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I'm starting an internship soon this summer in a small firm that mostly does residential and small scale commercial. It's what I want really. I want to start with residential—I'm likening it to what Keith Richards says about playing guitar...you gotta start on acoustic before you move up to electric. For me, I want to start with the residential market before I move up. Sorry if that was a cheesy metaphor.
Can anyone roughly outline the duties or responsibilities of an intern in a small office vs a large one. What are the differences if there are any? I appreciate the insight!
Well, to start small has a lot of variables 2-20 is commonly referred to as small. I worked in a 2.5 person firm (the secretary was shared with the lawyers next door) and three offices of 12-15 and now I’m in a department of 15 in a larger engineering firm.
So you will answer phones, you will make coffee and possibly have other chores, ordering plotter paper, and such, as for architectural work you might find this frustrating but you will likely bounce around from project to project, so keep up on all the projects in your office, I have not done much residential work but small commercial can be very hard to predict usually once the bank sets terms for a loan you have a few weeks to get the project done, most firms will have many projects in production at one time and deadlines are not easy to set until the last few weeks. So late nights and weekends you will be in the office, it can be hard to plan things outside of work. The one thing to do to keep in the good graces of your firm’s principles and project architects is to ask each person in the office when you leave for the day if they need any last minute things done before you go home. You also have to keep an eye on your time, don’t kill the project budget trying to resolve a software problem, the profit margins on a project especially residential work are thin and you have to be very efficient to make money at it.
Also gossip is poison in small firms, don’t talk about clients or coworkers in a way that you would not do if they were in the room. Use every means possible to avoid these conversations, the clients and collogues are much more intimately connected that you might realize, this is also true of contractors, don’t talk disparagingly of others you have to work with to get your project done, small firms are like a small town in of themselves word gets around.
In a small office you often have to be able to do many things at once.
Be careful not to isolate yourself, be outgoing
Over and OUT
Office under 30 to 40 employees: one might do a lot - like Peter said, answer the phone and make coffee, if really small, and if on the larger side, a lot of construction documents, some schematic and design development for an aspect of the project for which someone more senior monitors your design decisions, sit in on meetings with consultants and suppliers, go to the site to observe a major step, and maybe even do some easier construction tasks in the office, such as checking shop drawings.
Office over 40 to 50 employees: you will most likely head toward some departmentalization, so it will be a lot of production work, possibly for a longer period of time, until one proves that they can handle the other tasks. On the flip side, you assuredly won't be answering phones and making coffee, unless it's after hours and admin. staff has gone home.
In general, the smaller the firm, the broader the things you will do more quickly. Theoretically, this means the quicker you'll complete IDP, if licensing interests you.
Firms can be catty, too, meaning a lot of architects almost behave like teenage girls chasing the same popular guy at school and (in)fight among each other. A firm has to fit like a glove and not like a mitt. If it's a golfer's paradise, and you don't golf, I wouldn't recommend working there. Similarly, if it's a haven for bohemians, and you're not an "architect as mercenary" type, you shouldn't be working there, either. The middle of the road firm is better, provided they do some good design. Also, try to avoid alumni clubs, if you are not in THAT alumni club.
In small firms, you'll get to do/learn a heck lot more as long as you are willing to and show initiative. Be prepared to do jobs like stepping out to buy modelling supplies, lunch for the office, other errands etc.
In larger firms, there is a tendency you might get stuck doing the same task for a long time.