Insight / 20-Jun-24

How Rising Construction Costs Challenge Architects: Strategies for Adapting and Thriving

Written by Chris Turner
How Rising Construction Costs Challenge Architects: Strategies for Adapting and Thriving

Global events over the past four years have impacted heavily on our daily lives, resulting in higher mortgages, higher utility bills, higher food bills, and higher fuel costs. Things are no different for the construction industry where rising construction costs continue to challenge architects to come up with cost-saving initiatives for clients, whilst still producing strong designs.

According to the Department of Business and Trade, there has been a staggering 38 per cent increase in the price of all types of building materials since March 2020. Although the 12 months leading up to March 2024 saw a 2.3 per cent fall in prices, there was a 0.4 per cent rise in prices in March 2024. Rising construction costs stem from various factors including inflation, supply chain disruptions, labour shortages, and increased material prices.

All of this presents several challenges for architects. One of the most immediate effects is the pressure on project budgets. Clients often have fixed budgets, and when costs escalate, architects must find ways to deliver projects without compromising on quality or exceeding financial constraints. This can lead to a reduction in the scope of work, simplified designs, or the use of less expensive materials, which can impact the overall vision and functionality of a project.

Additionally, higher construction costs can result in longer project timelines. Delays in material availability and the need for renegotiation of contracts due to price changes can slow down the construction process. Architects have to manage client expectations and communicate effectively to ensure that all parties understand the reasons behind delays and cost adjustments. Architects must navigate all these hurdles while maintaining design integrity, client satisfaction, and project feasibility! So, let’s take a look at what strategies architects can adopt to help them adapt and thrive in this dynamic environment.

Strategies for Adapting and Thriving

Project management

Architects must have strong project management skills to keep construction costs down, and to handle budget constraints and time pressures effectively. This includes meticulous planning, regular monitoring of progress, and prompt adjustments to the project plan when necessary. Using project management software can help in tracking costs, schedules, and resources more efficiently.

Value engineering

Rising construction costs and budget squeezes mean architects have to compare the functions and properties of different materials in order to achieve the desired outcome at the lowest cost. Architects have to identify cost-saving opportunities without compromising performance. This approach requires creativity and innovation, and is best done as early in the project as possible in order to improve value for money as opposed to just cutting costs.

Sustainable design practices

Incorporating sustainable design practices might mitigate construction costs. For example, using local or recycled materials. Unfortunately, energy-efficient solutions often come with a higher price tag, but sustainable designs tend to attract clients who are willing to invest in environmentally friendly projects, safe in the knowledge they will offset higher initial costs with long-term savings.

BIM (Building Information Modeling)

BIM technology allows for detailed 3D modeling and simulation of construction projects. By using BIM, architects can identify potential issues early in the design process, thus avoiding costly changes during construction. BIM also enhances collaboration among all stakeholders, ensuring that everyone is on the same page regarding costs and timelines.

Flexible design approaches

Flexibility in design can help architects adapt to changing circumstances. Creating modular designs or incorporating adaptable spaces can make it easier to adjust to budget constraints or material availability. This flexibility allows for phased construction, where parts of a project can be completed as funds become available, potentially spreading out construction costs.

Supplier relationships

Building strong relationships with suppliers can provide architects with better insights into market trends and potential cost fluctuations. By maintaining good communication and negotiating favourable terms, architects can secure more stable pricing and reliable material availability.

Client education and communication

Educating clients about the realities of rising construction costs and the factors driving price increases is crucial. Transparent communication helps manage expectations and builds trust. Providing clients with detailed cost breakdowns and potential alternatives can aid in making informed decisions that align with their budget and vision. Also continuing to remind clients and the wider project team that the cost of design changes rises exponentially as the project moves from the early stages through to technical design and beyond.

Meet the Author

CHris Headshot
Chris Turner
BA(Hons)  MArch  PgDip  ARB  RIBA Chris joined Poynton Bradbury Architects in... Read More

BA(Hons)  MArch  PgDip  ARB  RIBA

Chris joined Poynton Bradbury Architects in 2018 after working in London where he led the delivery of major mixed-use regeneration schemes in both the UK and abroad with project values of over £120m. Becoming a Director of the practice in 2021 Chris is now applying his passion for environmentally and socially responsible architecture and urban design to help shape the ethos and vision of the practice.

He has wide experience of public consultation processes and has repeatedly represented the practice during the engagement of complex and varied stakeholder groups, local authorities and review panels. Chris is responsible for several sectors including schools, urban regeneration, placemaking, later living and care.

Working with a wide range of private sector and local authority clients Chris is adept at taking their projects through complex planning processes and supporting them to create truly transformative places.

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