Breaking the Box: Explode out of Architecture School to a Successful Career as an Architect
What Architecture Firm is right for you? Consider the Firm Culture
Choosing an Architecture Firm based on firm culture is a complex topic. Firm culture is much more challenging to discuss, as it is less tangible and quantifiable than the previous parts of this chapter. For example firm size, firm location and project expertise is something that most architecture firms list on their website.
However you will not find a Culture Tab on any firm’s website.
I have been fortunate to work at an architecture firm that was very casual and one that was very corporate. At the casual firm, most people wore jeans everyday, some brought their dogs to work and it was not uncommon to hear music pumping from each studio.
At the corporate firm jeans were only allowed on Fridays. In fact the men were required to wear a tie Monday through Thursday. As you probably could expect there were no dogs at the corporate firm and music was reserved for headphones.
If you were to make a graphic scale of firm culture that showed ‘Google Casual’ on the far left and ‘Corporate Stiff’ on the far right you would find that most architecture firms are somewhere in the middle. In general, small firms will lean towards the more casual side and larger firms will lean towards the more corporate side.
An architecture firm that is more casual is likely to have a more comfortable work environment with less rules and standards. A more corporate architecture firm is likely to feel stiffer with more standards and systems.
Each side has its benefits. Bringing Fido to work and sipping off the company beer keg is pretty awesome! On the other hand, getting a higher salary because your architecture firm has more streamlined systems is also awesome!
I think that firm culture is less about outward appearance and more about relationships. Are the employees treated well? Are the emerging professionals being mentored and developed? This is something that is hard to distinguish through a website or even an interview.
I would recommend reaching out to employees of the firm that are in your demographic. Ask them how they enjoy working there. Do they feel like they are part of a team? Is it fun? I would recommend using LinkedIn for this.
Cliques or Sub-cultures
You may even find different subcultures within one firm. One studio continuously puts in long hours whereas the neighboring studio cuts out early on Thursdays for happy hour.
It is also possible that a firm culture will change over time. It may be cool today but stiff tomorrow.
You also need to understand that you have the power to affect change and improve a firm’s culture. Although a firm’s culture is developed from the top down, I don’t think any architecture firm owner wants to have a shitty culture. If you see room for improvement at your firm speak up. What is the worse that could happen?
Closing Thoughts on Choosing the Right Architecture Firm
What Architecture Firm is right for you is a bit of a trick question. Although I have organized the choices into 4 neat categories: location, type of work, size and firm culture; we know that it is not that simple. Some times a firm just feels right.
As an emerging professional in architecture, you should always focus on maximizing opportunities.
I have repeated that sentence throughout this chapter. When you are in the beginning of your career exposure to new and different things is invaluable. I advise you to put yourself in a situation where you will encounter new things every day. If you find that your current position has grown stale then it is up to you to speak up.
You Will Change
Chances are that your vision of the perfect architecture firm will morph throughout your career. Chances are that you will also come to the realization that there is no perfect architecture firm.
For me it is about doing work that makes me happy.
Chapter 3 by the Numbers
• 2,768 words
• 10 – Translates into approximately 10 pages in book form.
• 4 – Blog Posts
• 10 – Hours to Write and Post on Blog
• 5 – Stretched over 3 calendar days.
• 2 – Average book pages written per day.