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July 29, 2008 7:12 PM   Subscribe

What are some of the best architecture firms to work for?

I recently began following my programming ambitions by going back to school for a masters in computer science. Conveniently the school I am attending--UChicago--has a night school program so I am still able to work towards my architecture license during the day. However, I can see that the work load at school will likely grow considerably and make it very difficult for me both to work full time and attend school. As such I have been thinking about negotiating a part time work agreement at my current firm.

At the same time I've been thinking that this might be a great time for me to move up in the world. Being rather disenfranchised with my current firm I want to take a look around and see if I can't find something a little closer to my 'dream' job. So who can tell me about some architecture firms that have really great work environments?

Specifically, I picture a firm that is very forward looking and is open to new ideas. It should work on eco-friendly projects, use the most effective software (BIM anyone?), have a laid back atmosphere and reasonable hours, invest in training for its employees and have partitioned office space (no more conversations across the office, please?). Other pluses include flexible hours and being able to work away from the office. I'm not particularly concerned about location nor am I picky about the sort of architecture, though the bulk of my interest lies in hostels, travel lodges and coffee shops.

Bonus points if you can tell me what such firms look for in a hiree and give me some ideas on how to get there.
posted by mockdeep to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I started writing a long answer then read your third graf. The firm you are looking for does not exist.
posted by parmanparman at 7:41 PM on July 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Try posting this question on archinect.com.
posted by limited slip at 8:03 PM on July 29, 2008


parmanparman is correct - the firm in your paragraph #3 doesn't exist. But to (hopefully) be a little more helpful, here's why:

It should work on eco-friendly projects

Well that's not really up to you; it's up to your clients to decide whether or not they want to spend extra to, say, become LEED certified. I suppose you could work for a firm who accepted only eco-friendly projects, but that would be tough to find.

Other pluses include flexible hours and being able to work away from the office

You might be able to work remotely occasionally, if your office has the technology for you to log in remotely, or if you have a computer at home capable of handling whatever programs you need, but probably not regularly; architecture tends to be collaborative work. You have to show up to meetings, and be available to talk your coworkers and bounce around ideas, or at the very least, be handed redlines (or mark them up and hand them off) throughout the day. As for flexible hours, I know we have to be available when our clients are, and when contractors are in the field working on our projects (at least the ones that are in our time zone). If a contractor runs into a work-stopping problem at 8 am, but you don't roll in until 10 am, well, that's not good.

have a laid back atmosphere and reasonable hours

BWAAA HA HA HA HA HA HA! I think this one is my favorite.

Sorry. Seriously though, I've never encountered an architecture firm that has allowed for regular attendance of a night program. Deadline-oriented work is too unpredictable, and if the client calls at 4:00 and asks for something that will take 3 hours, and your PM says yes, then you're pretty much staying until 7:00. Or if you have a job that would ordinarily take 6 days, but it's been promised to your client in 3 days, then your next 3 work days are going to be really long. That's just how it works. Of course some firms are better than others about this, but long and unpredictable hours are a definite and common occurrence.

Honestly, your best bet would probably be a tiny firm, like a 2-guy operation, where you can possibly have some input into what work you take and what hours you work. If you're a cog at a larger crank-it-out firm, your preferences are not likely to be honored.
posted by boomchicka at 8:03 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Although if you were going to be able to find a good fit anywhere, Chicago is probably a pretty good place to try, being a big architecture city. Try to find some local recommendations from other architects; personal recommendations will be the most accurate predictor of how a firm conducts itself.
posted by boomchicka at 8:08 PM on July 29, 2008


For any who think my expectations are impossible I'd be happy to hear some of your closest approximations.
posted by mockdeep at 8:31 PM on July 29, 2008


SOM obviously. I don't know anyone that works there or how good it is for a work place but the name itself should open doors if it is on your resume. But they work on huge projects and probably don't fit in with your desire to design travel lodges? Your sights seem low so maybe just start your own firm once you get a license. The best boss to work for is always yourself.
posted by JJ86 at 9:09 PM on July 29, 2008


For any who think my expectations are impossible I'd be happy to hear some of your closest approximations

If you want specific firm names, the best way to find them is to network locally, like I said above.
posted by boomchicka at 5:49 AM on July 30, 2008


That is, beyond all doubt, the oddest description of an architectural dream job I have ever read. Not helpful, I know, except to suggest that perhaps you need to have more experience in any other job to create a better description for a "dream job"*.

*Although I can not recall any architect -- registered or intern -- ever telling me that they had found their dream job.
posted by Dick Paris at 6:03 AM on July 30, 2008


Honestly, your best bet would probably be a tiny firm, like a 2-guy operation, where you can possibly have some input into what work you take and what hours you work. If you're a cog at a larger crank-it-out firm, your preferences are not likely to be honored.

I'll second this. My first job was a place where I was the first actual employee of the person who's name was on the plaque, and our second employee worked part time while going to school. In a lot of ways a job like that is really fun, because you pretty much get to do everything--I was running permits, consultant meetings and construction meetings just a year out of school. But then again, you also have to do *everything*--I also ran drawings to the blueprinters, cleaned the office at regular intervals, and answered the phones. But, you're much more likely to have flexibility with your work hours and such at a place like that.

On the other hand, a firm that size probably would be pretty hesitant about making the jump to BIM at this point (although it's pretty obvious the whole industry is heading in that direction--I think Revit or something similar will be pretty commonplace in a couple years), and their project scopes would probably not be able to include LEED certification as a matter of course. If you *were* to find a small firm that used BIM and made a commitment to doing only green projects, they'd most likely be inundated with job applications and resumes from kids fresh out of school that are willing to work 80 hours a week for peanuts, just to get that firm on their resume or continue the kind of idealistic stuff they were doing in school.

My own firm would do pretty well by your standards--we're currently conducting an office-wide study group on LEED accredidation, and I'll probably take the test later this year or early next (unfortunately, we do mostly retail work so our "green" construction options are fairly limited--particularly with regard to site selection and layout and oceans of parking) We've got a Revit seat for everyone in the office at the moment, but are waiting to start training for it on a worthwhile project. We've also had people work part-time while going to school. Our firm size is probably in the 30s, split between two offices in California. As far as I've seen, where I'm working now is pretty much my dream job, although it'd be nice if we did more interesting projects than shopping centers. So, I think you can meet a lot of your criteria, just look around a bit. I'm not familiar with Chicago firms, and it'll be tough getting anyone to hire you in this market, but good luck.
posted by LionIndex at 7:35 AM on July 30, 2008


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