Continuing growth in every major region in the world has seen Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) build on the achievements of 2017 with another fantastic year, with total architectural fees rising 14 per cent from £50.3 million to £57.5 million.
‘We’ve carried on growing and have found a lot of new markets like India and Russia, adding to places like Hong Kong and China which have always been great for us,’ says ZHA chief executive Mouzhan Majidi. ‘It has been consistent growth for a couple of years and this year (2019) is going to break records in terms of turnover and invoicing.’ This is partly because ZHA is also taking on new roles and responsibilities on larger and larger projects. On the new Navi Mumbai International Airport in India, for example, the firm is lead consultant with a team of subconsultants, including Arup.
ZHA, established 40 years ago, remains in third place in the AJ100 rankings but now employs 273 UK architects, up from 247 a year ago. Firmly established in London, the vast bulk of its work remains overseas.
‘We would love to expand the UK market but it has always lagged behind other regions for us,’ says Majidi. ‘That said, there are a number of opportunities in London we are pursuing.’
ZHA is also active in every available sector except healthcare, an omission it is making efforts to rectify. The firm now intends to team up with a specialist healthcare practice to deliver a significant scheme or two and is building up its skill set in the sector in the interim.
‘Healthcare is difficult and it needs a new way of thinking,’ explains Majidi. ‘There has been a real push to look at lab projects. As a typology, that seems to be the area that is expanding massively, especially in North America.’
Given the firm’s recent expansion and further growth now anticipated, it is no wonder that ZHA is considering whether it might need to move out of its long-term HQ, a converted Victorian school building in Clerkenwell, London. Majidi talks wistfully of ‘more efficient floorplates’ but still doesn’t sound sold on the idea of moving.
‘The thought of going is an option, but it’s quite disruptive,’ he says. ‘The team also loves this area, so we wouldn’t want to move out of it. There are so many creative firms here.’
There is also London’s ethnic and cultural diversity, something ZHA embraces far more than most large firms, with no less than 29 per cent of its architects hailing from a BAME background.
Majidi believes this stems from the way it recruits students and its close links with architectural education – 60 members of ZHA ’s staff also teach.
He is also keen to challenge the idea that ZHA is wedded to a long-hours culture, saying he and other practice leaders have made serious efforts to create a better work/life balance for employees, particularly those who are parents.
‘There was a tendency for the whole office to come in late and work late, but we’ve changed our policies to give flexibility to the staff on how early they want to start and leave,’ he says. ‘We’ve also done a lot to enable working from home, so parents can better juggle work and home life. It’s also to do with dealing with the gender pay gap.’
Employee satisfaction would presumably have been boosted further by the practice setting up an Employee Benefit Trust, in line with the wishes of its late founder. This would hold cash and other assets to benefit the staff. However, Majidi says this process has been heavily delayed by the continuing legal wrangles between ZHA principal Patrik Schumacher and the three other executors of Zaha Hadid’s will. This is because Hadid’s estate – overseen by the executors – has ultimate control of Zaha Hadid Holdings and all the other related companies in the group.
‘It has been three years since Zaha passed away, so staff quite rightly want to know what is happening now in terms of the ownership of the company,’ Majidi says. However this issue is finally resolved, ZHA has fared far better in the interim than many had expected.