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Challenges and opportunities for architects in 2021

Architects along with other professionals and businesses will have their share of challenges and opportunities in 2021. Here are the ones we’re focussing on at Ethos.

NetZero and Passivhaus

We are committed to reducing carbon across all our projects and sustainability design and construction is one of our passions. The challenges all architects face in the goal of carbon reduction are significant - cost, supply chains, government policy, client and end-user engagement. But the benefits are clear. One of our directors is a Certified Passivhaus Designer and we aim to weave the Passivhaus standard into as many of our projects as possible.

Modular and off-site construction

We will continue to be advocates for modular and off-site construction - especially in the affordable housing sector. Our work with ilke Homes and Keepmoat shows that new technology and new ways of working can meet consumer needs in a cost-effective way. Like net-zero, there are many challenges. But if we collaborate and across sectors and industries, we can create clear and consistent messages about modular and off-site benefits.

Professional Indemnity Insurance

RIBA and CECA have helped raise concerns about the rising cost of professional indemnity insurance across the construction industry. There are fewer insurers in the market, reducing competition. Cover provision is narrowing, including some insurers excluding fire safety issues from policies. Costs are rising. We are providing our insurers detailed project analyses and we continue to demonstrate our robust quality assurance and risk management.

Planning policy reform

We took part in a CIfA - RTPI seminar late last year, which looked at the government’s latest planning reforms in the context of heritage and the wider historic environment. Many of the challenges raised by the panellists are relevant across all parts of the construction industry - the potential for increased costs; short transition timetables; how clients and the public are engaged in the reform process; local planning authority resources. We do feel the planning system may need to be reformed, but we also believe further consultation is needed to ensure the reforms are fit-for-purpose.

COVID recovery

The pandemic and its aftermath may well dominate 2021, as did 2020. We will continue to be flexible and agile in terms of running our practice and responding to client needs. There will be opportunities for architects to engage in the creative reuse of distressed retail property and on high street regeneration more generally. Mixed-use may become the norm and masterplanning will have resident, worker and visitor health at its core.


The pandemic and Brexit, rising costs, rapidly changing technologies and government planning policy reform are all challenges that architects have been dealing with and will continue to do so in 2021. With many challenges, you can also see them as opportunities. For example, cashflow challenges may result in better financial planning. Remote working may bring a focus on staff wellbeing. Project delays and disruption may improve your project management and negotiation skills. The RIBA’s Practice Resilience Digest gives lots of advice from architects and experts.

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