Breaking the Box: Explode out of Architecture School to a Successful Career as an Architect
What Architecture Firm is right for you? Consider the Type of Work
Often when I meet people and tell them that I am an architect they ask, “Do you do houses? Or commercial?”
Another common question is, “Are you a modern designer or a traditional designer.”
Of course, architecture is not as binary as the layperson perceives. It is a much more complex beast. However those questions are the types of things you should be thinking about when choosing an architecture firm.
• What type of buildings do you aspire to design?
• And do you have a certain design aesthetic you prefer?
An Architecture Firm that Specializes vs an Architecture Firm that Generalizes
Some architecture firms choose to specialize on one market sector such as single family residential. Other firms will provide a more general approach and offer design services for a variety of different building types. This generalist approach is most common and even small residential firms will often pursue commercial work.
There are also firms that offer very niche design services such as Athletic Stadium Design, Theatre Design, Prison Design, etc.
As an emerging professional in architecture, you should always focus on maximizing opportunities.
If you feel that you were put on this earth to design Byzantine Churches, then find a firm that specializes in that type of work. However, if you are the slightest bit unsure about your preference than I would recommend finding a firm that offers a variety of design services.
I think it is very hard to know what type of work will make us happy until we actually do it. If you work for a firm that only does custom residential and you determine that this work is not fulfilling then you are stuck. It would be a much safer decision to find a firm that does a little bit of everything. That way you have more opportunity to take a little taste of this and a little taste of that.
How about design?
Architecture firms will often have a design aesthetic that has been developed by one of the main partners. One of the best examples would be the work of Frank Gehry, which is easily distinguished. Other firms may have a more open response to design and produce buildings with various styles and aesthetics. Skidmore Owings and Merrill for example has been successfully producing designs since 1936 yet there buildings are not easily distinguished as SOM buildings.
This is not meant to be a criticism just an observation of the variety that you will find.
You will have your Robert A.M. Stern’s of the world that are recognized for their traditionalist approach to design. And you will have your Zaha Hadid’s that take a very progressive approach.
Again the importance is the variety of options.
If style or design excellence is important to you than you need to actively seek that out. Reviewing an architecture firm’s website is a very quick way to decipher their design aesthetic. Working with architects who produce strong design is an invaluable experience for emerging professionals.
5 years of this?
For some emerging professionals the best choice may be to find a firm that works on a variety of different building types. Other may find a specialist and do just fine. In any case you should be thinking at least 5 years down the road. Will you be happy doing this type of work for the next 5 years?