Oculus - Spring 2012 - (Page 23)

opener Small, Agile Firms Succeed in Lean Times BY K RIS TEN RIC H A RDS , H O N . A IA , H O N . A S LA arlier this year, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce published a report called “Hard Times, College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal.” The college major with the highest unemployment rate for recent grads? Architecture, at 13.9% (architecture grads age 30 and over are at 9.2%). Newspapers across the country ran stories with headlines such as “In today’s economy, don’t let your babies grow up to be architects” (Atlanta Journal Constitution) and “Want a Job? Go to College, and Don’t Major in Architecture” (New York Times). Needless to say, the architecture blogosphere lit up. It’s not like a new architecture grad can hang out a shingle and declare him- or herself in business. In New York State, a graduate still has to undergo years of internship and costly exams to become fully licensed. An economy languishing in the doldrums for the last few years hasn’t helped matters any. And what of small established firms? James P. Cramer, principal and chairman of the strategy consulting and research firm Greenway Group and founding editor and publisher of DesignIntelligence, strikes a somewhat optimistic tone – with caveats. “Small firms can be successful even in these times,” he notes, because small practices can establish brand differentiation more easily than large firms. “We don’t believe the future of architecture belongs to large firms. The best of small firms will find themselves on the opposite end of commodification.” He does point out a potential drawback, however: they may not have “the depth of talent to do an entire project.” While a small firm can be “more nimble, flexible, and efficient,” Cramer continues, “it can also be more lonely.” He sees some small firms going through an “emotional recession” of disappointment and disillusionment which, he says, “is just as big a puzzle to solve as a financial recession.” Statistics in ZweigWhite’s 2011-2012 Small Firm Survey of Architecture, Engineering, Planning & Environmental Consulting Firms – which polled small practices across the U.S. – crunch a raft of numbers about firms with 1–24 and 25–49 E employees that bear out some of Cramer’s observations. Here’s a sampling from the “Fewer Than 25” category: Does your firm ever turn down work due to a lack of manpower? Frequently ........................................................ 20% Occasionally .................................................... 20% Rarely ............................................................... 40% Never ................................................................ 20% Proposal hit rates Percentage of proposals shortlisted ............. 8.3% Percentage of proposals won ......................... 40% ($80,000 was the median amount for a proposal submitted last year.) How well balanced are the risks and rewards of firm ownership? Rewards outweigh risks ................................. 24% Risks/rewards well balanced ........................ 44% Risks outweigh rewards ................................. 32% Next year, will the business environment be...? Much better ....................................................... 4% Somewhat better ............................................. 50% Same ................................................................... 8% Somewhat worse ............................................. 35% Much worse ....................................................... 0% Unspecified ........................................................ 4% As an editor, I find these survey stats among the most discouraging: only 30% of the firms send out press releases, and then only twice a year to a list that averages only eight media contacts. These may be tough times, and the Georgetown report and ZweigWhite survey suggest that many firms have adapted to a volatile market. I am impressed by the intrepid determination and spirit of the young architects and small firms profiled in this issue – and so many others who set their sights high in a lean, mean era. They exhibit courage, character, and heart. As Cramer told me recently: “I would not discourage my son or daughter from entering the field.” Neither would I. ©OBRA Architects OBRA Architects: Sanhe Yanjiao YJ2011 Elementary School, Beijing, pg. 28. What’s Inside 24 Public Projects, Small Firms, Targeted Tactics 28 Small Firm Workplace: The Whole Wide World 30 Small Size, Big Thinking 32 Breaking Barriers 34 Launch Pad to Success Small Firms Doing Big Things Spring 2012 Oculus 23 http://www.naylornetwork.com/arc-nxt/

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Spring 2012

Letter from the President: Invitation to the Future
A Word from the Editor - Small is the New Big
Center for Achitecture - Center Highlights
Museum Mile Makeover
Opener: Small, Agile Firms Succeed in Lean Times
Public Projects, Small Firms, Targeted Tactics
Small Firm Workplace: The Whole Wide World
Small Size, Big Thinking
Breaking Barriers
Launch Pad to Success
The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age
19-Year Watch
Last Words - Smaller than a Breadbox
Index to Advertisers

Oculus - Spring 2012

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