Message - Re: Pros & cons of working in a big architecture corporation

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Posted by  Donald on December 11, 2003 at 08:39:01:

In Reply to:  Pros & cons of working in a big architecture corporation posted by Raj Devan on December 10, 2003 at 09:52:45:

Believe it or not, the AIA states that there are over 90 % of the firms in the USA that have fewer than 20 people...and there are fewer than 20 firms with over 100 architect employees!

Just as in your case, most people begin their career in a small office and seem to finish off in a large firm. Those who start out in a large firm, often open up their own small firm later in their career. It is virtually impossible to know at the outset of your career what kind of office you need to prepare for.

Most people begin their career in any design field having primarily an artistic or work satisfaction motivation. Later in your career, economic motivation often becomes a more dominant goal, sometimes as a result of a growing family.

Every career involves the balance of these important issues. There is no question that compensation for the same level of employment is greater in a large firm, such as the one you are wanting to join. A Principal in a large firm can make twice the annual salary of a sole practitioner. Even interns in a large firm earn more than small firm interns, although the difference may only be 10 or 12 percent.

It is very important to understand that the work done by employees of a small firm is quite different from that done in a very large firm. The most important difference is specialization. Generally speaking, in a small firm, everyone is expected to do more of everything. If an important job arrives in the office that requires extensive work, everyone may switch for a time to that project. One day is spent drafting, the next day may require model building, the day after could be spent on writing specifications, etc. In a large firm, it is much more likely that the work will be more specialized. Draftspeople may never write specifications or visit a construction site. A designer may also spend a large portion of his or her career on a specific building type. If variety becomes important, staying in a small firm may be necessary.

Life in a large firm is more social. In many ways it is a direct extension of architectural school. I experienced this while working at SOM in Chicago for 5 years directly after I graduated my Masters program at U of I. Work is frequently done in teams, The Christmas Party or Summer Family Picnic is often the social highlight of the year, and office sports teams are prevalent.

The structure of the social environment is also demanding in the large firm. Generally speaking, working in the large firm means climbing the corporate ladder. Employees start at the bottom and work to the top. I saw levels of Arch I through Arch IV, associate, senior associate, junior partner, partner and other sublayers in between starting off as an intern. Climbing a ladder in an office obviously takes BOTH architectural experience and good social and political skills. It also could take time to get to where you really want to be.

I think you will enjoy your career and life in a large firm. It is where I learned most in my career, from working on the best projects and large budgets, with the best clients that anyone would ever want in a small firm. Try it and see how it works out for you. The almighty dollar and good design is what we all strive for and you will find both in a large firm most of the time...if you take the time to get there.

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