In an earlier article, I discussed some of the benefits to young architecture candidates of working for a small studio. As an executive recruiter, I’ve found over the years that architecture candidates coming from smaller firms tend to be more passionate about the field, more well-rounded and adaptable, and more in touch with their career goals.
But, this does not mean that big architecture firms are without opportunities. To the contrary, the range of possibilities for personal development and career advancement can be staggering.
A lot, however, really depends on how you use your time. Unlike the flexible, all-hands-on-board structure of a small practice, when you enter a large firm, what you are really doing is becoming part of a large, often immutable machine with established practices and deeply ingrained culture. Within such an environment, you will have to work harder and put up with more daily annoyances in order to take advantage of all that the large firm has to offer. You also absolutely have to be more disciplined, be out-going enough to make the personal connections that count, and have clear career objectives from the start. Without these things in place, you could easily get lost in the shuffle, or worse, become despondent and turned off to the whole design process.
Why and When to Consider Working in a Large Architecture Firm
While the description “large architecture firm” can mean different things to different people, I’m going to focus here on the well-known names in the industry- the famous, international studios that attract the best and brightest architecture talent. These firms have a global footprint, massive resources, and a reputation that precedes them. They offer young architects three very important benefits that smaller firms can’t offer:
- The scope of projects. Bigger firms work on an international scale and often take on big, high profile projects that include iconic urban buildings, busy transportation hubs, and huge office complexes. Working on an international project, gives you the opportunity to learn about new cultures and environments, and maybe even get in some traveling. You can be a part of the process from the inside, watching the various aspects of the project develop, evolve, and come together over time- not just read about it after the fact in some design magazine. Best of all, you may find the experience of contributing to something that will affect thousands or even millions of people exhilarating.
- The networking potential. In the world of architecture and design, success is not just about who you are and what you know, it’s about who you know. The larger and more established the firm, the more opportunities you have to meet other professionals and connect to the best talent in the industry. The networking potential is further facilitated by the open plan and “collaborative” structure that many firms are embracing these days. What this means is that you will have greater access to senior leaders than ever before.
A final point to keep in mind: depending on your position, you may also get exposure to clients, developers, and vital architecture support professionals, such as IT experts and project managers. All of this can be useful later on if you chose to start your own practice.
- The available resources. By this I mean both physical and human resources. As I mentioned earlier, larger firms can afford to hire the best talent and implement the most effective tools. They also tend to support comprehensive training, leadership development, and educational programs.
Aside from the fact that larger firms are a repository of highly talented and experienced architecture and design professionals, they also support a wide array of specialised departments and cutting edge technologies. While all of this is meant to assist architects throughout their project, what it means for you as an architecture professional is that it’s possible to change positions and explore a new role without leaving the firm. When you are just starting out, having the option to experiment a bit can help you to refine your career goals.
In short, large firms offer a wealth of opportunity, but only to those willing and determined to go out there, work hard, and use the system to forge their own path.