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Choosing an Architecture Practice

In all likelihood, you’ll be pretty chuffed if you manage to land a job in an architecture practice full stop. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about what kind of practice you might want to work in, and what practice will best suit you.

The Architects Earnings survey carried out by the Fees Bureau showed that over 80% of architects are employed by private practices, while 10% work in the public sector and less than 10% work as in-house architects for private commercial companies.

Different practices suit different personalities. Consequently, it’s a good idea to figure out what part of the design process you enjoy the most before sending off your applications.

Private practices

The majority of architects work in private practices, with the bulk of them working in smaller ones. So how do you decide whether you’d suit a small practice or a larger practice?

Think about what part of the design process you enjoy the most. Are you into the big picture or do you enjoy working on the finer details? One architect we spoke to used a medical analogy to broadly explain the differences between larger and smaller private practices, likening smaller practices to GP surgeries and larger practices to hospitals.

To put it simply, the skills demanded of you at a small practice are very different from those required at a large practice. Like a GP, in small practice, you’ll need to be a jack of all trades, working on a range of projects and dealing with different types of clients. You’ll probably be working on smaller projects too.

In a larger practice, however, you’ll most likely specialise in a particular area, like a hospital doctor. For example, there are people working in larger practices who are absolute specialists in areas such as metal work, installation and cladding detail. Larger practices will give you more of an opportunity to work on more prestigious buildings for bigger clients. You’ll also enjoy greater travel opportunities, particularly as many have practices overseas.

In-house architectural teams

Some architects work for commercial or industrial organisations, such as supermarkets and banks, forming in-house architectural teams. However, a very small minority of architects work in this capacity. Many commercial organisations now contract architectural work out to private practices, which explains why the percentage of architects working in-house for commercial or industrial organisations is only around 6%.

Public sector

Some architects work for central government departments, local authorities or housing associations. If you work for a local authority, you will work as part of an architectural team, which is contracted out to different council departments, such as housing, property services and education. The nature of the work can involve anything from designing new buildings and renovating existing ones to report writing and contract administration.

A large amount of public sector architectural work, however, is contracted out to private practices. There are a number of private practices who specialise in the public sector, so whilst around 10% of architects are employed in the public sector, a large number of those in the private sector do also get to work on public sector projects.

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