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Woods Bagot makes a progressive move, for one and all

In a move that further positions the firm with a competitive edge and redefines the contemporary practice of architecture, Woods Bagot has appointed futurist Francesca Birks as Global Insights Leader.

Woods Bagot makes a progressive move, for one and all

In 2020, on a mission to position the firm and the role of architect as continuously relevant in an unpredictable world, Woods Bagot announced its shift into fast-forward in the evolution to becoming a ‘Practice of the Future’. We were instantly intrigued, even if a little foggy on the details at the time. But pragmatics of the global design practice’s vision have just become clearer, with the announcement of its recent new appointment of futurist Francesca Birks as global insights leader.

The newly created position heads up Woods Bagot’s newly established insights team, which is intended to “help our clients understand the greater forces at play” says the firm’s CEO, Nik Karalis.“There’s more to insights than simply expanding a client’s existing offerings to new regional markets. Understanding the context in which clients are operating and offering an informed vision of the future is critical in new market exploration,” he explains.

Woods Bagot hired Birks from engineering giant Arup, where she headed up Foresights and Design Strategy US, to govern a clearer understanding within the business of what will impact its work and service offer.

As a futurist, Birks’ role is not to predict the future but to come up with scenarios of how the future might look by reading data, research and cultural signals, and actionable strategies to shape that future. She likens the work to that of an archaeologist digging through dirt and rubble to uncover a fossil: “We examine a variety of sources – ethnographic, spatial analysis data, industry research, interviews with experts.”

In her excavation Birks endeavors to find cultural alignment between client ambitions and the design process the firm undertakes to realise those ambitions through strategic design. Insights is the thinking partner, she says, giving clients a language for what they’d like to see happen which leads to better design and project outcomes.

“When clients can express their desires confidently, a clearer and better design brief emerges, with key project priorities for programming and governance,” said Birks.

As well as representing a leap forward in practice, the research investment into global insights also supports Woods Bagot’s continuing thought leadership in support of its evidence based approach to sector innovation.

“We’re redefining what architectural practice is about, casting our gaze into the future to figure out how to do things better,” said Karalis. “By understanding market shifts and changes, and defining this value, we intend to win the work we want through differentiated positioning, stronger vision and brand strategies, and compelling value propositions.”


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