Things I Learned Working In A Small Architecture Practice

If you’re someone who is thinking about the size of company you want to work in or just purely curious about the type of things to expect, you’re at the right place. I happen to spend 6 months during my university studies working alongside a small practice founded by two architects, and I am here to share what I’ve learned along the way.

The key difference between working in a smaller office than a bigger one, is the level of intensity that you learn from the head architect. The bigger the company, the less learning time you spend with him/her.

1. You’re Able to Understand the Design in More Detail.

A fundamental part of decision making in design is having enough good reason to back up your answer. This requires technical knowledge to some degree which in my situation as a student, I lacked plenty.

Discussion between architects is crucial, especially when it comes to design changes. Being next to the lead architect was beneficial for me us I was learning technical implications parallelly to design solutions.

2. Client Meetings, You Can Hear Everything.

If you’re working in any other size company you have probably attended some meetings in the past. But unless you’re working on a specific project, you wouldn’t expect a student to sit through all of the design meetings.

This is not totally a big issue because, well, your meeting is most likely in the same room or adjacent to your work station.

This is an advantage (relatively) as a student as being in a smaller space means you can hear everything, which means, you are able to listen to client meetings, the tea, and the gossip. 🐸 ☕

3. There Is No Wrong Way to Sketch

Everyone has a different way of drawing and using tools. It comes down to your own preference but it was very different to see how an architect uses pens and pencils.

I think as a student you’re picked upon using the right thicknesses of pens and having straight lines were important. Few months in the office though I quickly realised that there is no right or wrong way to sketch. Having a distinct style is actually good because it makes you stand out.

The important thing I learned from an architect is knowing when to turn to sketching and when to not.

4. You Get to See the Process of an Idea Turn Into a Project

Small architecture offices are more likely to take on smaller projects. This means you’re able to see the whole project in itself from start to finish.

I think a lot of times, especially as a student, it’s challenging to grasp the “right” design process and how to get from an idea to the final design.

Working beside an architect was an eye-opener because I was able to understand how the flow of ideas was able to be put on paper and then CAD, then on to a model.

I think everyone should have this experience first hand simplifies the steps to get an idea into reality.

6. You Learn to Work With a Senior Level Architect Closely

Founders are not only architects, they are entrepreneurs. Their skillsets expand more than just design, but also business.

Being able to work with someone closely is an essential skill if you’re going to be working in a small practice. It requires flexibility, understanding, and being able to quickly adapt to changes, and demands.

As a student, I think its a bit intimidating to work with the person who practically can fire you any time if you mess up, and in most cases, you will do mistakes. I certainly have found myself on several occasions thinking it would be my last day because of something I did wrong or took a long time to finish a task.

When you’re in a small office there is more pressure on you to get stuff done. My tip for you is to remember there is a reason why they hired you, and you are doing the absolute best you can.

7. You Learn to Handle Pressure

I am sure everyone experiences a certain level of pressure at work either by your manager or the team leader. The main difference, in this case, is having the Founder of the company sit next to you and giving you the tasks himself.

This has another kind of pressure because the intensity of your work increases. So if you’re someone who likes taking on a challenge and isn’t afraid to show your skills, a small practice might be the right choice for you.

8. You Get a Lot of Feedback

The most nerve-wracking thing is to be doing work whilst feeling there are eyes behind you looking at your monitor. This happens often because you are very likely to be sitting next to the architect.

No matter the number of changes you have to do, feedback will only make you better, which brings me to my next point.

9. You Learn to Change Things Over and Over Again

At the end of the day, the design process is not a straight line but a ball of messy intricate threads. As a student, this is the reason you are there, to assist the architect in their creations.

This solely depends on the type of person you’re working with, but so far I have come to the conclusion that all architects change their minds many times until they have come to the final design. This is something you have to get used to and not take personally.

The Architect Is Your Mentor

No matter the challenging atmosphere of a small architecture practice, the architect you are going to be working with will be like your mentor. Absorb every bit of knowledge that you can, this is a chance to ask questions, and the opportunity to develop strong connections.

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