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 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
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!