Many young architects dream of one day having their own—presumably big—studio. But before you get there, you have to start off small—and, in the end, you may just want to keep it that way. After all, staying light can help you keep afloat when the going gets tough. And it's easier to assert an individual identity when you're not representing 100+ different designers.
How many people are in your practice?
Currently we are 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.
Why were you originally motivated to start your own practice?
Straight out of school Ines and I both worked for Renzo Piano on the new Whitney Museum in Downtown NYC. That proved to be an almost a too-good-too-be-true opportunity, working for a top-tier architect on such a high-profile cultural project from design through construction. It seemed like the only way to top that experience was to look at the very very small opportunities we had at the time as the start of something much bigger.
What hurdles have you come across?
It’s hard to understate the learning curve of going from being a 'creative' to being a small business owner. It’s a constant internal struggle to be tenacious in finding the opportunities outside of exterior pressures of the client or builder to see what can be achieved with seemingly small or unappealing prospects.
Is scaling up a goal or would you like to maintain the size of your practice?
We got a taste of having a bigger studio last summer when we did an open call for a design-build internship. Directing 25 people (10 or so in the office and another 15-20 participating in our intern program)—that was a little crazy. But it generates a lot of intensity and exchange and ultimately greater accomplishments. We are trained to handle large projects, so one day I hope we can back to that scale.
What are the benefits of having your own practice?
I think most people enter architecture believing it to be a creative field. However, upon entering the workplace, the outlets for creativity are relatively few and there’s only such much one can do moonlighting or with a portfolio of competition runner-ups. Working for yourself puts you back closer to the academic mindset, even pre-architecture, because it’s just you and your toolbox to make things happen—and no safety net. Becoming increasingly confident as young practitioners has led to us taking on more risks, both formally and with traditional office models. Equal base base for our staff and the design-build internship are some examples.
And staying small?
We have grown to this point on a diet of rapid small stuff, which has allowed our relatively young staff to get a lot of hands-on experience quickly. Juggling 10 small jobs in various phases goes a long way to not getting hung up or bored on one job or another.
Do you run a practice with six or less people? Get in touch!
Writer and fake architect, among other feints. Principal at Adjustments Agency. Co-founder of Encyclopedia Inc. Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org