Examples of firms that are changing the idea of practice?


Are there any firms or institutions that are changing the way we practice? Whether it be working hours, integrated design strategies or unique workflows? Compared to tech startups the architecture profession on a whole seems to still operate on an archaic model of the workplace (40 hour work week, cannot work from home, contractor vs architect roles etc) . I am sure there are some firms who are challenging the traditional role of the architect and how buildings are built, anyone familiar with good examples?

Dec 29, 16 3:56 pm

• BIM & VR

• Diversity (more women and blacks in U.S.)

Dec 29, 16 4:45 pm

"40 hour work week"

God so archaic, next they'll want to pay us for the hours we work over 40.

Dec 29, 16 4:59 pm

I've always liked these two firms. Both design/build offices.

Dec 29, 16 6:25 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

I hired someone from archinect as I grew, paid as consulting hourly. I already had 2 free lancers who had day jobs, but needed more availibility. Then I hired the person from archinect's friend also hourly. I have my first full time employee and so far still NO physical office. I also pay for every hour. Not accepting applications at this time. In short I have operated essentially via the internet...although looking at office space tomorrow, some things still done best on human person. so one year of full on operation - NO office. clients don't care.

Dec 29, 16 6:27 pm

In no particular order and certainly not exhaustive-

LMNts: for their work with computation and modeling including software workflow research and workflow across representational modes.

NBBJ: For some of the same reasons, but as an element inserted into a larger work flow. Andrew Heumann did some interesting work while he was there.

Woods Bagot: For stealing Heumann.

Rex Architects: Software to Material construction/fabrication. Crazy enough to say they made a parametric model to follow the pro forma of a client developer (the loan never came through).

Mode lab: Education, consulting and workshops for designers. 

Dec 29, 16 7:23 pm

^ Second the Andrew Heumann comment...great programmer there.

Dec 30, 16 1:03 am

A couple of my favourites in no particular order and totally subjective obviously. Because I personally don't believe that BIM or scripting are changing the idea of practice but those are mostly mere superficial optimisations of existing ideas of practice:



Anne Holtrop


Dec 30, 16 5:03 am


Dec 30, 16 9:14 am

Chris Teeter, I think there will be more people following that same path in the future. Do you see any issues with scalability with that business model? The argument against the decentralized office has always been the value of "face to face collaboration" however, technology is increasingly minimizing the barriers of communication and with the implementation of VR (as a communication tool) it seems that working from home will not only gain more widespread adoption but actually transform the dynamics of office real estate market (thinking of Bucky's critique about the two-thirds empty society). Given your experience do you see a future where a firm of 20 people work in a decentralized office? 

Dec 30, 16 2:13 pm

Marc and randomised, thanks for the links. I think the REX example is intriguing, especially how the architect as developer paradigm has lots of potential for improving the quality of what we build by removing an intermediary that makes many architectural decisions solely on the financial bottom lines, often disregarding negative impacts to neighborhoods. I think some interesting firms that follow the architect as developer model would be:

Jonathan Segel 



Dec 30, 16 2:25 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

techtonic on the face to face bit: I only now think I need an office as up until now I worked with very experienced people. So you email it off, maybe some phone time, and it comes back more or less correct. With an employee straight out of school I think more than a weekly meeting at various walk thrus at job sites are required . For training I would have a hard time doing even via Skype but then again that could probably be worked out.... The major upside of working by email mainly is you can knock out a whole bunch of tasks quickly. Phone time with some people gets lengthy and water cooler talk slows down production. On scalability, with regard to size of project having an office not that important. With regard to staff, I think it depends if you as the owner operator think its useful. Some offices they move people around who chat too much. Other offices people just do not get along. Given that everything is in the computer and I taught most the software used I can easily tell if someone is doing a good job and in accordance with pay just by looking at the file. I think people probably like not having someone look over their shoulder. I feel though if a client is paying large fees they probably would expect an office. today i was asked do i need room for a server? said no, dropbox. will i need monitors and I thought maybe laptops so everyone can still work at home. i am fairly certain I could manage a staff of 10 people without an office. I would assume at minimum 1 or 2 days in meetings in person, but again kids younger than me could probably do without. when i had 30+ students sending me emails for digital support on studio projects much was solved by email. there is though some efficiency with an in person meeting with certain peroanalities. btw in NYC most my building department exams are done by webcam via goto meeting, no need to go to the borough office.

Dec 30, 16 3:33 pm

Chris Teeter, well put. I think the idea of freeing up the amount of overhead (rent, equipment, etc) is liberating for smaller enterprises. Also the idea of meeting at a co working space once or twice a week seems like it would be beneficial. I think what you said about client perception is true, it always seems that a high profile office has to be the one to break the barriers for it to be a more universally accepted paradigm of mainstream. This model definitely benefits smaller clients and projects in terms of fees, but I also worry about a potential race to the bottom where architects charge less and less to justify not having a physical office and having a competitive edge over someone who does.

Dec 30, 16 4:11 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

techtonic I don't forsee that race to the bottom as the major overhead in architecture is personal.

from a laymen's perspective I'd be skeptical of a firm with 50 people with no office, although I'm sure that day is coming.

for the overhead comparison.  By code typically it's 100 sq.ft. per person.  A desk at WeWork on 43rd NYC (dedicate desk) is $550 month.  Let's assume you have 5,000 sq.ft. office allowing up to 50 employees.  At $550 (which at this point is not reasonable frankly if you have 50 desks, but maybe it averages out if you have nice reception, conference space, own bathrooms, etc...) it's $27,500 a month.  At 50 employees with average salary of an architect is $67,000 ,  that's $5,583 or $279,150 a month (this doesn't count any extra costs for W-2 taxes to employer, benefits)....or in short the cost of an employee on average is 10 times the costs of a desk.  So with regard to fees, based on that number alone, you're looking at a 10% decrease in costs or increase in profit....Not counting software and computer stations, as you would need those whether you worked from home or in an office.

Dec 30, 16 6:42 pm


Dec 31, 16 8:57 am


Dec 31, 16 9:03 am

Chris, wasn't that you who said a mid-career architect makes $141k? Now you say $67,000? That's a HUGE difference.

Dec 31, 16 9:55 am

Terreform ONE: nonprofit reserched based.
Working environment inside a unique collective manufacturing space - New Lab. Also started the first bio-hacking space in an architecture office, now called Genspace.

Dec 31, 16 4:08 pm
Oh come on man, you can't pimp your own office in this!

(You guys do do some interesting work)
Dec 31, 16 4:14 pm

Agreed on both points

Dec 31, 16 4:16 pm

Love Mitchell's work.

I think Architect's like Mitch McEwen are where the world is heading. Jiminez Lai. Alvin Huang. S.Surface. <~~~~~~ They are the change makers that I'm thinking about.

Dec 31, 16 4:34 pm

How does Jiminez Lai fit in the equation (think I know, but asking)

Dec 31, 16 4:38 pm

And in that vein,

Bob Sheil/15 makers and scanlab projects

Dec 31, 16 4:41 pm

Jiminez, for me, through his playfulness, and ease at experimentation; whether it's crowd funding for constructions, visual representation, or questioning the nature of the built environment. That does it for me.

The sexy right now, for me; Perry Kulper and Bryan Cantley. Jaw dropping experimentation.

Dec 31, 16 4:57 pm

Perry Kulper? Why not Nat Chard then?

Dec 31, 16 5:37 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

tinnt - read carefully - "average salary of an architect is $67,000 " key word average. see link too for mid career salaries in nyc.

Dec 31, 16 6:08 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

props to Terreform ONE

Dec 31, 16 6:26 pm

I can read just fine. Thanks though.

Dec 31, 16 6:55 pm

(mid and average should not be so far out of range with each other)

Dec 31, 16 7:46 pm

Marc, Definitely Nat Chard. I think it was because I am FB friends with Perry, and see what he's doing all the time, that he was in my brain.

Dec 31, 16 9:32 pm

any one read this book on alternate future practice?

there are quite a number of design/build companies.(integrated practice) that are quite a different process. most are not large firms, but small ones and quite local. SHoP is probably one of the name and size.  

Jan 2, 17 12:50 am

Although less confined to architectural practice, I think Theater Gates makes a compelling case for reimagining architectures ability to empower community building and as an extension what it means to create spaces. His repurposing of functionally obsolete buildings in South Side Chicago, into cultural beacons that strengthen community bonds is pretty incredible. Check out Stony Island Arts Bank and Archive House, as well as his art work. I think that mainstream practice could learn a lot from his grassroots efforts. He has concise TED talk I recommend if you're not familiar with his work.

Jan 2, 17 1:30 am

Theaster Gates* pardon the autocorrect

Jan 2, 17 1:40 am
I'll second Theaster and Rebuild Foundation. I worked on Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative and what they've done with the programming and in the neighborhood is great. There was a playlist across the street that used to be a haven for drug deals, but due to the glazed art center and programming, the gangs stopped using it and kids are playing at the playlist again.
Jan 2, 17 1:47 am

I agree that Theater Gates is doing some amazing things, but I'm not so sure it's entirely "new," or a change. CPTED has been a thing long enough to have an acronym, and when I think about it a little more, his project is arguably and urbanized version of the Rural Studio in it's early days. 

Again, not to "yuck anybodies yum," I'm just wondering if it's new or chasing ideas about practice. 

Jan 2, 17 12:18 pm

I agree that what Gates does isn't new in a purist sense of the word. But I think his relevance to this conversation is about how he offers a model of practice that doesn't confine itself to a specific medium and shows us how the outsider has capacity to transform how we think about practice. Yes he has formal training in planning but he is first an artist and he deploys his ability to create value out of nothing across disciplines to blur the lines between them and disrupts identity. Yes there are many architects who are also cross disciplinary but I think he definitely clearly challenges how we can think of the role of architect.

Jan 2, 17 4:06 pm

Perhaps an example more aligned to "new" practices would be Foam DAO and their work with crowdfunding equity through bitcoin. Not new in the sense it's crowdfunded but in the sense that they seem to be the first architectural pracrice thinking about how blockchain and next gen internet tech can redefine design process and ownership. Interesting because the firm seems less focused on novelty of crowdfunding or on the actual tech itself (such as firms integrating hololens or IoT but still fundamentally rooted in traditional procurement of work) and more about how decentralized ownership will change our perception and scope of our participation in collective society. I believe with blockchain tech we will see more firms start to blur this line between architect, client, developer, contractor. im really interested in seeing how this can be manifested into substantial projects or how it could transform public space.

Jan 2, 17 5:09 pm

Decentralized ownership... a non-profit, co-op, or a publicly-traded company with a board?  or would this be an old-fashioned collective/collaborative with a (smallish) group of owners?  Are you describing a community design/development center?

Jan 2, 17 10:03 pm

Hey all, evidently I spoke incorrectly about some foke in my list. While my intentions were to be complimentary, I don't know the full story. So still with respect, I'll apologize. 

Jan 2, 17 10:04 pm

No one has mentioned yet.

Jan 3, 17 9:39 am

Lee, I was also going to add Assemble, though I understand they have members with sufficient income from other places that they don't need to make a living salary from the coop work, so I'm not sure how relevant their economic model is.

Mitchell Joachim, PLEASE DO brag on Terreform ONE! The non-profit research model is super interesting to me and IMO one way we are best able to show that our value as architects is not just in meeting a developer's need for a new car this quarter. Terreform ONE's work is fantastic.

Jan 3, 17 11:00 am

Posting one more time, just so this thread doesn't get buried.

I've personally been looking for some inspiration lately and I'm sure there are more unique firms out there doing interesting work that haven't been mentioned yet.

Jan 4, 17 7:15 pm

It's a fairly orthodox choice, but MASS Design and the active approach it takes to open up new frontier markets is pretty inspiring to me.

There are some Chinese practices such as PAO that is doing interesting modular work.

Along the same spectrum but further from traditional architecture we can find Kasita and its container box modular housing.

Perhaps we can consider think tanks like Airbnb's Samara too? It doesn't have much work to its credit yet but it could be supported by more corporate cash than most firms could dream of.

My personal view is that architecture is retreating to the interior and the ephemeral. Plenty of buildings are going up, some of which are technologically innovative, but design is more and more controlled by parametric factors for those larger buildings. Practice and design innovation will probably occur closer to the human body - on the interior scale.

Jan 5, 17 12:33 am

That's an interesting comment, monosierra, your last paragraph: thinking about the body and human comfort/prosthetic extension/convenience.

In that area I think of Neri Oxman's work, on the spectrum of being much closer to the body than to architecture/environment. Can you give more examples?

Jan 5, 17 8:56 am

I've found DDG's model interesting. I don't know much more than what they publish on their website, but if anyone does I'd love to learn a bit more.

It's not all that common to see developers acting as the architect, builder, and interior designer, all at a very high level. The NY buildings seem like some of their best work.

Jan 5, 17 9:30 am

Thanks Donna. I'm struggling to find good examples of practitioners working close to the human scale/body besides Oxman - the field soon encroaches upon consumer tech and industrial design.

This hints at a bugbear of mine: That even the most expansive practice has a limited reach, simply because the vast majority can't afford the direct services of an architect. What kind of practice model allows one to reach the mass market at an architectural scale (That includes interiors)

Another kind of innovative practice may be outfits like WeWork's in-house analytics team, which are trying to measure as many aspects of user experience as possible. The translation of their findings to design is kind of crude though - mostly choice of wallpaper, furniture placement, kitchen amenities. If I'm not mistaken, the core team was formed at GSAPP.

Jan 5, 17 8:43 pm

I am too interested in learning more about DDG's model and how it was conceived if anyone can speak to it. Through the caliber of work they achieve by acting as a singular entity, I think they clearly demonstrate the power of this model. Just wondering what is stopping more firms from adopting this approach? Capital constraints? To me it seems like the way to go..

Jan 5, 17 9:12 pm

Also, has anyone read Alejandro Zaero-Polo's "Well into the 21st century the architectures of post-capitalism"? I have yet to read it but the main diagram that visually classifies many of these firms is a helpful resource, especially in finding firms I've never heard of, and has been circulated widely among popular distribution channels like archdaily and Instagram.

Jan 5, 17 9:22 pm

Techtonic: Assumption of risk is a big factor. Not to mention you'd need someone on the team who has developer experience - 2 of the three heads of the DDG firm are finance professionals, and one was a developer. Simply put: Most designers are not great business people, for lack of work experience, education, or simply entrepreneurial acumen. Partnering with a business professional may be critical.

Jan 5, 17 10:47 pm

If you don't see the book you want to read on the shelf, write it. 

Jan 6, 17 1:38 pm

Well these guys are taking a mass market approach harkening back to the day of Sears catalogue homes:

Jan 6, 17 3:21 pm

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