Giving a Young Architect a Chance


Hi everyone,

I'm a regular on another professional career forum and often get interesting questions from those outside the profession, so I thought now that I have a question about architectural practice I might do the same thing and outsource it here.

My wife and I got an incredible deal on a beautiful vacant waterfront property in Ontario.  We'd like to do something a little different with it, and to that end were thinking about picking out a young architect and basically turning him or her loose.  We have a few "must haves", of course, but what we'd really like is a space designed to fit into the surroundings and show off a little creativity. We'd rather have a smart architectural landmark than something we've ruined through micromanagement.

Now, over in the legal profession, it's often the case that young or inexperienced lawyers can do an incredible job and are looking for a 'big break' to build their resume.  I have to imagine the same is true of an architect's portfolio.  On my side of the fence, you might actually get better representation from a young lawyer giving you 110% subject to supervision than you would get from an overworked senior lawyer to whom you're just case #312.

Is that an apt parallel?  Would it be a big deal to a young architect to have a lot of creative freedom in designing a residential property?  Is it possible (or smart) to track one down, or is this a profession where you definitely want someone experienced to take the lead?

And if it is a good idea to try to give a young architect a break, how would one track them down? So many firms seem to have "firm portfolios" rather than portfolios for each individual architect.  

And finally, if it is a good idea, and we do pick out a rising star of some description, is there anything we should be cautious of or on the lookout for? I would expect that their lack of experience with building trades and invoices would suggest there needs to be a bit more vigilance in terms of budgeting, but what other risks would one face if you ask a firm to allow one of their juniors to take the creative lead on a project?

Thanks a lot!

Sep 6, 16 1:13 pm
Non Sequitur

Registered Ontario architect here... 

I would recommend against hiring a young "architect". You'll find plenty of fresh grads looking to score their first gig but please bear in mind that most, if not all, are not licensed to practice on their own. You will most likely find that they are moonlighting for pennies on the dollar of what a real architect would change but cannot legally produce documents for permit. Second to this, waterfront property has plenty of regulations normally not taught in school. Things like maximum frontage, max slope for development, auxiliary building sizes, services setbacks, etc can ruin good design if not considered up front.

With that said, and depending where your property is, there are plenty of good and young design firms (mostly out of Toronto) that specialize in unique houses/cottages. Giving someone with experience free range on the project would certainly have a better chance of success.

A few names to consider, from the top of my head:


Kariouk Associates

Partisans <- falls under the rising star category


Sep 6, 16 1:37 pm

Hey - thanks a lot for the response!  

I certainly wouldn't be looking at someone fresh out of school; I was thinking more about finding an established firm and picking someone that might be on the cusp of becoming a "real architect".  The best analogy I can give is to my own profession, where you're useless for about five years and then spend the next five trying to find a case where you can make your mark.  There's kind of a golden band in there where someone is energetic and creative and capable, but hasn't yet had the opportunity to show their stuff. 

Because I don't know how architecture firms work, I wonder if that's even a 'thing'; or if firms are more collaborative and you're kind of working with the most senior person (or the team as a whole) no matter what.  If I'm understanding you, you're saying forget it --- architecture is one of those things where you're always better off with more experience...?  (That certainly makes sense for a waterfront property, I suppose.  I'm a bit familiar myself with the fact that there are tons of special rules that have to go into those properties.)

Thanks so much for the suggestions, by the way!  I've looked into Superkül and liked their work, but the other two are new to me.

Sep 6, 16 1:46 pm
Non Sequitur

You'll see I edited my response and added a 4th (Partisans).

I am afraid that most architecture practice do not function in the way you are imagining it. It's more often than not, a multi-person team effort and the main design reins are normally handled by the senior staff. With that said, a firm like Superkul (A brief graduate school colleague of mine) is essentially a one/two person production.

Don't discard your initial idea completely, you may be able to approach the owner/principle of a larger design office and ask if he has anyone on staff who deserves the opportunity. Strangely enough, I never hear of clients wanting to work with the young folks, they always tend to complain that it's not the name guys at the meetings and answering emails and what not.

Sep 6, 16 1:56 pm


Define "young architect"? recent grad? 3yrs exp no license? 5yrs exp. license?

All things equal:

architects are like wine, the more time they have to age typically the more value $$$$ they offer in all phases of design & construction services.



Sep 6, 16 4:36 pm

Unless you already have some personal connection with somebody in a firm, it's very unusual that you'd be able to pick who within a multi-person firm you'd be working with.  I mean, if you have some reason to be impressed with a particular architect on staff then by all means mention that to the firm - but generally with a smaller firm your architect is one of the principals, and the rest of the staff are assigned by that principal on an as-needed basis, and in a larger firm you will probably come in and meet with the team that they're already tentatively thinking of assigning to the project should you choose their firm (this could be a principal and a project manager, or a PM and a job captain, or various other combos depending on the structure of the firm) - but you're not likely to be able to select these people out of a stable.  It depends a lot on everybody's respective strengths and current workloads.  Also in a larger firm don't be surprised if the project manager changes one or more times during the course of your project.

They say architects don't really hit their stride until their fifties - so a "rising star" might not be particularly young. 

Your image of how you'd like to select and work with an architect seems to fit best with a very small firm type - and you're in luck because more than two thirds of architecture firms have fewer than 10 people, and of those the majority are 1 and 2 person firms.  I would suggest looking for a sole proprietor with a solid portfolio of work similar in scale and type to your projects - and check lots of references and ask lots of questions.  There is at least one book about how to work with an architect, geared toward residential clients.  This really is a book-length topic so that may be more helpful than individual responses here.

Sep 6, 16 5:28 pm

a "young architect" who has the experience you expect will be 40yo at minimum, IMHO


OP, go meet architects and talk to them about their work and your proposed project. Interview them. Talk to them (not necessarily the same thing). See what else they've done and see how it intersects with your expectations and aspirations. I'm not sure we can give you any more than generic advice here for what will be a close relationship as you develop your new property.

Sep 6, 16 5:32 pm
Better idea-pick a firm who does work you like. Interview them to see if you click. Hire them if you do. Don't worry about the age. Good designers get better with age.
Sep 6, 16 5:50 pm

Agreed with above - it's good to have experience (permits, budgets, schedules take a while to get used to and control - even veterans may not excel at it), and energy and hunger doesn't necessarily get beaten down with age.  Interviewing firms will get you some idea of how an office functions - with a relatively small project, the offices that will take the interview may be a good first cull.  I've been around designers in their 50s and 60s that keep saying "I always wanted to try this or that" - if you look at a firms portfolio you'll see how experimental they are.

A smaller firm (under 30 staff) may be open to having someone younger lead a project if the fit is right - it also helps with the cost (fees as younger staff are also typically paid less and willing to work longer).  Amount of design input can vary though.

Sep 6, 16 7:10 pm

As a very young designer, it sounds like you would be a good client who is supportive and open to listening.  From my experience this is what will give any good architect, at any age, the tenacity and interest to do a great project.  And like what many have mentioned most likely there are young architects, working along side a more experienced principal, who are doing a lot of design work and are hungry to impress their bosses.  I am sure you can convice their bosses to include them and be open to their input.

All that said I do know one firm up in Canada whose work I think fits the description you described.  Lamas does some great site specific/vernacular style projects.

ps. If I was just two years older I would have jumped at the opportunity to do this project!

Sep 9, 16 11:31 am

I'll step in and say that I've worked this way before with a client who wanted something similar. In the end, they ended up micromanaging the project anyway. The only way this even happened was because the client had an established relationship with my firm to begin with, and could trust the owners to put their project in the right hands. Having backup when shit goes wrong is invaluable.

Sep 11, 16 12:01 pm

Just give some little fucker a chance. 

Sep 11, 16 4:18 pm

Just know a "young" architect is often 30-40.  I wholly support the idea of hiring a young "rising star" type of firm. This should be your plan "A"


Plan "B" - you can probably do some research into Canadian architecture schools - look for professors that are between 30-40 and either have their own small practice or (preferably) work at a corporate firm. Us corporate folk can usually do this kind of residential side work, but we are also surrounded by tens (or hundreds) of people with massive amounts of construction experience, so while the young academic may not be as technically experienced as some old hand or multi-principal firm charging $250/ hr, they will get the job done right and have plenty of resources to go to for help on the things you only learn with experience. 

Sep 11, 16 5:08 pm

Young Architect here!

I suggest creating a "Call for Submissions" type page using Bustler or something. It will be seen by the majority of the interested design community. And a free submission fee will encourage some youthful and hopefully creative proposals for you to review. 

Best of luck,


Edit- And if you do go this route, I do suggest hiring a local consultant firm for filing purposes, etc. 

Sep 12, 16 12:26 pm
Non Sequitur

^sure... and watch the quality submission (aka unpaid design work) flow in... eye roll

It's exceptionally unlikely that the OP would get a submission capable of becoming a permit worthy design without someone who knows how to operate in Ontario. Please keep in mind that the popular AofR scheme many Americans are used to does not fly here.

Sep 12, 16 12:47 pm

"Bustler design competition" - wins award for worst idea ever!

Sep 12, 16 1:13 pm

Ah how refreshing is the skepticism!

Sep 12, 16 1:47 pm

But it isn't skepticism. If you did that ideas competition you'd get young designers for sure, but will these young designers know how to get a project through permit and built, make sure they are meeting code, etc...? These items aren't taught in school, and it takes a bit to learn them in practice.

I think the OP has their heart in the right place, and it is refreshing to see.

Sep 12, 16 2:00 pm

Agreed. Which is why I do see the the necessity in hiring a "local consultant firm" after the initial inspiration of a design competition.

I find it disheartening to see other architects discredit the talent that can come of these competitions, as they are often the creative outlet for young professionals. 

Sep 12, 16 2:09 pm
Non Sequitur

^ I find it ridiculous that people think that one can design a private home on a prestigious waterfront property from afar within a single idea about local building codes and zoning.

Read the discussion from the beginning Jacqueline. The Op wants something that will actually get build using real money. Getting students or unemployed designers from where-ever to contribute ideas will not get them anywhere...

Sep 12, 16 2:16 pm

Well it twas worth the discussion..I have to get back to work now! 

Sep 12, 16 2:26 pm

I don't get it - you suggest an open competition for a house for the ideas, but then only consider the submissions from those who are licensed in the jurisdiction? Don't you think that's a little misleading to anyone who genuinely thought they might have a chance at the job and sunk X hours into a submission?

Have you ever been to "Ontario"? Its not like Suskuhtoooooon eh?

Sep 12, 16 3:04 pm
Non Sequitur

Ontario pictured above... I think.

Sep 12, 16 3:07 pm

Ok....May the OP find this conversation enlightening. Best of luck!

Sep 12, 16 3:12 pm

lol.  grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

unless you're in ontario.  that grass is not green.

Sep 12, 16 3:18 pm
Non Sequitur

Curt, that's not Ontario in my picture. I was playing on Bench's observation. Also, it's wheat, not grass.

This is certainly closer to the OP as per their description:

Sep 12, 16 3:27 pm

on a tangent Non, do Canadian firms not work with associate architects? Even on large projects?

The largest US project I worked on in fact used an Ontario based architect of record. They opened a smallish site office just to get that done. Generally worked out fine afaik.

Sep 13, 16 7:18 am

It happens. Snohetta just finished a performing arts center at Queen's University (right across the river from New York State) which involved a local architect of record from mine/NS's home town. Its wonderful. Likewise I believe Libeskind has a couple towers in Toronto, not to mention the ROM (ugh...)

Sep 13, 16 8:59 am
Non Sequitur

Yes and no Midlander

It's easy to get reciprocity a 2nd stamp for another province, even for just one project, as long as you pay the membership and certificate fees.  Every province does have it's rules and some, British Columbia for example I believe, requires a local/satellite office for outsiders. But I doubt you'd see this type of movement with small residential project.... country is pretty wide. Some will contract out CA as Bench mentions.

Sep 13, 16 9:06 am

Competitions that do not pay at least a stipend to those entering exploit architects.  Can you imagine professionals in other fields agreeing to that sort of arrangement?

Sep 13, 16 10:31 am

The best you can do for an actual young of age architect/designer is to have him/her work with you until the end of concept design and then find a contractor you trust for the actual building of the work.  The designer can visit the site with you, get an understanding of what it's like to handle a client one-on-one and then watch what happens in the building process.  

Otherwise, the young firm option is a great route to go for an architect you want to work with until the completion of the project.

Sep 13, 16 11:14 am

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