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Architect rewarded for tech focus

Thursday 17 January 2013 6:00

Architects’ practice Space Group has landed a string of deals in London and diversified into the technology sector as it fights back against some of the toughest construction conditions since World War II.

The Newcastle company has been enlisted to work on three major projects in the Capital on the back of its increasing focus on digital technology known as Business Information Modelling (BIM) which is used to plan and collaborate on building projects.

The group, which now has a satellite office in London as well as sites in the North West, Yorkshire and Humberside, has also told BQ it plans to start developing its own software in-house as part of its continual push into the building-related technology sector.

At its peak in 2007/08 Space Group was turning over around £10m a year and employing 200 people, buoyed by lucrative government schools and hospitals projects.

With the company targeting annual turnover of £6m this year and currently employing 80 people, its core markets and aspirations have changed dramatically since those pre-recessionary days.

But despite the fallout from the demise of construction – a sector which lost 60,000 jobs nationally last year – Space has remained profitable while many other traditional North East architectural firms such as Tyne Bridge Towers creator Mackellar have been forced to close in recent months.

Its drive to lessen its exposure to the decimated construction industry has seen it launch two new businesses in recent years, and

Both are focused around BIM technology which enables the creation of digital representations of components and plans for buildings allowing various parties to collaborate and develop projects digitally.

While features a vast library of virtual models of manufacturers’ components used on projects, is a BIM consultancy which works in the designing, developing and operating of buildings.

Chief executive Rob Charlton said: “Between 2005 and 2010 there was a lot of public sector work and we were very busy, but in the last few years we’ve been readjusting, finishing off the work for the previous government and looking at what the new market means and focusing on the change and development of the business.

“To survive and prosper in this market you have to add value and you can’t just do the same as everyone else or focus on lowest cost. And that’s what we’ve been looking at – more specialised offerings and more innovation.”

And the move into BIM has certainly paid off. So much so, in fact, that the company is now working with talented individuals at Leeds Metropolitan University to lay the foundations for a new in-house development team for software applications related to the building process.

The group’s technology focus has also helped it to win work on three prominent London projects. The firm was selected to create, manage and implement the BIM process for the 240 Blackfriars Road project – a 19-storey tower within London’s Southbank developed by the Great Ropemaker Partnership and comprising of 11,000 sq ft  of office space.

Space Group is also involved in the project to relocate and expand London’s Design Museum from its Shad Thames base into the former Commonwealth Institute on London’s Kensington High Street. The company is also involved in an as-yet unnamed "big project" in Kings Cross.

Space Group grew out of the Waring & Netts Partnership, which was established in 1957, and today has its HQ in South Gosforth.