Architecture: Small firm vs. large firm-What is the preference and why?

As the Owner of a small architectural firm, I am continually amazed at expectations and procurement processes for architects.  I started my firm 3 years ago and while most of my business comes from repeat clients, I continue to wonder what potential clients are looking for in their design team.  I strive to provide an environment for my team that is flexible, fun and allows for creativity. This process has resulted in no turnover and gives client assurance that the person assigned to manage their project will be there from start to finish.  Client service is everything in our world, so my particular business model includes a commitment to superior design and performance on every project from my team.  I believe the large firm vs. small firm question comes down to perception of what that firm can provide.

I have had the opportunity to work at small, medium and very large firms, so I understand the processes of all very well.  The large and medium firms certainly have more resources available, such as marketing and business development departments dedicated to bringing in multiple projects. I have immense respect for this particular business model, although maintaining all of these resources in such a volatile economy must undoubtedly bring with it a certain amount of stress, which is something I work very hard to try and minimize.  In a deadline driven industry, I need my team (and myself) to be fresh, energized and excited about each and every project we work on…stress is simply not conducive to a healthy mind and spirit.

The truth is that most firms, large and small, have the tools of the trade to complete any size project efficiently and effectively for a client. The difference for the small firms is how many of these projects we are able to take on. There seems to be a perception that only the larger firms can handle the larger projects, and this is what I am trying to understand.  As my business continues to do well, I find myself asking more questions about the industry and how I can improve both professionally and personally. As a small firm, we have a lot to offer, yet we do get passed over on larger projects even though our team is solid, our references are impeccable and our fees are very competitive.   There is a certain status associated with larger, prominent and established firms that does command respect, but the small firms have much to offer also and have the abilities and talent to come through in a very big way.  With a small firm, you gain a personal level of contact and approach on your project that is thoughtful and detailed.  Clients are able to benefit from direct Principal involvement which typically brings extensive experience to a project.  Our team is well rounded and knowledgeable since they are able to participate in all phases of design and construction.

Good design comes in many forms…the great Louis Kahn worked with many partners on a large scale throughout his career, but towards the end  from 1948 until he died in 1974, he chose to work alone.