How is working for a developer?


I would appreciate any experiences or advices on anybody who has worked for a RE developer.

I'm a MArch, 3 years experience. As for many others, 2009 has been a year to forget in career terms. I was made redundant in March and (luckily) got another job in May, though 5,000 miles away from the previous one.

But this year I realized how unprofessional the world of architectural practices is, no matter whether it is the next-door small office or SOM. Besides I was already a bit sick of the "creative" side of architecture (aka being a CAD monkey). I had some many friends who were laid off and read and heard so many stories...

Now I work for hard-commercial arch. office. I have the chance to deal with a few real estate developers and I have noticed that they have in-house architects and I feel they have a pretty confortable job and life.

In the meantime, I would like to apply for a MRED (Real Estate Development) in 1-2 years time, so I guess this is a good step.

On the other hand, I don't know where to find a listing of real estate developers (mainly European or Asian if not Global). I have took a glance at Cityscape or MIPIM websites and there are a few but there are mainly architectural offices (!!), banks and anything related to building.

Thanks in advance,

Jan 12, 10 5:00 pm

I left 'traditional' architecture practice about 5 years ago. Since then I have worked for 2 developers and 1 construction company.

For the first developer I did all of the in house design work up until planning consent stage. I then passed this work on to our internal drafting team. This developer was your traditional 'mongrel/cowboy' developer, built entirely around the rather challenging personality of one individual. However, he was willing to teach me a lot about basic developing and I learnt alot of what to do and what not to do. Very much a case of being thrown into the fire. Projects okay, but a constant and subversive struggle with the boss to produce anything of architectural merit. In terms of pay - 50% increase over what I was getting as an architect.

The second developer was diametrically opposed. Very good reputation, excellent projects and a very high calibre of people from different backgrounds. No designing this time, just commissioning architects for various projects - so really client side work. There was also alot of analysis of the financial side of projects, alot of masterplanning analysis, strategy, marketing etc. Great to be the client instead of the consultant. Very enjoyable, but the economy saw to that. Another 50% increase over what I was getting at previous.

The third is for a construction company. So now it is not instigating projects but taking over projects either completely or partially designed. Very different atmosphere. Very much about risk and margin. Similar money.

The moral of the story - have a reason for getting into development thats not just money. Mine was to learn and I am coming to the end of that now.

The money you earn will make it very hard to go back into architecture if that what you want to do.

All developers, like architects, are not equal.

Learning by doing is extremely valuable. I dont need or want any other form of education for property development.

Thinking that property development is about buildings is not usually the case. Its about margin, interest and adding value. Buildings and land are just the medium.

Jan 12, 10 9:20 pm  · 

"Thinking that property development is about buildings is not usually the case. Its about margin, interest and adding value. Buildings and land are just the medium."

^^one of the best/truest comments i've ever read on archinect

Jan 12, 10 11:01 pm  · 

Hi Diabase,

Thank you very much for your comment. Your experience is very interesting.

It's not just about the money. In my current job I have a more management position and I really feel it is way more interesting doing "paperwork" (i.e. meetings and coordination with the consultants or the client) than being sitting 8 hours a day doing technical details or 3Ds...I saw in my previous offices people in their 30s doing that and basically they have been doing the same stuff for 10 years and probably quite burn-out (well I would be burn out). Besides when they are made redundant they don't have so many added capabilities to get a new job, i.e. in a new field. Obviously getting a better pay and better working conditions is a definitive plus!

So I thought working directly for a developer could be the next step, to have a good base to study a MsRED.

Jan 13, 10 12:37 am  · 


What city were you in while working with your second developer?

Jan 13, 10 2:17 am  · 

I reside in Auckland, New Zealand.

Jan 13, 10 2:28 am  · 

Oh, your job description sounded very familiar. I thought maybe we worked together here in the US...

Jan 13, 10 2:44 am  · 

It goes to show that developers are same everywhere!

Jan 13, 10 3:41 am  · 

I've spent a considerable portion of my career so far working in a development environment -- some of those years as an employee / some as a principal. While I eventually migrated back to a pure design environment, for a business-minded architect, working in a development firm is great experience, and it makes you a better architect.

Based on my own experience, I would say that working in a development firm is incredibly hard work. I always put in as many hours there as I ever did in a design firm - maybe more. There's also a lot of pressure to perform -- the stakes are much higher, especially in a down market. Plus, unless you are one of the firm's owners, you probably won't enjoy considerably more job security than you do in a design firm -- in fact, because real estate firms are very business oriented, they tend to shed non-productive overhead much faster than do design firms. But, if you work hard and generate results, you can make a very nice living in that world.

I've written this before here on Archinect, but the best part of working in a development firm is that you have much more control over the architecture than you ever will have in a design firm. However, to exercise that control, you first must develop business credibility among your colleagues in the firm. They've got to understand - without a doubt - that you will not compromise the business goals of the firm in an artistic pursuit of better architecture. If you ever lose that credibility, then you will become "just another architect" trying to stroke your ego.

In a development firm, good design is possible only when business goals also are being met.

Jan 13, 10 9:58 am  · 

Do age, gender or race play a role in your success in working for a development firm?

Jan 13, 10 3:44 pm  · 
"Do age, gender or race play a role in your success in working for a development firm?"

Probably no more, nor more less, than in any other field of endeavor.

While one can never discount the possibility of bias in employment relationships, IMO most well managed firms will focus primarily on what you can deliver. But, being a white, middle-aged male, I recognize that not everybody will agree with that point of view.

Jan 13, 10 5:35 pm  · 

I thought I had worked for some sketchy, crazy architects before but none came close to my last employer, an "artists' lofts" developer. Granted, I don't know how much of it was just run-of-the-mill development business and how much was specific to that company, but now that I'm out, I'm never looking back again. It was hands-down the most dysfunctional environment I had ever worked in. Over the course of a year, I had worked with computer hackers, ex-convicts (murder!), embezzlers, drug dealers, and drug users in the office. Talk about bribing city officials and hiring "independent" investigators were water cooler talk. Ridiculous schemes like herding homeless people and shooting video of it to make a property seem undesirable or turning unbuildable properties into prostitution parking lots (catchily named "Pork and Park") were discussed with completely straight faces.

The business model itself sounded perfect: a development company that had its own in-house architecture department, construction company, and even a steel shop out back (and then its own leasing and property management departments once the projects were built). But apparently, hiring and overpaying completely unqualified, incompetent staff that can "do you a favor (wink-wink)" to fill the roles don't do much for a good idea. I was well-paid and didn't do a hell of a lot -- especially compared to every other job I've ever had in an architecture firm. I had a fair amount of creative control. And our buildings even looked kinda nice. But everyday, I drove into work half-expecting to see either police cars lined up on the street or just the place boarded up. I never thought I'd say these words, but I miss the stability and moral integrity of an architecture office.

It also marks the last time I answer a craigslist job posting.

Jan 13, 10 9:34 pm  · 


That sounds like fun.

For the first job, there was alot of 'greyness' around some of the funding and purchase agreements. But no drugs or police. I almost had to break up a fight once, but nothing too major.

Jan 13, 10 9:50 pm  · 

Hearing these stories, I'm surprised I can't think of any movies/tv shows that feature the wild and wacky world of a development office... sounds like it needs the Greg Daniels treatment... Let's make a deal!

Jan 14, 10 9:11 am  · 

What is the best way to locate developers in one's particular location?

Jan 26, 10 10:01 pm  · 
Distant Unicorn

APA-- American Planning Association--

NAIOP-- Commercial Real Estate Development Association--

INTA-- International Urban Development Association--

ABC-- Associated Builders and Contractors--

ULI-- Urban Land Institute--

Jan 26, 10 10:08 pm  · 

thanks Unicorn, I am glad to see you didn't take me too seriously

Jan 26, 10 10:30 pm  · 


Do you have any advice on how to get your foot in the door, coming from a purely architecture background to development/real estate? Did you go back to school? Did it just take some tweaking of your resume? How did you do it?

Apr 16, 10 5:45 pm  · 

I'm curious about this too. What jobs/job titles would an someone with an architecture background qualify for in the development world?

Apr 16, 10 8:30 pm  · 

I had a developer client that I had a rapport with. We discussed me making a move to head up the internal design work for his company. From there, 2.5 years later, I moved to a more established PD company, and then on from there.

Its not hard. What I mean is, you don't necessarily need an MBA or anything else [I don't have one]. Development is not necessarily what you think it is. Whether you do design work or not in development, translating architectural skills to a development angle is not a stretch.

Architects skills work in terms of setting up projects, managing consultants, understanding the finer points of development [in terms of planning, construction etc] dealing with local authorities, analysis of projects, design management, branding, marketing etc, etc.

Its not all about financing, interest costs, titling and settlements. You can learn about that.

I was reasonably happy with the move, but it was strategic move to educate myself about this client side of building and development. Being cynical, I would suggest that alot of developers are frustrated architects, so there is a little cache there that will work on your favour.

Having said that, I don't consider myself to be anywhere near a stereotypical architect - I see architecture as a frame from which I deal with problems and opportunities. If you are an architect that deeply identifies with the 'profession', and believe that architecture is a good unto itself, then working for a developer will be difficult.

I am more prepared than most to be flexible in terms of gains and losses, and I have a long term strategic view.

Apr 17, 10 6:30 am  · 
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