employs 18 staff - compared to 36 before the downturn - said: "It required us to get our heads around how difficult the local market was becoming and that it wasn't a short recession but a long-term one.

Mr Beckett said it remained a "great profession" but added: "I think it is currently a difficult career path to follow, and my heart goes out to students seeking to qualify and get experience.

"It's a very difficult time for them, though I am pleased to say that we currently have five students in our practice. It's very important that the profession as a whole tries to support students."

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