Small architecture firms
23rd Dec 2018
Large or small? If you are looking for an architect, you may be wondering which direction to take. There are many different sizes of firms, each catering to different types or sizes of project. So how do you know which option is for you?
View Architecture for London’s portfolio of recent residential projects.
The benefits of working with small architecture firms
Design ownership and unity
In larger practices, it can be hard to maintain a unified design ambition. Usually, there will be design reviews with directors and/or project architects, but understandably it is more difficult to get an overview. Each architect working in a small firm is integral to the design decisions. This means they are personally invested in creating outstanding design solutions.
You’ll always get the ‘A’-team
In a smaller firm, there is less risk of your project being delegated from one person to the next. You are therefore less likely to end with a different project architect to the one you started with. The office will make sure the person with the relevant expertise is brought in, whilst the team leaders and the director will be continuously involved.
|In a small practice, everyone in the office is likely to be aware of your project.|
A good relationship
Small firms rely on developing good working relationships with their clients. You get the personal touch from a small team of directly invested people. With a good relationship comes understanding, and increased efficiency. Your project is also less likely to get pushed to the back of the queue if it is smaller in scale.
Design unity doesn’t equal a fixed formula for the design. For a small firm, there is joy in responding to a specific brief and coming up with intelligent solutions for a particular project. A small architecture studio is ultimately dependent on being able to raise the bar with each project and exceed the expectations of its clients.
How a small architecture practice can offer value for money
As small firms tend to have proportionately lower overheads, they are likely to offer lower fees than larger practices for comparative projects.
Architects have expertise in prioritising costs and adding value to projects. Good architects will know which parts of a project will add value. A smaller practice that is focussed on residential projects will have more specialist experience in this field than a larger practice that typically works on much larger projects.
Individual architects in larger practices often specialise to a greater extent than their peers in smaller offices.
|Smaller practices often require multi-competence in their architects, resulting in an effective, adaptable workforce.|
Whilst larger firms often work nationally and internationally, practices of a smaller size typically have specific expertise in working with local planning authorities. The ability to navigate local planning policy and swiftly gain planning consent has a significant financial benefit due to time savings. In this case, additional fees and costs in relation to resubmissions or appeals may also be avoided.
What are the limitations of working with a small architecture firm?
Some large offices have in-house teams for visualisation, model-building, surveying, structural and landscape design. Smaller firms may provide a less diverse range of specialist services. Small practices therefore often use external consultants where specialist input is required. This does, however, allow you to shop around to find the right person for each consultant in your team.
Large offices are often more prepared to deal with very large projects. They are more likely to offer the administrative and support teams required to run such projects. Larger firms may be better able to meet the technical requirements required by specific clients, from ISO accreditations to BIM expertise.
How to choose a small architecture practice
There are a number of recognitions for ‘emerging practices’ that are useful to look out for. Project-specific awards are another great way of finding and understanding the strengths of architecture practices. For smaller projects, there are awards like the AJ Small Projects and the New London Architecture’s Don’t Move, Improve. Architecture publications and Pinterest are also useful to gain a visual first impression. These are also a good source of ideas for your project.
Before choosing a firm, be sure to reach out and talk to the architects personally. Gauge their interest in your project and decide whether they are a good match for you. For more information please read our guide on how to choose an architect.
To see Architecture for London’s most recent small projects, please visit our project portfolio.
Architecture publications and Pinterest are useful to gain a first impression. Look out for awards for similar projects, and be sure that the architect has local experience. Before choosing a firm, reach out and talk to the architects personally. Gauge their interest in your project and decide whether they are a good match for you.
As small firms tend to have proportionately lower overheads, they are likely to offer lower fees than larger practices for comparative projects. A smaller practice focussed on residential projects will have more cost saving knowledge in this field when compared to a larger practice that typically works on much larger projects.
Possible benefits include: a direct relationship with the project architect, less delegation from one person to the next and more director oversight. In a small firm, each architect is usually personally invested in creating outstanding design solutions.