a visual conversation
What inspired you to establish your architecture practice, and how did you start?
As an architect, you must meet high standards in legality, ethics, and technical knowledge. In addition to the basics, such as building science and licenses, what other skills are required for success in a young firm like yours?
“When starting an architecture practice, what factors can help or hinder the process?”
After working in architectural firms for a number of years, I took a short break to reflect on what I wanted to get out of my career and the industry as a whole. What came as the result was a desire to create a balanced and sustainable approach to practice. Focusing on my own well-being and exercising the same empathy for my clients, See Arch established itself as a human-centered practice where we hold respect for ourselves, our team, and of course, our clients in the highest regard.
In the years since establishing the practice, everyone who has participated in it shares these sentiments and finds similar value in them. We've remained true to the original motivation while expanding its focus to address broader questions about the industry.
Today, we continue to operate as a business striving to positively impact the field of architecture through both the caliber of our work and how we choose to operate.
As an emerging firm principal, I quickly realized I was underprepared to be a business owner, lacking the education and background needed for financial and operational success. In order to lay a strong foundation for See Arch, I sought the advice of trusted professionals (legal, financial, and business coaching) to guide me while I learned all I could from other resources I gathered. While we grew quickly and it was a steep learning curve, having established a strong foundation early meant the firm could grow more sustainably within a more organized structure.
So much in this industry is self-taught. Maintaining awareness (of self and of others), questioning what is working and what's not, and exercising the flexibility to pivot when correction is needed are skills I use every day in both design and business. We talk a lot about blindspots in the firm to encourage proactivity and self-reflection and host monthly workshops to share knowledge and evolve both individually and as a team.
Being able to set boundaries and respectfully stand behind established values is hugely important. Ultimately, our firm performs best when projects, clients, and workload align with like-minded values and boundaries. This sometimes means adjusting our workflow or clearly stipulating conditions to favor the overall success of a project or the welfare of the team. Running a small business is a balancing act, and there is a lot of gray area to negotiate; making decisions that stand by personal boundaries and professional values offers success to project work and sustainability to the team.
Our work starts with the client, so naturally, good client management is the first factor in project success. Architecture is a service industry, and as such, we hold the position that the client is always right. Instead of "no," we adopt a "yes, and..." attitude: listen and respond to what we're hearing, not what's already in our minds. While we are experts in our field, we are designing for someone other than ourselves, which demands high sensitivity, attention, and communication.
Attitude is everything. Positivity is contagious, and offering constructive thoughts to clients and colleagues goes a long way. The projects we often engage in represent our clients' significant, personal investment. Attitude is the first tool in creating an environment for them to enjoy the process, trust your expertise, and promote cooperation.
A firm is only as strong as its team. See Arch owes its success to the dedicated and talented individuals who show up daily and give their best to the business and our clients. While See Arch has proliferated since its establishment, we've learned to hire slowly and carefully to protect team culture and the delicate balance of small-business staffing. There is no greater asset (and investment) than our staff, and we do all we can to value them accordingly.