the architecture of constructing a practice

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    you hire people, not firms...

    Gregory Walker
    Nov 5, '11 12:04 PM EST

    while i'm waiting for my network to reboot (and in the midst of proposal hell), it makes some sense to talk about why the best, most savvy clients (ones we'd all kill to work with) generally make their decisions:


    it's the people, not the firms.


    and it's pretty obvious, but so widely misunderstood - people have experience. experience leads successful projects. firms simply provide the structure, support and stability to let people do their best work. really. it's not rocket science.


    two things this week keep pounding that theme home. the first was a pre-bid meeting for a project we're chasing in which the owner (a state institution) made this point explicit to everyone in attendance: we don't care if your firm has done 30 of these building types if no one on your actual team are the ones who've done them. furthermore, don't trot someone out who's supposedly done 300 similar projects, but what you really mean is they've been the lead marketing principal and we'll never see them again.


    no matter how many times that's said, it's always music to my ears.


    the second reminder came from the combination of the annual, local rankings of architecture firms by the atlanta business chronicle. perkins + will, finally, claims the top spot with 53M in locally generated revenue. which isn't a surprise, given that they claimed the top spot in the architect top 50. and, to be honest, it's largely well deserved - they have an impressive operation here - rockstar lineup of talent, great project opportunities, clear message and they seem to be like visa - everywhere you want to be. by almost every measurable statistic, they're not only successful, but hitting on all cylinders.


    why take heart? because, in the seven years we've been around (knocking on every piece of wood in sight), our little 7 person firm - who's annual revenue probably comes close to matching their lunch budget - has never lost a project to the mighty p+w when we've gone head to head in a shortlist. 3 wins, 4 draws (meaning neither of us won). now clearly, we're not going to be invited to as many parties as they are, nor are we going to get to as many shortlists as they will. and they could care less about little old us. we're the gnat on their hindquarters, at best.


    but what gives me hope is this: in the right situations, we have exactly the same chance to win because we have great people too. amazing, really. at least in a few cases, the client's agreed as well.


    great clients hire great people, not just firms. words to live and work by.




    • WhatsOnTheARE

      Well said, when you were architecture school greg did your professor stress the importance of politics? It seems that you can have all of the talent in the world but if you are not observant and responsive to your clients spoken and unspoken needs things will be a bit tougher.

      We like what was said at your pre-bid meeting, we published an article where we mentioned a quote from an architect saying that "Architects are either very knowledgeable or great bullshi**ers" now that being said is it necessary to BS when you do not have the experience or admit it up front and display your fail safes to ensure the client's satisfaction?

      Nov 13, 11 2:59 pm  · 

      whats - thanks for responding. to answer your questions: no, the importance of most social and political structures out there in the world was not stressed at all. grad school was eye opening in some ways, but it wasn't until nearly 7-8 years into the profession that i really 'got it'.


      generally, we don't admit or bs upfront - what we try to do is break down the project into the core issues and address how we have relevant experience in each area. sometimes it's a direct experience, sometimes it's more oblique and you have to make the connection from a to b and hope the client can follow along.


      after that, we just make sure we're out in front of the issues on the project - it's tough. we've certainly had projects where the behind the scenes winds had changed and hadn't fully anticipated how that was affecting us....

      Nov 15, 11 9:54 am  · 

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Central to the blog is a long running interest in how we construct practices that enable and promote the kind of work we are all most interested in. From how firms are run, structured, and constructed, the main focus will be on exploring, expanding and demystifying how firms operate. I’ll be interviewing different practices – from startups to nationally recognized firms, bringing to print at least one a month. Our focus will be connecting Archinect readers with the business of practice.

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