Young Architect Guide: 10 Reasons to Work in a Small Architecture Firm

Some of the best firms around are living proof that great things come in small packages.

Stephen Ramos Stephen Ramos

Steve Ramos is passionate about design and architecture. He is the founder of the BUILDINGS ARE COOL blog, an Architect for LS3P in Charleston, S.C., and is working on his first book, Breaking the Box: Explode out of Architecture School to a Successful Career as an Architect.

On my blog Buildings Are Cool, I talk a lot about my experiences working at a large architecture firm. I recently posted Top 10 Reasons to Work for a Large Architecture Firm. In fact, I have only worked at large firms in my career, so I confess a big bias toward the big firms.

In an effort to provide a balanced view, I have reached out to my pal Daniel Beck to help write this guest blog. Daniel is a very talented architect who works for Bill Huey + Associates in Charleston, South Carolina. Bill Huey + Associates is an award-winning architecture firm with over 20 years of experience and most important to this blog: It is a small firm. Daniel is one of three that make up the talented team at Bill Huey + Associates.

I asked Daniel for a little help, and he fired back the following list:

1. The Ability to Pick and Choose Clients

Small firms can (typically) decide who they want to work with. The decision isn’t made by a number cruncher or marketing team and then passed down the food chain. Small firm practitioners get to look their clients in the eye every time and decide if the fit is right or not.

2. A Greater Sense of Importance

The saying about a chain only being as strong as its weakest link is absolutely relevant when it comes to a small firm. Everyone is important and contributes to the team, and that sense of belonging is definitely a benefit. Nobody likes to “ride the bench” as it were.

Studio Modh Architecture employs three people on a permanent basis; via Archinect

3. Greater Control of the Finances

Small firm–owners have a lot of control when it comes to how the firm should run from a fiscal standpoint. From what to charge for a project to how bonuses should be paid out, it’s all determined by one or maybe two people.

4. Less Management

There just isn’t enough time or extra funds to support unnecessary managers. So while you may work very closely with the other people in the firm, you normally have the freedom to determine an ideal work-flow for yourself.

5. Variety Is the Spice of Life

In a small firm, everyone has to wear multiple hats. While constantly switching between roles can be tough, it also keeps things interesting. The tasks and challenges are different every day. One day you can be working a conceptual design, the next day you are in the field, the next day you are working on Construction Drawings and then the same afternoon you are interviewing with a potential new client. No two days are the same, and I really like that aspect of a small firm.

Kirkwood McCarthy comprises just two full-time architects; via Archinect

6. Greater Control of Your Time

Flexible hours make a huge impact on improving the quality of life, and that (at least, I would imagine) is easier to achieve in a small firm where you don’t have too rigid of a corporate structure. As long as the work gets done and you don’t cheat on your hours, most small firms are flexible with peoples’ schedules.

7. Doing the Marketing, Hiring, Accounting, Etc.

In my opinion, getting to be an intimate part of running a business is one of the best parts of working in a small firm. You aren’t just an architect, you are a small business–owner. Your business acumen and decision-making immediately impact the success or failure of a firm. That sort of control is awesome.

8. Building Personal Relationships

Small firms tend to foster strong relationships. Whether that’s with fellow employees, clients or even sales reps, it’s hard not to get to know each other extremely well when there are only a few of you in the room at any one time. I never get the sense that I’m just a cog in the machine, which I know is a complaint from people working at larger firms.

Taller KEN employs “two partners, four architects, one visualization specialist, one intern, one part-time administrator, one cleaning lady (who cooks for the staff three times a week) and one Labrador”; via Archinect

9. Job Security

This is one area where I disagree with Steve. I think job security in a small firm is greater than in a big firm. Small firms can’t afford to hire and fire because turnover of employees is extremely costly. So once you are in with a small firm, your job (assuming you do it well) is fairly safe because you are contributing directly to the entire firm’s overall well-being … Small firms typically don’t have any “fat” to trim. Now I’m not saying people in small firms didn’t get laid off in the Recession. But I believe small firms hold on to their employees as long as possible, whereas big firms are quicker to fire people in order to maintain the bottom line.

10. Recognition

Not all small firms operate this way, but where I work, when the firm receives an award or gets an approval at a DRB, we all can take credit for it. When people ask about a project our firm did, everyone can take pride in saying that yes, I worked on it and it turned out great. It’s not like there is one group doing the cool stuff at the firm and the other people just see it show up in magazines. Being recognized and being able to take direct credit for the projects produced by the firm is very satisfying.

This post first appeared on Buildings Are Cool.Enjoy this article? Check out more of our Young Architect Guides:

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