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Perkins and Will’s CEO sees a light at the end of COVID-19 tunnel

Phil Harrison says the virus outbreak could make more clients see the connection between design and wellbeing.

March 21, 2020 |

Phil Harrison, who has been Perkins and Will's chief executive since 2006, says it's too early to tell if the coronovirus will be a glance or knockout blow to the construction industry. Image: Perkins and Will

Perkins and Will is the world’s second-largest architecture firm, with 26 studios across the globe. So it is acutely aware of the impact that the coronavirus is having on construction projects.

The firm’s CEO, Phil Harrison, says the current situation, with some projects being placed on hold since the onset of the pandemic, actually isn’t dramatically different yet from the volatility that global markets have experienced for the past three years.

“It is too early to accurately report if a higher percentage of our projects are slowing, stopping or being cancelled due to the pandemic,” he said in an email to BD+C. “Notably, in some cases, we are getting busier as result of the current situation, as some clients are asking us to work on temporary facilities.”

Despite his expectation that Perkins and Will would remain busy “for the near term,” Harrison acknowledges mandates that have shut down construction in Boston and Cambridge, Mass., and have severely restricted gatherings and people movement in cities like San Francisco and New Orleans and states like New York, Illinois, and Ohio.

His firm has also had to deal with supply-chain disruptions that manifested themselves first in China and more recently in Italy for such components as curtainwall.

Harrison thinks it’s premature to speculate about what the coronavirus’ longer-term impact might be on the construction industry. “Much of this will depend on the duration of the economic reaction to the pandemic.”

But he does see a potential silver lining from this travail. “We believe that design and wellbeing are inextricably connected, and that, in the future, our clients will value this connection all the more,” says Harrison.

He notes that Perkins and Will is already working this way. For example, infection control has long been a priority of its healthcare clients, and the firm has been incorporating advanced design features to reduce infection control in its projects. “No doubt, we will implement these advanced strategies on more of our healthcare projects, and it is certainly possible that other building typologies will benefit from some of these design features,” he says.

Similarly, Perkins and Will has been applying resilient design principles in all of its work. “It is easy to predict that our client will value this approach even more,” he says.

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