Frank Gehry was once an emerging architect
Four ways to find success with your own architectural practice
“I don't know who invented that … word 'starchitect'. In fact, a journalist invented it, I think. I am not a 'star-chitect', I am an ar-chitect..." – Frank Gehry*
Frank words from a man whose name is downright royalty in the annals of modern architecture. But Frank Gehry’s modesty may very well trace back to his days as a young architect when we can safely surmise that all he really wanted was to make a living doing what he loved.
Good on him, we say.
We’d love to know what Mr. Gehry’s advice would be for the attendees of the upcoming 2019 POP //CAN // CRIT symposium where the theme will be Education and Emergence of Architects in Canada. One of the most interesting topics to be discussed is the needs of the emerging practitioners in building an architectural practice.
We don’t doubt the list of considerations are numerous but here are four things we’re pretty sure will make the cut.
Develop a brand identity
If you’ve made the decision to strike out on your own, one of the first things you’ll want to give serious thought to is your brand identity. What do you want your architecture firm to look and feel like? What sorts of clients do you want to target? What do you want people to think of when they hear your name?
If branding isn’t a priority, your firm runs a high risk of blending in with the crowd and failing to represent the ideals and values that are important to you. Architects appreciate good design, so it only seems natural that they would care a great deal about how their firm presents itself.
It will likely require some investment with a marketing professional, but things like logo, tagline, photography, website, style of communications language, and even where you choose to set up shop can have a serious impact on how your business is perceived.
Understand the business side of things
If you’re fresh out of architecture school, it’s perfectly normal to be a little rose-coloured about what lies ahead. You’ve been deep in the weeds of academia and now is your time to truly shine out in the real world. They can be heady days. But real and world are the keywords here. If you’ve decided to embark on your own architecture practice right out of the gate, there’s some not-so-sexy stuff you’ll need to give thought to – namely how you will actually run a business.
Things you may need to consider include bank loans, office space, budgeting, invoicing, employee salaries, and marketing expenses, just to name a few.
And it doesn’t hurt to be business-minded for the benefit of your clients as well. It’s important to wrap your head around things like financing, tax credits, and bureaucratic red tape so that when you’re working on complex commercial or residential projects, your clients can count on you to be the problem solver.
Get noticed in a variety of ways
As much as you may want your architectural reputation to burgeon directly as a result of a project, chances are good you will begin to make a name for yourself in more tangential ways – if and only if you make an effort to get your name out there.
The best way to do this is by getting your original thinking and ideas out in the universe – in person, online and in print. Pitch an essay to a respected industry publication. Post a blog on your website about a timely subject that you have something insightful to say about. Maintain an active presence at industry events and on social media, surrounding yourself with interesting, connected people.
And when it comes to accepting or rejecting your first projects, it’s okay to be principled but avoid being overly picky. It might not be your dream project, but it could easily lead to bigger and better things. If you adopt a more precious approach with a narrow set of criteria, you may very well end up with zero projects.
Look for mentors and avoid the generation gap pitfall
It’s not uncommon for young architects to paint their industry elders with an out-of-touch brush. But it’s important to check these preconceived ideas at the door. Architects with several years’ experience under their belts have wisdom to share. And don’t be surprised if you end up sharing more in common than you thought was possible. The old guard may be older but don’t assume it makes them any less cool. They were young architects once too.
Instead, find a mentor who you respect and soak up as much as you can. Listen to their war stories, revel in their victories, and always be grateful for their guidance.
It’s not about having your name in lights
Having the confidence to jump off the cliff and start your business (architecture or otherwise) is the hard part. But once you do, as long as you follow some tried-and-tested guidelines like the ones above (and those that will be shared at POP // CAN // CRIT), there’s every possibility that you will successfully make a name for yourself.
And if star-chitect fame doesn’t come your way – that’s ok.
Because making a living doing what you love, on your own terms is pretty awesome.
*Quote Source: Independent
Photo Source: Fast Company