Starting an Architecture Firm: From Academia to Profession

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2008-05
Authors
Riches, Todd
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Starting an architecture firm straight out of college seems a bit challenging, almost impossible. Challenges such as a required accredited degree, three years of the Intern Development Program (IDP), the rigorous Architectural Registration Exam, and proper experience can seem daunting and appear as obstacles to the desired goal. Upon graduation, many students find the actual work of an architect’s profession very different from the school work they have devoted themselves to over the previous five to ten years. This misconception can present an unfamiliar challenge in our early years in the profession whether starting a firm or working for an existing firm. Eighty percent of students at the University of Hawaiʻi School of Architecture expect to someday own and/or operate their own firm. This research is intended for current students and graduates who are interested in starting a firm, giving an idea of what it requires, and how to prepare for it. Though these challenges may appear overwhelming, a look at this goal from a macro perspective will identify the overall steps and what it takes to succeed. Looking at the Intern Development Program (IDP) to the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), from state/territorial licensing to general business laws, from raw numbers generated from existing firms to business organization and planning are like paying taxes; they are necessary and positive reinforcements to a successful firm. Other aids that help ease the fear include learning about other successful firms’ stories; their history, their successes and challenges, and how they operate today. Consultants such as attorneys, certified public accountants (CPA), lenders, and insurance agents can also give good insight when preparing to start a firm. Interviews have been given to individuals in each of these areas that will help piece together strategies, commonalities, strengths, weaknesses, cultures, markets, and recommendations to help start students and graduates off on the right foot. This research has been divided into Part 1 and 2. The first part is really the end result of all the research — sort of the dessert before dinner. It contains a template for a strong business plan and samples of marketing brochures. Part 2 contains all of the research building up to part 1. Without it, you really wouldn’t understand the significance of the outcome. The result of this research is to help prepare the graduating student who wants to start a firm become more knowledgeable about how to do it. “Proper preparation is the key to our success. Our acts can be no wiser than our thoughts. Our thinking can be no wiser than our understanding.”1 This work is presented in the hope that by realizing what is required to establish a design firm, the graduate will be able to dispel the misconceptions of incompetency (in the area of business operations), acquire confidence in starting a firm, and either start a firm or become a greater hired asset from the day of graduation. 1 George S. Clayson, The Richest Man in Babylon , (New York: Signet 1988), ix.Starting an architecture firm straight out of college seems a bit challenging, almost impossible. Challenges such as a required accredited degree, three years of the Intern Development Program (IDP), the rigorous Architectural Registration Exam, and proper experience can seem daunting and appear as obstacles to the desired goal. Upon graduation, many students find the actual work of an architect’s profession very different from the school work they have devoted themselves to over the previous five to ten years. This misconception can present an unfamiliar challenge in our early years in the profession whether starting a firm or working for an existing firm. Eighty percent of students at the University of Hawaiʻi School of Architecture expect to someday own and/or operate their own firm. This research is intended for current students and graduates who are interested in starting a firm, giving an idea of what it requires, and how to prepare for it. Though these challenges may appear overwhelming, a look at this goal from a macro perspective will identify the overall steps and what it takes to succeed. Looking at the Intern Development Program (IDP) to the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), from state/territorial licensing to general business laws, from raw numbers generated from existing firms to business organization and planning are like paying taxes; they are necessary and positive reinforcements to a successful firm. Other aids that help ease the fear include learning about other successful firms’ stories; their history, their successes and challenges, and how they operate today. Consultants such as attorneys, certified public accountants (CPA), lenders, and insurance agents can also give good insight when preparing to start a firm. Interviews have been given to individuals in each of these areas that will help piece together strategies, commonalities, strengths, weaknesses, cultures, markets, and recommendations to help start students and graduates off on the right foot. This research has been divided into Part 1 and 2. The first part is really the end result of all the research — sort of the dessert before dinner. It contains a template for a strong business plan and samples of marketing brochures. Part 2 contains all of the research building up to part 1. Without it, you really wouldn’t understand the significance of the outcome. The result of this research is to help prepare the graduating student who wants to start a firm become more knowledgeable about how to do it. “Proper preparation is the key to our success. Our acts can be no wiser than our thoughts. Our thinking can be no wiser than our understanding.”1 This work is presented in the hope that by realizing what is required to establish a design firm, the graduate will be able to dispel the misconceptions of incompetency (in the area of business operations), acquire confidence in starting a firm, and either start a firm or become a greater hired asset from the day of graduation. 1 George S. Clayson, The Richest Man in Babylon , (New York: Signet 1988), ix.
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