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Where do architects live? What the census can tell us about the profession today

Words:
Brian Green

Which local areas have the largest proportions of architects, what ages are they and how does this compare with other professions? Brian Green looks at results of the latest England and Wales census

Islington ranks second as home for architects as a proportion of the working-age population, among them Sarah Wigglesworth in the Straw House, shot in its early days.
Islington ranks second as home for architects as a proportion of the working-age population, among them Sarah Wigglesworth in the Straw House, shot in its early days.

If we judged people by where they live, architects are far closer to artists, authors, advertising professionals and actors than to bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers or quantity surveyors. That at least is the story told by the latest census for England and Wales.

The table below shows the 20 local authorities with the highest proportion of architects among their resident working population. It may surprise few that Hackney, Islington and Camden come out top, with Bath and North East Somerset the only one outside London in the top 10. It should be noted that the City of London would top the chart if not excluded from the list, along with the Isles of Scilly, because the low numbers of residents skew the analysis. That said, most architects living within the Square Mile would see Hackney, Islington or Camden as local.

The table also shows where these local authorities rank, on the same basis, for a selection of other occupations. The similarity between authors and artists is immediately evident with lots of low numbers recorded. The dissimilarity with bricklayers and quantity surveyors is equally clear with high numbers in abundance. The similarity with civil engineers is a bit more mixed.

If we take the rankings for the 196 local authorities where data is provided for architects (some data is suppressed because of low numbers) and compare these with other occupations, we can get a sense of correlation. And in Chart 1 (below) we can see that where architects are more abundant among the working community (nearer to zero on the horizontal axis), so too are artists and authors (nearer to zero on the vertical axis). And where few architects live (further right on the horizontal axis), you will see fewer artists and authors living in the community (higher up on the vertical axis). The reverse is true of bricklayers. Plumbers and carpenters (not plotted on the chart) also follow a similar pattern to bricklayers in where they live relative to architects.

Interestingly, when it comes to construction professionals, there is little discernible correlation with architects and quantity surveyors. Neither is there with construction project managers (which do not feature on the chart). However, there is some correlation with civil engineers. But we would expect this given that so much construction design work is undertaken in London.

The London bias in the regional spread of architects and civil engineers can be seen in Chart 2. While the London bias for where civil engineers live is modest, for architects the share living in London is very high. The census data suggests about a third of active architects in England and Wales live in London. If quantity surveyors were shown on Chart 2, the pattern would be close to the figures for all occupations with higher numbers in the east of England, which may suggest that many commute into London.

Chart 1
Chart 1

As Chart 2 shows, the census data also points to active architects being far more heavily weighted in the 30s and 40s age bands than is true of most occupations. This again dovetails with the high numbers that live in London, where there is a higher proportion of younger and mid-career people within the working population.

In terms of part-time working and self-employment, architects tend to be less likely to be in part-time employment than the overall working population (14.9 per cent compared with 29.8 per cent). When it comes to self-employment, however, the reverse is true: 22.6 per cent of architects said they were self-employed. This compares with 16.8 per cent of the wider working population.

On issues such as gender, architects continue to lag the overall working population. Across all occupations, females account for 48 per cent. The equivalent figure for architects in the 2021 census was just 31.4 per cent. This fits with the recent Architects Registration Board equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) survey, which found that 31 per cent of architects were female. But some comfort can be drawn from the direction of travel, as the proportion shown in the 2011 census was 21.5 per cent. This suggests that the intake into the profession is significantly more balanced than it was.

Chart 3 shows architects by age and sex. While gender parity is yet to be reached among younger architects, the census data shows that 41 per cent of architects under 40 are female. If current trends continue, the gap will continue to close at a steady rate. 

Chart 2
Chart 2

The census also found that 6.7 per cent of architects had a disability compared with 9.6 per cent in the wider working population. This data supports the ARB’s assumption that its finding of 1 per cent of architects reporting a disability was likely to underrepresent the true figure.

Across the working population, about 80 per cent are white, according to the 2021 census. Current splits of the census data for ethnic groups by occupation do not cover architects (SOC 2022, 2451) specifically, but do cover the much wider professional occupation group ‘Architects, chartered architectural technologists, planning officers, surveyors, and construction professionals’ (SOC 2022, 245). The percentage of non-white ethnic people in this group is 9.2 per cent. This is slightly below the ARB survey findings, which suggested that 12 per cent of architects were non-white. Both sets of data suggest the profession is far from representative of the working population.

Taken as a whole, the data presented by the census fits with many stereotypes, certainly those that suggest modern architects tend to be, or at least lean towards, being youthful (in spirit and attitudes at least), urban, and with an appetite to surround themselves with those regarded as the more progressive, erudite, and artistic in society. For those unfamiliar with the boroughs that top the charts, most would score very high on hipster hotspots.

Chart 3
Chart 3

But with all statistics, there are areas of doubt. And this is certainly true of the latest census. While it was decided to run the census for England and Wales, Scotland decided to hold off for a year. Given that the census provides a benchmark for other surveys, there was a strong case to hold off until the worst of the social and economic disruption of the pandemic had settled.

The intervention of Covid 19 played havoc. From early spring 2020 through to summer 2021, lockdowns, restrictions, and public concern had a profound impact on life in England and Wales. Many people were furloughed. Work arrangements were disrupted. Many people lost their jobs or temporarily switched employment. Some made second homes their main home. So the social and economic patterns painted of life within these two nations by a census that took place on 21 March 2021 were never likely to fairly represent longer and underlying trends in how and where people worked, rested and played.

However, as a comprehensive guide that can compare architects with other occupations, it remains extensive and probably the best available.

Chart 4
Chart 4

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