Should You Work For A "Starchitect"?
This topic often comes up in the architecture forums and I receive a lot of questions on the subject.
So, if given the opportunity, should you work for a "starchitect"? Let's discuss.
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What is a "starchitect"?
The title is formed by combining the words "star" and "architect" to create "starchitect". Clever right?
The definition of what architects fall into the category of a celebrity architect are very subjective. Outside of the profession the average person has never heard of any of these architects. However, within the profession their work is highly valued, studied and idolized.
It is interesting to note how architecture tends to create celebrity architects, while you typically don't have a celebrity doctor or star dentist. Startist? Society generally values people with talent and creativity, rewarding those rare individuals with notoriety.
A few names that fit into the starchitect category are Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, Bjark Ingels, Herzog & de Meuron, Renzo Piano, I.M. Pei, etc. These offices are typically large with multiple offices located around the world.
While I have personal experience working at a "starchitect" office I will try to leave my own biases out of the discussion and simply present the pros and cons.
Without a doubt one of the biggest advantages of working for a well known architect is the projects. You will have the opportunity to work on world class projects in the most prestigious locations. If you want to work on a celebrity mansion, a tech giant's new campus or a new city landmark you will likely find what you are looking for.
The catalog of great projects not only brings a level of quality to your portfolio but it also brings with it great variety. When I say it "adds to your portfolio", this does not mean "boosting your resume" but rather it adds to your personal professional growth and development.
The brand firms tend to attract a variety of projects from master plans to airports to towers to furniture design and everything in between. Having this working flexibility as a career foundation can be extremely beneficial for your design and problem solving skills.
These offices tend to attract an amazing pool of talented architects that almost acts as a second architecture school. The culture is generally very collaborative and the specialized groups within the office can share their expertise.
Need to model an obscenely complex form? Not sure how a particular detail should be designed? Stop by their desk and ask how.
The relationships you will form are extremely beneficial at any point in your career. These connections can greatly enhance your professional network during and after your employment tenure.
The co-worker relationships in these types of offices are very similar to an architecture school studio. Some people perform very well in this environment while others may struggle. Since the majority of employees are skewed to the young side it can make for a fun workplace both during and after office hours. Friday drinks anyone?
The great projects mentioned above also come with a stressful work environment. Clients for high-profile billion-dollar projects tend to be quite demanding so it can put a lot of pressure on the team.
However, many people work well under pressure and often enjoy the challenge. Succeeding in this culture comes down to your personal preferences, time management and delegation skills.
One of the biggest concerns I get about people considering working for a high profile firm is the long hours. While long hours are often a reality in these types of offices (and architecture in general) it is not necessarily the week-in and week-out norm.
Yes, you will likely be required to work late to meet a deadline or come on the occasional weekend but it is not as bad as people make it out to be. If you can manage your time and your tasks well you can keep your work load, and hours, reasonable.
The low pay stereotype is often trumpeted by the majority of the entry level workers at the office. The bulk of the staff at most starchitect offices are made up of 20 and 30-somethings.
These employees typically have less experience and are paid less as a result - as is true anywhere. However, if you chose to move up within the organization the pay can drastically increase for senior roles, exceeding other lesser known firms.
No Client Interaction
The typical large-scale projects are usually managed by a senior project manager and the senior board within the office. The typical lower level architect will not have direct interaction with the client.
However, this depends more on the project than the office type. For example, you might be more involved with the client in a high end home design versus an international airport. If you are willing to take the initiative and show you can be dependable your responsibilities will increase.
So should you work for a starchitect?
If you are deciding whether to work for a particular office many people will begin by researching online. This will inevitably lead to endless forum discussions on the subject. However, take these opinions with a grain of salt.
Many people are very negative about their previous work experience. Why this is I don't know. Why would someone complain about a place they chose to work? They are/were free to leave at any point if they no longer wanted to be there.
Therefore, while a "starchitect" office may not be for everyone it might be for you.
If you would like to find out how to land that job check out The Complete Package below for further reading on applications, portfolios, interview preparation and more.
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Brandon Hubbard, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C
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