Top 5 Reasons to work in a Large Architectural Firm

Bob Borson —  March 10, 2014 — 9 Comments

Last week I put together a post titled ‘Architectural Job Starter Kit’ in which I drew upon my own personal experiences that discussed how to improve your chances at getting a job in an architectural office. One of the items in that post was the list “Top 5 Reasons to work in a Small Architectural Firm” which is somewhat biased because I didn’t really represent the benefits to working in a large architectural firm. I have had very limited exposure to the large firms, only work for 1 in my career and it was only for a year – I’m probably not the authority to explain why working at a large firm could be the best decision you’ve ever made in your life.

Large Firm Mosaic - photos by Kerry Hogue from HKS[large firm photos by Kerry Hogue, AIA, Principal and Senior Vice President, HKS]

To remedy that situation, I had asked a friend of mine – Dariusz Boron – who works in a firm that has well over 1,000 employees (900 alone in the office where he works) to develop a list that represented the other side of the ‘architectural firm size’ coin. Dariusz works overseas for a firm that shows up regularly in design periodicals and, in all honesty, in architectural history books. It would not be unreasonable for you to conclude that there is a competitive employee base made up of highly qualified individuals … in other words, people want to work there. That is an important distinction to make in regards to this post, these are not people who are working for a large firm because they have too, or that they had limited options. Part of the reason I asked Dariusz to pen this article was because he works in a highly sought after large office and would have the perspective I was looking to share. Here is the list that Dariusz put together for me:

Top 5 Reasons to work in a Large Architecture Firm:

1.  International Projects
International projects can be very exciting!  Working on a project can be an educational experience.  All of the project team will be exposed to learning about the site, which in turn will educate everyone about the city, roads, people movement, scale of the built environment, transportation systems, grain of the city, attractions, cultural centers, political aims, development and so on.  Unfortunately, not everyone will have a chance to visit the site, but those who do, will come back with photos and stories about their experiences.  On a more technical level, international projects will bring with the project, the specific building codes to the area, construction tolerances, local materials and way of working with them and customs that are reflected in vernacular architecture, amongst others.

2. Fantastic Resources
At every step of the design process, the central focus is design.  Quality Assurance of the design occurs when people have dialogue and exchange ideas.  An office will have a Board Review, where board members or senior partners or directors will discuss/critique the project being looked at.  Their experience of past projects can be incorporated and new ideas tested as well.  Regularly pinned up projects allow everyone to see what others are doing and comments are always welcomed.  Apart from the experience of the large community of architects, large offices will tend to have specialized groups that focus on specific tasks and work in parallel with architects on projects.  They can include:

  • Urban study groups who do wonderful analysis for sites
  • Visualization; both computer and hand drawings
  • Specialist 3D modelling for complex geometry and parametrics
  • Model-makers who make amazing presentation models
  • Specification teams
  • Material Library experts
  • Sustainability Research
  • Photography

These teams will be able to support the architects to create stunning presentations in competitions and support the ongoing projects as well.  Items such as contracts, budgets and other are also looked after by senior members of the project team or people in the office that specialized in a particular area.

3. Democratic Work Ethics
Some firms, mine included will tend to have an open space office.  As a metaphor for democratic design, everyone has the opportunity to give their own input into the design.  At times, some ideas may be dictated by more senior or experienced staff, but the chance for personal contribution is always there.  Most architects will fully be involved in design, which makes sense, since architects are trained at university to do just this.

Starting from Site Appraisal and the Brief, architects and designers will work together on appropriating information into something more understandable to all, which translates to pie charts, mapping, options of massing models on a site, shadow/solar irradiation studies, views and so on.  All of this information would be used to create a visual presentation for the client – powerpoint presentations, wall prints and brochures would be typical formats.  This will continue from the next conceptual stages and beyond.

4.  Focused Work
As opposed to a small firm, large firms are known to acquire some large projects – transport hubs, airports, large offices and more.  Project teams will naturally be broken up into smaller teams, which will focus on items like cores, façades, ceilings, washrooms, the roof, structure and so on.  The number of people at each task will depending on the complexity but the main factor into a successful project will be the communication and collaboration with everyone on the team.  Sure, drawings can be created as separate files, but talking to one another will be key, when everything goes together.  Having this part to play, in the greater whole, becomes that much more exciting and stimulating, when you see the whole building come together beautifully.  Of course, if someone isn’t motivated by a particular item, there is more than enough opportunity to work on a variety of things.

5. Great place to meet great friends
Finally, working in a super large office, gives you a chance to meet a lot of people.  There must be over 40 different languages spoken at the office, so there’s a chance you’ll meet some really nice people with a huge array of background and experience in architecture and life.  Major social events a couple of times a year and lecture / presentations bring people together.  A nice canteen, coffee bar also breaks the ice and allow for daily conversation and develops great relationships.

.

Thanks again to Dariusz for giving us his perspective on why you should want to work in a large architectural firm … did he change you mind? At the very least, I think there are enough positives here to warrant your consideration if your out there looking to make a change.

Happy job hunting!

Bob AIA signature

 

even better

  • Bec

    I love this website and as a student find a lot of the posts useful in informing me on what’s out there after architecture school. However, one thing that’s bothered me through this whole impeccable website is “your.” Your is a possessive word. If you can write “you are” in your sentence, it should be “you’re,” not “your.”
    I just didn’t know if anyone had mentioned it before to you c:
    Thank you for the great website <3

  • http://www.qubemodern.com Mayfair Mayframe

    Nice submissions- Boron! I will love to partner with a large architectural firm, on a project, someday. As the saying goes:…once in the lifetime of an architect, he/she, must have that big bang project, to make him/her smile. Smile and remain cheerful, y’all

  • Robby

    I work at a mid-size (50 people) office of a large firm (450 people). Before coming here, I had worked at a small firm as well as a mid-size single office firm. I have found that working for a large firm with all of its resources but in a smaller office is a great experience. I am able to work on large complex projects but still have a great deal of ownership in the work that I do. We have firm wide committees that allow me to be exposed to great knowledge sharing with specialists. Our technology systems are highly developed as are our production standards, but I still know the names of all of my coworkers children and am able to have a very flexible schedule and work on all aspects of a project. For me, at least, it’s a great balance.

  • Doug Kuchta

    I commented on the previous post, I love working at a small firm, always have for the most part, and possible always will. However, this post has really intrigued me and has maybe sparked some interest that I didn’t know would ever be considered. My biggest concern about a large firm, is how do you not get stuck being the go to guy for bathroom layouts, or facade details? and Do you really get the opportunity to move around on teams as you become more experienced or do you grow in your area of expertise.. ie bathroom layouts?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I’m not sure that you don’t get pigeon-holed. I can only speak from my time in a large firm and from what I’ve heard from others – and the likelihood that you become extremely proficient at a small set of skills seemed high. However, just as often as not, even though you work in a large office, the teams working on a particular project aren’t necessarily large which allows you to be exposed to more parts of a project along the way.

  • Vinnie

    6 of one half a dozen of the other. I’ve worked in both big and small and they have their good and bad points:

    Small Office: I learnt quite a bit but I was only learnign about extensions and doing the same construction detailing (pitchd roofs and cavity walls).

    Big office: More varied work, but you get pigeon holed. Forget ever leaving the office.

    I am currently at a small firm that do larger projects, no residential at all really. MOstly education and sports. And everyone pretty much runs their own job. I think I was here 9 months before I started to run my own job, from conception to handover/defect liability period. I had my boss overseeing everything but from my experience that is the best way to do it. I would admit that at this company there is zero time to design so it’s mostly rushed through to planning to achieve funding.

    I don’t think any company is perfect, you have to move around to achieve the aspect of experience you want to get. If you need to get design experience go to a small firm, if you want to know how to knock a tender package out go to a larger firm working in a team., or if you want to gain more CAD knowledge or have your company pay for you to learn Revit etc.

  • Charley Warady

    It seems to me that starting out at a large firm would be a great springboard for eventually going to a smaller firm, or starting one of your own. On the other hand, I suppose there are many who prefer the large firm atmosphere for the long term. Financially, is working for a large firm more secure?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      With all things being equal, I would have to say “yes” based on my personal experience for the simple reason that there are more people responsible for getting work in a large firm and the projects can go on for years. Small firms are beholden to the abilities of a small and very select group of people when it comes to getting work and if they have a down period …

      I suppose there is a balance between the two and at some level, and an argument could be made that both experience the same level of security and exposure.

    • http://proto-architecture.com/blog/ Jonathan Brown

      No. Many large firms will be hiring in one department and firing in another because, while under the same umbrella, are really treated like different firms. They hire up to complete big jobs and fire when complete if there isn’t something to transition them to.