Big/Small Firm Internship?


In your experience, how did you benefit from large or small offices?

I am a second year b.arch student and I'm choosing between two co-op offers. One is a ~60 person urban design firm in a Big City and the other a ~10 person firm in a Less Big But Not Insignificant City. In terms of cost/my interest in the firms/promises of mentoring and not being stuck doing administrative all day they're both on even ground, so I'm just curious about others' experiences.


Nov 19, 17 4:40 pm
It really depends on how the firms are set up. There's a stigma against bigger offices that one can easily get lost in the crowd and of course there's beurocracy - this can be quite true. However, some larger firms are set up with small studios that - for your purposes - will feel much like a small firm with all the benefits of a large studio e.g. IT, HR, newer equipment etc. which can be quite refreshing if you've ever had to run IT so to speak simply because you're the youngest/most computer savvy; even basic things like getting paid on time can be a huge pain at a smaller firm. Then again it's *possible* not guaranteed you'll get a lot of responsibility quickly at a small firm though that's not very likely within less than a years time.

Since this is a temporary position for you anyway, it's probably best to focus on the kind of work you want to do. Take a look at the other employees backgrounds on LinkedIn as well, do they seem like sorts you'd get along with? What about the city, is it expensive or doable? Any friends in these places? Are there cultural events you may be interested in? Are either places somewhere you'd consider living long term? The coops are a great opportunity to 'try before you buy'. I'd recommend spending each one at as different a place and location as possible to really get a sense of how you want to begin your career after graduation. Any ultimatum regarding big or small firms is inherently filled with countless exceptions, broaden your pros cons list and don't be afraid to take a risk - it's only a for a few months.
Nov 19, 17 10:14 pm

It depends on the place. Ask people who worked/interned there. You often hear that at smaller places you'll be more involved in all aspects of the office but that can include making coffee, preparing lunch, doing shopping, etc. And at larger firms you might get to do only one sort of task, like foaming models or making renderings.

Nov 20, 17 2:00 am

Think about it in terms of LinkedIn contacts. If you add all of the people in both firms you get 50 more by working in the larger firm. Much larger network ;)

It's difficult to make an informed recommendation without knowing more about both firms. The way I approached my internships(and I completed 6 during undergrad and grad school) this a place where I could see myself working the next ten years? Or is this a place where I'm only in it for experience and then it's time to GTFO?

Nov 20, 17 10:14 am

ask what project you will be staffed on, then decide.

Nov 20, 17 6:27 pm

I am not a intern nor am I an architect, I am a draftsman in college to become an architect.......I plan on being licensed by the time I am 35 or 36, but anyways. I have worked at small firms and big firms and there is a big difference. Big firms won't lay you off and they have much more work than can be completed. While at a big firm, working in small satellite office with a very TOUGH experienced architect, I have learned many things. Big firms are better to learn from and get experience with. I am in a tight office and we work closely together on rather large, deadline driven projects. I think one of the reasons this project that we are working on now is doing "good" is from me. I have been working every weekend, pulling out ten sheets worth of drawing corrections a day ( a wall moved an inch on a 90k sqft project and every wall on the third floor will match the second floor for MEP coordination). Our BIM coordination is not good and I alone am able to get us to a point of perfection it is that I am a little uneducated and at a lower station, that I cannot get my word across and I am not pressing it either, which I very well would benefit us all especially the contractor. I will do this with time, I just need some time to work with animations, to get a grip on how to win projects.So before I go off in a rant, work at a big firm they will help you a lot more in MY experience. Go luck with your co-op's

Nov 21, 17 11:28 am

start small, you will have a glimpse of more tasks than in a big firm. Also, don't cling on your first internship/firm, there's plenty out there....

Nov 21, 17 11:46 am

I've worked at a medium sized firm, a small branch office of a large firm, and for 2 small firms. The medium size firm was the best to learn at because they had plenty of work of a high caliber to learn from, the authority to administer it without a bunch of headaches, and enough people to find a team you can engage with. I did have trouble getting IDP there because the company was more important than the employees and work was assigned to get work done, not to help build skills in young professionals. Once I mastered what my role was there, there was no where to move up because it was already top-heavy. The branch office sounded like a good idea, the small firm within the big one seemed like a ideal middle ground, but in my experience was a complete disaster. The head office would make decisions that didn't work for us, it felt like being a battered wife where you had a lot of responsibility but not much support nor much authority. The small firms were good in that there were no secrets and less ego from above and I was treated respectfully, but the work just isn't going to be as plentiful or sophisticated. Maybe try all of the above. Good luck goldilocks.

Nov 21, 17 1:45 pm

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