Working for Holl...


Realistically, how difficult is it for recent grads (B.arch degree) to land an internship position at Steven Holl's firm? I'd like to apply (and I will) but I was just trying to gauge how difficult a job like that would be.

Anyone here ever worked for this firm? I'd like to hear some war stories.


Nov 16, 05 6:12 pm

heard the internships are unpaid, but don't know for sure

kiasma rocks, tho -- SH is for real

Nov 16, 05 6:14 pm

Why would you want to work for free? Go get a job with a firm that will give you the skills to be an architect and pay you at the same time. You already should have enough design education so now it's time to get some other skilz down. But even if you don't agree with the former; why would you want to work for free?

If they'll pay you a living wage then maybe it's worth it.

But why would you want to work for free?

Nov 16, 05 6:27 pm

I had a conversation a couple years ago w/ an intern/slave in Holl's office. He said it wasn't that great. No pay and it seemed like every week his computer got downgraded. Also, he said that Holl's office doesn't do construction documents (they usually pawn that task off on the 'associate architect' firm) and save the juicy details (handrails, weird doors, etc) for themselves.

He also added that it was a revolving door of interns willing to work for free just to put Holl on their resume.

Nov 16, 05 6:34 pm

And by the way...from someone who is an employer, I don't care where you've worked- just what you can do for me.

Model Building
Project Management
Project Design


Making coffee

I'd pay you too.

Nov 16, 05 6:38 pm

I'm sorry... By "internship position" I didn't mean a job with no pay. What I meant was a starting position, which is referred to as an "intern" position in many places.

I want to get paid whatever the market would pay a recent grad. I don't believe in the whole "work for free because of the name" thing because at the end of the day they would just have me do whatever they don't want to do themselves. So I was asking about a paid position, not an unpaid one. I already volunteer too much of my time to unpaid endeavors.

Let me rephrase the question then... how difficultu would it be to land a paid job in Holl's firm being a recent grad?


Nov 16, 05 6:40 pm


I make excellent coffee. :)


Nov 16, 05 6:41 pm

I think that starchitect is not the way to go. Go one level below that to good architects with good design that come out in magazines, books, etc... But are not at the super status. You will learn more, probably get paid, and most important for me: BE APPRECIATED.

Nov 16, 05 6:41 pm

impossible -- b/c holl can get recent grads to do for free what they would get paid to do elsewhere

pomotrash, though, might be a good prospect!

Nov 16, 05 6:44 pm

My guess is pomotrash is in the West Coast... are you? I once said I'd never go to either Florida of California, and so far I've kept both these "promises".

I really like Holl's work and I would love to work for his firm. I've worked at firms before where the work was just boring. Holl's stuff is inspiring. Simply put: tt's not the starchitect appeal, it's the watercolors.

Now, if you guys know of other East Coast firms where they actually had some respect for hand drawn watercolor (or pastel, or ink, or charcoal) sketches then please e-mail me the info. I'd be more than happy to apply.


Nov 16, 05 6:50 pm

That girl on Gilmore Girls last night made some excellent coffee. She got the job!

Nov 16, 05 7:02 pm

when i worked at polshek's there were a couple of people who did some really nice watercolors. not sure if that is helpful to you, but at least they would be open to the idea. or at least they were. i don't know if they still are. at least you'd get paid there too.

can i ask why never florida or california? promises like that are always dangerous. when tom waits was a younger man he said he would never leave the city or [i believe] get married, now look at him. happily married and tough to get him into a city these days. life can take you by surprise sometimes. don't fight it.

Nov 16, 05 7:03 pm

Why would you never go to California?

Nov 16, 05 7:08 pm

Florida is hot... and then there's the hurricanes. I'm afraid of storms. :(.

California is... well...(insert your favorite Arnold joke here).


Nov 16, 05 7:14 pm

ha, i'm an unpaid SH expat! its kind of a weird office. steven is nice, the admin staff is nice -- but the working climate is not exactly comfortable. its very quiet in the office, everyone wears black and the staff is almost exclusively male. i worked there for six months and was never able to shed my general feeling of uneasiness and intimidation.

Nov 16, 05 7:35 pm

Hmm. California is... a lot more than just one single governor?

I don't get it. Florida, I can understand. But California is an enormous and very diverse state.

Nov 16, 05 7:39 pm

Back to your original question - it all depends on a lot of factors... I know a few people that were offered intern-level jobs right out of school w/ a BArch at Starchitect firms. Keep in mind they were the rock stars of our studio. A couple of them took the plunge and only survived a few months or up to a year working long hours in an expensive city for very little money.

A lot of it is timing too - if Holl is looking for intern level people and you fit the qualifications, you'll have better luck getting in the door.

I've heard of a few Starchitect firms that will toss resumes if they aren't from specific schools! Now that's just wrong...

Nov 16, 05 7:55 pm

i agree with myriam. everyone can find their niche there. i would not like to live in san deigo. it's beautiful but too conservative for my tastes. san francisco on the other hand...

Nov 16, 05 7:57 pm

what's up with the florida bashing? totally uncalled for.

stay on topic damnit. ;)

Nov 16, 05 10:08 pm

hehe, sorry ;) I was actually thinking about the climates--she mentioned the thunderstorms of Florida, and as far as I've heard, the whole state has pretty much one climate type (hot and humid!), whereas, that doesn't apply to CA, which got me thinking. I'm sure FL is a beautiful place (for people other than me) to live. ;)

Nov 16, 05 11:13 pm

I worked for a B-grade Starchitect once (I can only imagine how it feels like to work for an A-grade one)... anyway, everyone was really... how do I say it... competitavely intense. And everyone was fighting for the attention of the principals... it was insane and inane. Anyway, I know work in China where the design pyramid is inverted and they appreciate you, your work, and your design... it's not about the icon status of the "head designer"... it's refreshing. And I get paid quite comfortably.

Nov 16, 05 11:52 pm

steven holl talks a lot of trash. but he has some really good people to back him up.

"and this is my watercolour/sketch about the proposed space..."
"and this is eventually what my office- i mean i designed..."

yeah... right.

must be nice.

Nov 17, 05 12:36 am
swisscardlite did you get your job? what kind of skills are required? is it very fast paced? where are you situated? i'm very interested in workign there one day too

Nov 17, 05 12:38 am

This reminds me I need to change the filter. Anyone? Anyone?

Nov 17, 05 1:21 am

Add "must be able to hold ones own at the bar" to my earlier list.

Also, "must have good taste in vodkas" as well.

I grew up and went to undergrad in Florida. I will never go back. It is a horrible, horrible place. The only thing I do love about it is the severe contradictions- beautiful plants and animals, many of which will kill you.

I fell in love with Cali when I was a lad and came out here for grad school. I probably will never leave.

Then again never is a very long time eh' macgirl?

Nov 17, 05 1:28 am


"Never" is a long time indeed.

I can drink lots and lots of Coronas without feeling the need to dance on tables.

I like Grey Goose and Absolut, though I'm not really much of a vodka drinker.

Wait... is this a job requirement list? How about "must be a multitasker.... must be able to be on the phone while brushing teeth, making coffee, reading the paper and redesigning the main entry"? Isn't that kind of skill necessary anymore? Has the world gone mad?



P.S. Killer plants?

Nov 17, 05 1:41 am

impressive meandering.

not sure why pomotrash doesn't care where his staff has worked but having worked with boys and girls who did time in the starchitects offices i gotta say there is a huge difference between them and the average crowd. the focus is totally different and the skill-set quite refreshing. they know they can do the impossible and aren't afraid to fail, 2 big things the commercial firms discourage.

the deal with the starchitect gig is never going to be about wages but more like an old-fashioned guild-ish workshop. expecting to be paid according to the effort is a bit unrealistic unfortunately.

as for getting into such places... from the folks i know who have done so it seemed to be entirely about the timing (ie, pure chance) or about the connections from school (ie, pure nepostism/cronyism). it also doesn't hurt to have won several awards. oh, and try to be wildly talented. easy.

Nov 17, 05 1:43 am

I've found the opposite jump. Most of the people that I've worked with from the starchitect crowd are not any more talented than the rest of the pack- they just put up with more crap- They simply buy into the mirage. It is not to say that working for the Mosses and koolhaases of the world is without merrit, but the thread started out with the debate of working for free.

I've worked for a couple of commercial firms, and they are willing to fail...bigtime.

If Steven Holl is willing to pay you a living wage then fine. The other question at hand is "are you going to learn how to do things other than design?". My point earlier was that these offices hire people based on their abilties to produce. Steven Holl for example has his vision and it is your duty to make that vision happen. Because the employees are generally overworked and underpaid they do not have any lasting contribution to the office and burn out. When I look at potential employees and have been an employee myself at other offices I always felt it important that I was learning things besides how to build another site model. I worked places where the employers were looking for people to help them achieve their business goals, but also were looking for people that they could invest in as well.

If you have talent, then working for one of the stars isn't going to matter, you'll do well anyway. So the question you have to ask yourself is: "Will I work for free so that I can say I worked for Steven Holl?".

And yes macgirl, they have killer plants in Florida.

Nov 17, 05 2:25 am

There are pros and cons for working with Corporate firms and Starchitects. Some people CANNOT afford working for Starchitects, and some people can. If you can, then do it! Just to see if that kind of environment and that kind of design management is for you... if you cant do it... don't beat yourself up because Financially you can't make it happen...

In the end of the day, people hopefully and usually eventually end up working in the environment that is right for them... creatively, growth wise, and financially. Hopefully I would like to think that's the case.

Saying that Corporate interns work differently than those who worked with Starchitects or vice versa... is a load of crap. In the end of the day, it's the drive of the individual that counts and whether they work hard in achieving what is they want to achieve and if they have life and professional goals as well that makes the difference.

Nov 17, 05 2:41 am

ja, i agree that it is the individual that makes things happen. totally. but there is no way that PLOT or MVRDV could have emerged from SOM (the opposite is equally true i suppose). The goals of the offices are totally different and so is the work envirnonment, at least from what i have heard and seen.

it depends on the starchitect office of course but with sejima or ito a newbie has as much of a chance to design the next big project as the 25 year veteran. the hierarchy is flat and made so to take advantage of the whizkid genius factor, and why not? sure the pay is shit and the hours insanely long but the staff are allowed to pursue work that is not expected to pay financially, and are trained to be dogged about pursuing materials details and methods to a degree that a strictly commercial firm can never afford or countenance. the pay off is that the kids in the starchitecture firms are given access to the most amazing projects in the world and are free to pursue ideas that firms like SOM and similar would never allow. i mean come on, look what childs (who is not a starchitect) did with danny's masterplan. if that is your goal then good on yah, but for me i would rather have a shitload of short-term staff running through my office and helping me to make architecture that won't be remembered only for its political context.

in my case i had a family to support since before i started grad school but if i had been single absolutely i would have done the starchitect thing, if only just for a year or two. instead i worked for regular commercial firms for a few years and then struggled to work my way out of that career path. it was not easy; for good reason the starchitecty offices were dubious. sure i had run jobs and could do cds, even structural sets, but could i make something that wasn't merely competent?... the thing is i never had the chance to really try. if you want to be more than competent then starchitecture is a good short cut and a template for work that can last into the next phase of a career; assuming said folk have the chops. i see it in much of the work of my friends who have started offices here and in europe. that they worked for mvrdv, oma, ito, etc has absolutely prepared them for a certain kind of future that is much harder to get to from the SOM-y places. not impossible, just harder. on the other hand many of them do, indeed, teach. it is really important to remember that many starchitects rely on income from outside of the office to get things started and to keep things going... funny world isn't it?

Nov 17, 05 8:08 am

a friend of a friend was recently offered a whopping $27,000 to work in Holl's office...this is with a M. Arch. too...i think that you can probably afford a real nice cardboard box on the street with that salary in manhattan...

Nov 17, 05 9:43 am

sure, you could apprentice (only appropriate word) for holl or hadid or whoever is hot at whatever moment for shit pay and ungodly hours and then get another job at another starchitect's office and then get some untenured teaching position and then start an office doing somebody's condo remodel -- with some partners, maybe your SO because that looks great in magazines

or you could suck it up, go to -- yes -- SOM, specifically in chicago -- learn how to actually make a building go together (there are no good shortcuts in architecture) -- get paid $35,000+ per year for three years -- live in a $400/mo studio -- save enough for one or two years' backup salary -- get your license -- and then start your firm doing competitions for 1-2 years without a care in the world -- and then really get good clients who've seen your website and love your work, not who you worked for

it's the strategy i wish i'd done -- i did everything except stay at SOM for three years (i stayed 2) and save the money, and saving the money is the key part

Nov 17, 05 10:20 am

Jump... I think this is a very good discussion and you make valid points. Again, it really depends on what your goals are... I also believe that you can get to point B from point A through many different routes. Working for an Atelier and teaching on the side is a great one as well as it is ideal... but I also had a few professors who never built and only teach. Some corporate firms and some ateliers are able to help you go through a process from schematic right to construction of the final building... I think that kind of experience is worthwhile.

In the end if you're goal is to be a Starchitect... it takes more than just working for a Starchitect to become one... there's connections, there's being in the right location, with the right circles, there's politics, there's attitidude, and of course talent. Working for a starchitect or an atelier can help you be placed in that type of circle.

The rest of us just want to build and make architecture. No nonsense, no bullsh*t, no drama, no attitude... just a lot of dreams and hardwork. Trust me... my goal is to have my own firm one day, do a lot of work that I do, and create lots of projects... "working"... whether its for a strachitect or a corporate firm... is a good place to start. Just make sure that it's the right working and creative environment for you.

I'm only adding this to JUMP's response because while I agree with him in many points... I think that there are many various multiple paths to get to where you want to be and be able to do what you want to do. Plenty of A grade, B grade, and C grade starchitects have worked in a corporate environment... there are hundreds if not thousands of architects who worked for a Starchitect and are still struggling today.
But who knows... MVRDV started from OMA, and so did FOA... because the guy hated working with Koolhaas.

Anyway, whatever you choose to do... goodluck!

PS. Steven Holl is nice and friendly guy... he'll send you HIS watercolors to make 3D models out of. Well... that's what my friend had to do... he was working contractually for a competition... he was promised payment... but never was. But at least he can put Holl in his resume.

Nov 17, 05 10:26 am

i hope he kept the watercolor as payment

Nov 17, 05 11:58 am


Nov 18, 05 2:18 am

well, over here in portugal, many studios are actually charging interns. not paying. charging. 

can't imagine anything worse.

Dec 5, 12 11:56 pm

"Can't imagine anything worse."

How about going into debt to pay for the internship?  Because that's pretty similar to what many architecture students endure.  And taking on debt is definitely worse than paying cash.

And for whatever it's worth, charging young architects for the privilege of being an intern is probably one of the most financially savvy things an architect can do.  Frank Lloyd Wright was pretty much broke his entire career until he figured out that gem of a strategy.


Dec 6, 12 9:39 am

Back in the old days when architecture was run much more like a guild, "interns" were apprenticed to masters in a way that entitled the master to pretty much all their labor in return for teaching them the trade and providing room and board. The apprentice was more or less indentured to the master, and some families paid significant fees to get their kids apprenticed into desirable professions. It was also very difficult for an apprentice to leave the employ of the master without paying a huge penalty for doing so. Perhaps we're seeing the beginning of a return to a system like that as the education bubble pops and global economy de-leverages.

Dec 6, 12 12:58 pm

One of the reasons is way too many architecture grads - too many are considered a "dime a dozen"

Dec 6, 12 1:19 pm

Holl's might have good ideas/concepts but his built work really suck in terms of finish/final product.  Poor detailing and horrible execution from what I've experienced. 

Dec 6, 12 5:32 pm


That's certainly true of his larger projects, which tend to be very disappointing in real life no matter how pretty they look in pictures. His smaller projects don't have this problem. St. Ignatius Chapel, for instance, is masterfully detailed and finished.

Dec 6, 12 6:03 pm
vado retro

the difference is that when children were apprenticed to a master they were apprenticed at an age of ten years and learned every aspect of their craft. this included the trades and what we consider high art. the great renaissance artists we think of were all apprenticed at an early age by parents who thought that painting frescos for wealthy patrons would be a fine way for little giotto to make a decent living. so by the time he reached his early or mid twenties he had achieved a level of skill that would allow him to open his own shop. the current architectural structure calls for most students to take on tens of thousands of dollars in debt and then go apprentice for little or in some cases no money. definitely, an f'd up scenario.

Dec 8, 12 8:25 am

also, the masters were actually expected to teach their apprentices their trade.  i doubt steven holl was taking time out of his day to teach his interns how a building goes together, or teaching them about building codes and the process of getting a permit and CO, etc.  in many cases, interns are now just cheap grunt work.  giotto's mom wouldn't sell him off to a profession that exploited its young the way we do.

Dec 8, 12 10:06 am

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