The Scoop on Architectural Firms
Depending on the size and geographic location of the firm, work may focus only on one area or cover all three. Company size varies widely--number of employees range anywhere from one person to over 100, but the average is nine or ten people. Since most people have limited knowledge of the construction process, they'll enlist an architect as the first step in developing a new residence or public building. A successful architect, like an interior designer, pays careful attention to the wants and needs of their client, turning ideas into tangible drawings and offering assistance in many aspects of the project, including site studies, securing planning and zoning approvals and helping to select a contractor.
Clients select architectural firms in the same manner they choose a designer, gathering names from friends and associates who have developed similar projects, through publications such as Architectural Digest and researching which architects designed buildings or homes they admire. They can also contact the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for lists of local architects. Many design publications list architects as resources, and architects also self-promote in trade publications. As in any industry, certain icons are so well-known that they can be very selective about which projects they accept. Some current well-known architects include Frank Gehry, Michael Graves and Richard Meier. One of Meier's recent famous works is the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Two of Gehry's latest notable structures are the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain and The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Graves' list of projects is numerous, encompassing everything from private residences to civic buildings. Some examples are Disney corporate headquarters in Burbank, California, the headquarters and training center for the Philadelphia Eagles and a building on the University of Virginia campus. A recent Wall Street Journal article notes the increase in famous architects taking on residential projects; for example, Daniel Libeskind (architect of the master plan for the new World Trade Center site) is working on a residential tower in Denver, and Frank Gehry is developing ideas for a luxury tower in Manhattan. The phenomenon of prominent architects working on residential projects is not entirely new; after all, famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright is often most remembered for his private dwellings such as Fallingwater, a residential home in Bear Run, Pennsylvania. One reason architects take on private residences is the increased level of creativity those projects engender. As Richard Meier has said, "Individuals aren't afraid to take risks. You don't get that level of collaboration with many corporate clients."
Architects are usually brought on board shortly after the land or existing property has been acquired, ultimately selected based on some combination of price, qualification and personal fit. Owners usually interview several prospective firms, getting a chance to see examples of the firm's work and how they organize projects for completion. The interview also provides an opportunity for potential clients to interact with the person or persons who will be working on the job before committing to anything. Many firms, too, exercise their own judgment, careful not to take every opportunity that crosses their path. As one principal of a mid-size architectural firm says; "We have made a concerted effort to filter our client base so that we don't accept projects from potential clients who we sense may not be a good fit."