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Pandemic and Architecture: SGI Answers

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Did the world manage to adjust accordingly to the changes that have occurred as a result of the coronavirus pandemic? You can read below our Regional Director Alexander Daw and Director Vladislav Detchev answering some intriguing questions from “Gradat” on the consequences for the architectural sector.

31 August 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic rules the world. What does your initial analysis show? Where are the biggest problems and challenges for your company?

V.D.: The situation affects all of us. Maybe at first glance, it seems like architecture is not among the most influenced fields (like the schools, kindergartens, theaters, etc.), it is indisputable that the economic changes affect our clients, respectively to us as well. At the moment we are a little cautious, but also stay positive for the future. We try to analyze the forthcoming course of the events and to adequately and strategically plan our next moves. Despite the unclear economic situation, my choice is to remain optimistic and believe in the bright future of all of us.

A.D.: The largest concern is the length of time for uncertainty. The crisis has started to form its shape and it looks like it could go on for six months or so. Every economic crisis I have seen is very different. The week before the COVID 19 lockdown was enforced we spent some time gaming out different scenarios. Our main driver is to make sure that we can retain our team. Even if a company is generally stable and has no debt, if everything stops, and goes on long enough that way, for sure there will be problems. Up until now, our larger clients have committed to continuing. This would suggest that right now, developers that have projects going through design procedures will continue. The permitting process can take longer times these days, so stopping would leave developers potentially unprepared for whatever this crisis brings.

Business development is a trickier issue and at the moment there is next to no one brave enough to start design contracts, although the design market will for sure be offering good value. The problem appears if you are not signing contracts, at some point the businesses could be forced to scale back. I think if this is done in 3 – 4 months the market could keep its shape and rebound strongly. Any longer than that and there could be a real danger that the economic weather will force the market to drift.

“The market could keep its shape and rebound strongly”

What is your corporate response to the situation and what were the first measures you took?

A.D.: We certainly put everyone’s safety first and enacted home office ahead of the curve. We evaluated how we can make our existing resources last for an extended period of time. This means reviewing the amount of time staff are working vs the workload. We also looked at lowering costs where it was possible to make those resources last as long as possible and still be in great shape on the other side.

V.D.: From a corporate perspective, the message we continue to send to our partners is that we are here and moving forward, despite the situation. Of course, as an employer, our priority is the health and well-being of our team. That is why we have taken all necessary measures to limit social contacts, but maintain the maximum productivity of the company.

How do you work in the emergency state and social isolation?

V.D.: Although we must preserve the health of our loved ones, we must keep in mind that the Earth does not stop spinning. Our life, commitments, and work continue to be valid despite the situation. We are faithful to our words and successfully meet the deadlines set for customers and subcontractors. If we have to point to the positives in social isolation, they would be the big steps that everyone took towards digitalization and the alternative ways we found for working and communicating.

A.D.: It is generally not typical for an architecture company to function remotely. It needed some level of coordination to get all 50 people working from home. We have a core team of five that come to the office every day and keep a distance. We distributed the administration and workload to respond to our client’s requirements. We manage communications through online services and conference facilities, as I am sure is everybody else.

What are the projects you are working on right now and are they in any way affected by the emergency state in the country?

V.D.: It is a fact that this emergency would have an effect on businesses. We have some awaiting projects, but most of them are moving forward in spite of everything. In the longer term, it is clear that the newly formed social regulations will continue long after the end of the situation. We also see how the pandemic made us think and focus on things we didn’t pay attention to before. There is a trend in which the principles established in the last few months are slowly but surely turning into rules. This will surely make the business adapt to the new “normal”.

“Most of our projects are moving forward”

Having in mind the consequences on the economy and your sector, in particular, are the measures which the government suggests enough and would you apply for government financial aid?

A.D.: No, architects do not qualify for government help as we have not been forced to shut down, which is arguable if it is objective or not. I fear that overall, without government assistance, the industry and a lot of architects will really struggle in the next twelve months.

How would you comment on the measures of the banks in this situation and are the anticrisis measures they suggest realistic?

A.D.: Personally, I feel strongly about this subject. The banks should be helping the individual a lot more in Bulgaria. In the US the banks have given a 12-month mortgage and loan break, not a gift, but a pause and an extension. We requested the same from our bank for our staff and got an unsatisfactory response to say the least.

If the banks don’t react properly and this situation exceeds three months I think there is going to be a lot of public frustration. It should be a PR no-brainer, the banks owe society a lot from 2008 and this is a time when they can give a little back.

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