Does firm size really matter? Those who disagree with this say that what you learn on the job is entirely up to you, regardless of how big or tiny your firm is. Some people voiced their strong view that the size of the workplace has a lot to do with what they learn on the job. A few intriguing issues that came up throughout our lengthy discussion about the subject are worth sharing and reflecting upon.

Here are a few examples.

  • How should architecture firms be categorized into small, medium, and large?
  • Shouldn’t you be collaborating with a small architecture office as a future practitioner?
  • Is it better for young architects to work in medium-sized offices?
  • What additional aspects of an architecture office besides scale are important?

1. How do we group architecture firms into S, M, and L?

Based on the consensus reached throughout the discussion, we defined a small office as having fewer than 10 people, both designers and non-designers, as well as a medium-sized office as having between 10 and 50 employees, and a large office as having more than 50 employees. 

Sort the offices you’re thinking about applying to into small, medium, and large categories. The organization and hierarchy, which are shared by offices of a similar size, take precedence over the total number of personnel.

It is true that most offices begin tiny. Hence a small office may be seen as a new setup. However, keep in mind that many offices purposefully do not scale up for years. Large offices typically perform large-scale work, which is typically true. However, a lot of medium-sized and small-sized businesses work on large-scale projects like urban plans and multipurpose buildings, among others. 

Since workplaces that are gradually expanding from modest setups also fall under this category, medium-scale offices are of interest to me. There are more opportunities for architects to learn and develop as a result of practices in such a transitional phase, having to actively and selectively adjust to the changing demands on staff and resources as they go.

2. Shouldn’t you collaborate with a small firm as a practitioner?

More important than what it is credited for is work experience. Your interaction with teams, coworkers, consultants, clients, and contractors gives you experience that will be useful while you are setting up. According to that reasoning, the more diverse your experience, the better for you as a practitioner.

Typically, smaller offices are the preferable choice for architects who aspire to one day open their own businesses. This is a widespread misconception: with fewer people in the office, I get to play more roles, which increases my learning. After starting my practice and spending time in a small office, I came to disagree with the idea that fewer people equal more learning. 

Architecture is both a service sector and a design profession. Which suggests that it has a significant impact on people and networks. You develop as an independent designer in a small workplace while juggling various jobs, but you may not place as much emphasis on teamwork, delegation, people management, etc., when you start your own firm.

In contrast to the intensive training you would receive in a small office, you would be given particular duties to perform if you worked in a larger office. Because a hierarchical system is more effective on a bigger scale, this is the case. 

The operation of a larger office, however, enables you to more clearly and closely see the arrangement and interconnection of the systems inside the practice. Understanding hierarchies and procedures and adapting them to fit the needs of a smaller office is not difficult for someone who want to open their own practice.

3. Do medium-sized offices suit young architects the best?

Medium-sized offices are undoubtedly fantastic places to work. Despite the possibility of a hierarchical structure, the teams are smaller, and architects have sufficient learning opportunities. The ideal alternative for you is a medium-sized office if you believe that a tiny office can be too demanding and a large office would be too constraining. 

As was already said, growing offices mostly fall within this group. In an effort to meet the increasing demands of new projects or the addition of new verticals to an existing setup, such offices selectively increase their resource allocation. In these circumstances, there is more room for advancement because current personnel might be given newer roles.

The techniques in transition, however, frequently end up being ineffective if resources are not well planned and allocated. Principals and senior architects typically find it challenging to adapt to how a larger setup operates. 

For example, despite recruiting additional architects and interns, the senior architects still handle the majority of the design and coordinating tasks rather than assigning them to the appropriate teams. The office loses time and resources in these situations. A mid-sized office, however, might provide you with plenty of opportunity for learning and development as a young architect if it is handled correctly.

4. What other aspects of an architecture office are important?

Consider additional variables that would help you make a more informed choice if the scale is not a major concern for you when applying and you still want to maximize your job experience. 

Consider first whether the kind of work the office creates aligns with your interests. Second, for architects who may want to expand their social and professional network, the office’s location is important. Compared to workplaces in smaller cities or isolated locales, most architects appear to prefer urban, metropolitan areas.

You might want to take diversity into consideration as another crucial issue. In a design office, diversity and inclusion are crucial. Sharing information and culture has a significant positive impact on one’s development as a designer, in addition to making the workplace culture more lively. 

Before applying for a job, you might also take into account the typical length of employment with a company. 4-5 years is a fair range to take into account. Teams are balanced when there is an appropriate balance of senior and junior designers. This becomes a gauge of whether or not there is room for expansion in the office if the size of the office is not taken into account.

If you are interested in more articles like this, here’s one about what is a mid-size architecture firm.