Back in November, my pal Daniel Beck wrote a guest blog called Top 10 Reasons to Work in a Small Architecture Firm. It was an awesome list that was well received. Six months later I bring you:
Top 10 Reasons to Work for a Large Architecture Firm
#10 - Larger Geographic Reach
Bigger architecture firms tend to cast a wider net. They will often have building type experts, which allows them to do work in all parts of the world. For example, the large architecture firm HOK has an Aviation sector that has completed airports in far-flung places like India, Qatar and Bangkok. You won't find an aviation sector at a 10-person firm.
If you have the desire to work in multiple regions, than a big firm is your best bet.
#9 - Big Projects
If you have an appetite for big projects, than a big firm will afford the greatest opportunities. In general, the larger and more complex building projects are done by the larger architecture firms. Most clients will not want to take a risk with a small firm since their resources and experience level will be limited.
Big work gets you big work.
#8 - Diverse Projects
Often when I meet people and tell them I am an architect they ask, “Do you do houses? Or commercial?” Of course, architecture is not as binary as the layperson perceives. It is a much more complex beast.
Typically smaller firms will limit their focus to one or two building types, with residential being the most common. Larger firms tend to work on many different building types: single family residential, multi-family residential, office, retail, hotel, civic, K-12, etc..
The bigger the firm the more exposure you will get to different projects types.
#7 - $$ Higher Compensation and Benefits $$
Larger architecture firms generate larger revenues, which translates to higher employee compensation.
Larger Revenues - The 2012 AIA Firm Survey Report showed that the average net revenue per employee for a firm of 100+ employees was $64,000 more than the average revenue per employee at a 2-4 person firm. ($138,000 vs $74,000) Whoa!
Higher Compensation - According to the 2015 AIA compensation calculator, the average salary for Intern 1 level positions at a firm with revenue between $250-999k is $37,900 whereas a firm with revenue of $15 Million and up on average pays $43,000. That extra $5,100 per year would have bought me a lot of PBR’s back in the day.
The Gap gets Bigger - The income gap between small and large firms gets even bigger as experience level increases. For example, a project manager at a firm with revenues of $15 Million or more will earn on average $29,000 more a year than a project manager at a firm with revenues between $250-999K. ($94,000 vs $65,000) Check out the: AIA Compensation Survey Calculator
Other Benefits - Larger firms are more likely to contribute to 401K retirement plans, provide professional development allowance and cover the costs of ARE exams and AIA membership fees.
To learn more about architects and their salaries check out:
#6 - Better Toys
Those larger profits allow the big firms to invest in the best toys. These toys allow you to provide a higher level of service to your clients. Things like:
- The Best Computers and Software
- Advanced Modeling Tools: 3-D Printers, Laser Cutters, CNC Routers
- Virtual Reality Technology
- ARE and LEED Study Material
- Zooty Ergonomic Furniture: Stand-up desks, Treadmill Desks
If that toy is a sound investment than it will provide a much greater payback than the initial expense. For example: upgrading from AutoCAD to Revit is a very expensive and difficult transition. For this reason many small firms have held out on the transition. However, Revit has the ability to streamline design documentation resulting in higher quality design and larger profits for the firm. Thus, it pays back big time.
#5 - Working with Experts
At a large firm, you are likely to find a variety of specialists such as:
- Design Leaders
- Building Detail Experts
- Specification Experts
- Building Type Experts: Hospital Designers, Hotel Designers, School Designers, etc.
- Financial Experts and a Dedicated Marketing Team
These specialists will provide a premium level of service to the clients and working among experts is an amazing learning opportunity. You will be mentored by the best, helping you build your skill set and to find your passion. This also allows for:
#4 - The Ability to Specialize
Employees at small architecture firms tend to where all hats. The lead principal may do all of the business development, produce all of the designs, and even help with drafting.
Imagine if you went to a restaurant, and the hostess, was also the waiter, the bartender and the cook. You would not run a restaurant this way so why would you operate an architecture firm like this?
At a large firm, employees are trained in various areas and then have the ability to become more specialized and focused. This allows you to work in the areas where you excel and is also a much more prudent business model.
#3 - Greater Stability
A larger, older architecture firm will typically be more financially stable than a smaller, younger firm. Larger firms are more likely to have dedicated business professionals such as accounting staff, a marketing department, full time legal counsel, construction administration professionals and other safeguards. These specialists help steer the larger firms away from icebergs and prevent the ship from going down during the storms.
These type of specialists fall under overhead and are often not afforded at smaller architecture firms. Also, there is a reason that big firms are big. They have been around for a while.
#2 - Community
One of my favorite things about large architecture firms is the people. I enjoy working with people…..lots of them! Density is good for cities and it is also good for architecture firms. To have a strong community you need numbers.
#1 - Bigger Opportunities
The people, the projects, the technology, the stability….. All of the things in this list add up to greater opportunities than you would find in a small architecture firm. I like to think of it as a tasting menu. The bigger the menu the more likely you are to find your passion.
I tend to gear my writing towards the younger folks and when you are an emerging professional in architecture, you should always focus on maximizing opportunities.
Big leads to Big
One pattern you may have noticed is that big leads to big. The bigger firms generate larger revenues, which allows for greater resources and higher salaries, which helps attracting the best talent, allowing for a better product and highest level of service to the client. This translates into more work and thus the cycle continues. It feeds itself.
It is important to note that there will always be exceptions. There will be small architecture firms that offer exceptional salaries and there will be large firms that pay in peanuts. You will also find small firms doing big projects all around the world as well as bigger firms that focus on one region. Not all firms were created equal.
What do you prefer?
Big is not for everyone. The best firm for you is all about personal preference. Where will you be most fulfilled?
I would love to hear your thoughts.
Where have I been?
You haven't seen many Buildings Are Cool blogs this year because I have been focused on writing my first book: Breaking the Box: Explode out of Architecture School to a Successful Career as an Architect. I have beens sharing chapters of the book through the blog. If you'd like to read the book I suggest you start at the table of contents. Below are some of the recent chapters of the book: