A midsize company is like the middle child, having to compete with both big corporations and the abundance of resources they have at their disposal, as well as small offices that are nimble and can accomplish the same amount of work on a shoestring budget. Midsize businesses are very difficult to maintain.

In recent years, giants like Perkins + Will have absorbed an increasing number of them. Despite the difficulties, many business owners will tell you that their “magic number” is between 20 and 100 employees, even though less than 10% of all American businesses fall inside that range. It’s crucial to maintain a positive work environment where coworkers can get to know one another well.

The founding principal of Los Angeles-based Michael Maltzan Architecture, which employs 30 people, feels the midsize crunch as the company works on residential, commercial, cultural, and institutional projects at diverse scales around the world. Maltzan notes that he has participated in walkthroughs and short lists with major corporate firms and asserts that “we compete against a very wide variety of firms.” 

It’s unexpected, he says, “since they have a whole different culture and depth of resources, and you occasionally see very small, developing enterprises.” According to Maltzan, such wasn’t always the case, but things changed considerably during the Great Recession. “You can’t draw too bright a line under how much the recession impacted the organisation of the profession—in sometimes very spectacular, and sometimes subtle ways.”

Competitions have typically resulted in losses for businesses because they can cost up to ten times what they earn in fees (if any) for a competition that only has a slim possibility of success. But if it works out, it can be the deciding factor. To weather the recession, Nader Tehrani took a chance and entered his company in Office dA, in 14 competitions and RFQs in 2008.

As a result, his 25-person Boston-based firm NADAAA won three of these competitions for the Melbourne School of Design, the Hinman Building at Georgia Tech, and the Daniels Faculty at the University of Toronto, three architecture schools it has recently finished.

In order to prosper and grow, architects are increasing the scope of their offerings and catering to clients’ needs to address challenging issues. Large-scale developers are increasingly turning to architecture, says Maltzan, who from the beginning of his career took on a community-liaison/developer role for many of the low-cost housing projects he’s produced. 

“Recently, we’ve been asked to assist developers with planning the programming and beginning a strategy for obtaining land rights. More architects are engaged in the fields of urban design and planning. Compared to earlier years, there is less of a separation between architecture, landscape design, and planning.

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