(Firm) Size Matters

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Think that big-shot, big-box, big-office, big-staff architect is who you need for your project? Or maybe you’re looking for a job and you want the “prestige” of working for that big-name firm on your resume? Think again.

Sure, those big guys got to be where they are somehow. But it’s where they are now that matters and where they are now is (usually) at a point of segmentation. Meaning, there isn’t much cross-over of responsibility between the upper level management/senior architects, and everyone else. Each person specializes in something (which is good) but rarely ventures out of their area of specialization to take on additional roles (which is not so good).

That’s where the little firms step in. They excel at simultaneously specializing and multi-tasking roles. So when a client calls and speaks with a designer, project manager, drafter, or whoever and asks something unexpected like “and what about this LEED stuff?” The designer, drafter, or jack-of-all-trades administrator can respond with something reasonably intelligent if the LEED Accredited Professional is unavailable. It’s great for the client, because they can get the answers they need from any team member, not just the “specialist.”

A cross-over of responsibility is also important for team cohesiveness. When everyone understands where the others are coming from when making design decisions, the process goes much smoother. This is preferable to a scenario where each team member is the “master know-it-all” of a certain section of the project, with little to no knowledge of other areas of the project.

And for all of you aspiring architects searching for a job – think about the skill sets you’ll acquire at a mid-size firm compared to a large firm. When your role demands you know how to design, draft, write code, meet with clients, monitor project costs, factor in LEED and sustainability, and help with marketing initiatives… you’ll be prepared for whatever the industry throws at you. And you’ll know that if you ever want to strike out on your own, you can handle it all. We’re not saying you shouldn’t accept the fancy big-shot job, we’re just saying, look at your options and think about what you want out of your job. If you’re looking to be a specialist in one area go for it. But if you want to build a broad skill set, you might be better off practicing at a small to mid-size company.

Size matters, ladies and gentlemen.

Don’t You Wish You Worked Here?

If you ever find yourself in the new Navajo Division of Transportation Complex (NDOT), you might look at the floor. And you might notice that there’s a row of lights, in the floor. And you might wonder, “what the heck?” No, it’s not a flaw in the design. It’s an intentional representation of a key part of air transportation – a runway. Make sense now? There are other symbolic representations of various types of transportation incorporated into the design of this office, some easily recognizable, others subtle.

Who says the office needs to be a boring place? Could, perhaps, the design of the office be inspirational and anything but boring? Most people are probably familiar with – and envious of – the Google grounds (employee gym? restaurants in-office? yes please). But what makes it so much better than any other office? The plush furniture? Open spaces? The overall design? Why is the stereotypical office full of cramped cubicles?

Okay, we’ll stop asking rhetorical questions. But seriously, all it takes is a little creativity, and a little imagination, and you get places like NDOT, or Google. If you’re not daydreaming about a new office yet, or if you’re not looking around work for design features in your already-inspiring-comfortable-amazing office and thinking “that’s why I like it here” then try reading this article, which highlights some of the most creative office designs out there:

Best 38 I’d-Like-To-Work-In-That-Place Offices

Enjoy!

When It Counts

Architectural ModelRecently, there’s been quite a debate in the blogging world over the value of architectural work, and whether what we do “counts.” This time, it spurned from the comment of architect and blogger Bob Borson “if doesn’t count if it doesn’t get built” (Life of An Architect) which was then countered with the quipping angst of Jody Brown (Coffee With an Architect).

Here’s our take:

Take a moment and look at an undeveloped bit of land – an empty lot; a field; the great expanse of dirt, rocks and plants will do – and now mentally construct a building there. Start with the general idea – what is the building? (Is it a house, office, store, hospital?) What does it look like? (What color is it? Brick, stucco, wood? Windows? Doors?) Pretty easy right? Now move inside. Plan out each room. How much space does each room need? What is the main function of each of these rooms? How will the users move about and utilize the space?

You might think it seems easy enough to envision something that isn’t there, but there’s a reason people hire architects. We are trained to see empty space and imagine all of the possibilities (bet you only came up with one just now). Each detail we add to the design has a purpose, is carefully thought through, and has more technical information backing it than most people realize.

Now, back to the issue at hand. An architect can spend weeks, months, maybe even years perfecting a design that embodies both beauty and function. And then the client decides to scrap the project. And then you’re going to tell the architect that all that work doesn’t matter? That’s like looking at the Mona Lisa, shrugging, and saying “recycle the canvas.” Ouch.

It might not matter to the rest of the world, or even the client, whether the design that we architects carefully coax out of the ether gets built or not. But to us, it matters. The project is still real, and who knows, maybe we can use some of the ideas from the so-called “dead” project on something new in the future. Or, we can just keep the “failed” design as a reminder that nothing is certain, until it’s (literally) set in stone (or steel, wood, brick, cement…)

The not-so-sexy side to Architecture | Life of an Architect

The not-so-sexy side to Architecture | Life of an Architect.

Bob Borson covers the “unglamorous” side of architecture pretty well. Of course we’d all love to be sketching and drafting and designing all day long, but that’s just not happening. If you haven’t read his article – you should. If only so that you’ll realize that there’s a whole lot of other stuff that has to get done in an average architects’ day.

We’re not interested in complaining though – hat’s off to you, Bob, for building a successful niche for yourself, juggling the two sides of architecture, and managing to blog consistently.

More to the point, though. All architects, (or the good ones, at least) take the time to get to know their clients so that the final design is unique to the person(s) who will inhabit it. In our case, we have an extra step in working with our Native clientele. Not only do we need to get to know the individuals directing the project from the client side, we also have to understand the unique culture of the community. The process of discovering a client’s culture – their history, traditions, community values and visions – is the best part of our job.