‘The last year has been fantastic,’ says Mouzhan Majidi, chief executive of Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), of the practice’s past financial year. ‘It has been a record one in terms of turnover and in securing work.’ It’s rare to meet such an upbeat business assessment by an architect, let alone after a year which across the industry looked to be more one of holding steady, if not holding one’s nerve. Perhaps it signals relief, two years on from Zaha Hadid’s unexpected death, that the practice has not just consolidated its business position but has been able to grow – and in doing so has proven the naysayers wrong. ‘Everybody was expecting us to have a dip,’ says Majidi.
On the contrary: completions in 2017 continued thick and fast worldwide and included notable projects such as the Napoli Afragola High Speed Station in Naples, the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre (KAPSARC) in Saudi Arabia and the 520 West 28th Street apartment block in New York. An impressive 28 projects are either under construction or about to hit site and completions over the next year will include the Morpheus Hotel at City of Dreams in Macau; another world-class hotel – the Opus – in Dubai; the Generali Tower in Milan; and the Changsha Meixihu International Cultural and Arts Centre in China. Importantly, more enquiries – one of ZHA’s key performance metrics – came in last year than ever before.
Recent wins include the Murray Road development in central Hong Kong for Henderson Land Development Corporation (which paid a world-record US$3 billion for the site alone). The practice has expanded its Hong Kong office. ZHA has also secured the major infrastructure project of the new Navi Mumbai International Airport in India, the firm’s first major project in that country. In addition, Australia has been a ‘great’ market for ZHA recently and the practice is looking to open an office there over the next 18 months.
An increase in staff numbers actually masks a small decrease in the total number of UK-based architects employed during 2017. What is still noticeable, though, is the practice’s impressively high proportion of BAME architects – 27 per cent. Buoyed up by new projects, the practice is now short of staff and Majidi singles out recruiting for the London office as one of the key challenges the practice faces. In particular, the office faces difficulties recruiting from outside Europe, due to visa restrictions. ‘Tier 2 visas are a massive problem for the industry,’ says Majidi. The government is issuing just 10,800 certificates of sponsorship a year for these and the NHS inevitably has priority. In addition, quotas get filled by high-earners. ‘At the moment they stop at £55,000, meaning it’s becoming impossible to employ an international graduate not already studying here on a Tier 4 visa,’ Majidi says. This is a serious problem for a practice that prides itself on having 55 nationalities on its staff. For the time being, there is no problem employing European graduates, but ‘it may become a problem soon,’ Majidi points out. Significantly, ZHA is opening an office in Berlin. At present, it is project-specific, but Majidi admits it is part of a strategy to look ahead in respect of Brexit. ‘It makes sense to have another office in Europe outside London,’ he says.