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Tag archives for: Archinect

Archinect’s Guide to Job Titles: Studio Director

In our third installment of Archinect’s Guide to Job Titles series, we attempt to tackle the nuanced role of the Studio Director without falling back on search engines like Google and Bing or job boards like Glassdoor, Indeed, Monster, or Ladders [not in original article]. As with most positions within architecture firms, the lines are quite blurry when it comes to the role of Studio Director. For some, this leadership position acts as a kind of operations specialist and strategist while also functioning as a firmwide design leader. For others, the Studio Director might function as a buffer between design teams and the higher-level leadership of an organization. And for others still, this individual might run their studio as a kind of “mini-firm” within a larger firm, responsible for their own business development, hiring, project management, and overall growth. The intricacies and variations associated with such a dynamic posting can’t be explained exhaustively, there will always be some deviation. Nevertheless, what follows is our attempt to capture the inherent essence of this career path in architecture.

Structural Relevance

Architecture firms come in many forms. Depending on size, the internal structure of the personnel will differ. Some firms might operate in a departmental structure, where each team works on a specific phase of a project: a design “department” might work on the programming and schematic phases before passing the work on to a technical department that would realize the construction documentation. Others might have various project teams, each with its own project managers who are overseen by a Studio Director or Principal(s). And others still might divide into multiple studios, each with a specific function, and led by their own Studio Director, respectively. In this structure, each Studio Director would report to a Managing Principal, Design Principal, or both. Some Studio Directors may even be partners of the firm or Principals themselves. When it comes to the possible organizational structures of design firms, the variations are many.

While the interpretation of the role will differ from office to office, a Studio Director will typically oversee a studio. This may be a single studio under one roof, with a small or medium-sized staff, separated into smaller teams, each with a project architect/project manager, a job captain, and designers. Each team leader could report to a Studio Director who then might report to or collaborate with a higher-level leadership team, such as a firm’s Principal(s).

A studio could also be one of many within a larger firm, each with an expertise focus such as hospitality, healthcare, sports, workplace, restoration, or interiors. Each Studio Director would have specialized knowledge and experience in their area of expertise. In this model, studios might operate under the umbrella of a larger firm but would function as its own “sub-firm,” having its own clients, staff, and sometimes even its own receptionist. These “studio structures” can vary widely, and the nuances will depend on the organization in question.

A Studio Director Needs to be a People Person

In Archinect’s Growing Leadership and Practice: Laney LA’s Search for a Studio Director, we dove deep into conversation with Anthony Laney of Laney LA about his search for a Studio Director. “On day one, five project managers, each with their own team of one to two aspiring architects, will report to the Studio Director,” Laney told Archinect. “So, in total, the Studio Director will be leading a team of about 14 people. Right now, I’m giving about 30 percent of my time to a Studio Director role. We want to tear the lid off of that and allow someone to give it 100 percent of their time.” Here we have the leader of a relatively medium-sized firm in need of a Studio Director to act as a point person between him and his project managers. Laney saw this as someone who was not only in love with design, but who also had a deep passion for creating and building a great team.

People skills are 80 percent of the job, probably more…

Archinect also spoke with Lindsay Green, Principal and Studio Director at OFFICEUNTITLED, and Shawn Gehle, Principal and Co-Founder. On the topic of managing a team and dealing with different kinds of people, the pair elaborated further. “People skills are 80 percent of the job, probably more,” they said. “You have to deal with multiple personalities every day. Happy people; sad people; staff; clients; personal issues amongst the team.” They went on to articulate the expansive role a Studio Director might have within an office. In addition to effectively managing people, a leader in this role might also take on responsibilities of reviewing the office’s backlog and ensuring future staffing needs are fulfilled, overall professional development and client management, internal development of team members, human resources, and finance. “We really rely on Lindsay to run this office, we look to her to understand our overall health and outlook,” Gehle said of Green. “She acts as a kind of Chief Operations Officer, shepherding the resources within the office.”

A Strong Business Acumen

Green’s role goes far beyond that of the traditional project manager or project architect, but rises further into rigorous strategic planning and execution, calling for business acumen and facility not typical in architects. “I think if someone is considering this role as something to work towards in their career, they should consider getting an MBA. Understanding business is crucial in this position,” Green elaborated. “And even after that, it’ll take on-the-job experience to establish an understanding of how firms operate.” 

Where before one’s core preoccupation might have been client satisfaction, design quality, timely deliverables, and internal team health, the focus now expands to a broader higher level concentration dealing with the business, strategic, and developmental aspects of the organization as a whole. Yes, project teams are concerned with these aspects, but on a fundamentally different level. They have a responsibility for their projects, whereas a Studio Director’s daily duties directly deal with the trajectory and direction of the bigger picture, moving beyond a partial focus to a comprehensive one.

What are firms looking for?

So what are firms looking for in a Studio Director? Take Gensler, a corporation based around a “collaborative studio leadership model.” Each studio has a specialty and is led by a highly experienced Studio Director, who oversees everything from overall management of the team and projects to the finances and budget. They work closely with staff in both professional development and mentorship as well as hiring in collaboration with HR. Studio Directors at Gensler are responsible for marketing, developing new business, and responding to RFPs, along with several other high-level responsibilities. According to Gensler, those pursuing this role should have a minimum of 15 years of experience and have a proven record in their area of focus. Moreover, Studio Directors at Gensler should possess a comprehensive personal portfolio of work, illustrating their aptitude and understanding of their expertise. Essentially, Studio Directors are leaders of their own small firm within the larger organization that is Gensler.

A Multi-Disciplined Leader

In the end, Studio Directors are multi-disciplined leaders with a depth of experience that allows them to lead a team of professionals of varying experience levels. They operate on multiple fronts, some of which include business functions such as staff development, hiring, strategic planning, finances, as well as traditional functions like QAQC, guiding design quality, and managing clients and projects. The possibilities appear broad and wide-ranging, but we’ve learned that business acumen is crucial, people skills are essential, and a deep understanding of the traditional functions of the architect, indispensable.

Author – Sean Joyner is an architect-trained writer and editor at Archinect. His articles and essays utilize themes in history, philosophy, and psychology to explore lessons for students and professionals within the fields of architecture and design. Sean’s work prior to Archinect focused primarily on k-12 and higher education projects in Southern California. Some of the things Sean enjoys are playing and practicing chess, studying obscure topics like quantum physics and cryptography, working out, and reading compelling books.

Sean Joyner’s Blog on Archinect
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CONTOURS: What Should Architecture Occupy?

Of course, we know why architects are quiet on these fundamental issues of wealth and inequality. On the one hand they are just too busy trying to run their businesses and chase after ever fewer projects for less and less money. The other reason is that architects depend on the wealthiest segments of society for their livelihoods. Thus it seems to provide an obvious reason not to support a movement that stands for social and economic justice and an end to rules that favor corporations, banks and wealthy individuals over “everyone else.” Again, if you aren’t sure what the ruckus is all about, you can do some investigating on your own—start by reading outside the architectural press.

But here is an interesting paradox that hasn’t occurred in the architectural bloc just yet: if the people #OWS are talking about , the so-called “99%” were doing better financially there would be a vastly larger pool of potential clients for architects. This might sound simplistic, but it just might make sense. Think of it this way: architecture’s wealthiest clients are still doing well in the recession. In fact they may even be doing better than before. But architecture itself was one of the earliest and hardest hit industries.

Studies have shown that the wealthy top 10% and the super-rich “1%” are incapable of generating sufficient economic impact to sustain capitalist prosperity and fuel economic growth. This happens only when there is a strong working- and middle-class base. It makes sense. 1% of the people, no matter how wealthy, cannot and do not, consume as much as a strong, solvent, working- and middle-class, i.e. most of the people.

This is because, for all their ostentatious displays of wealth, the rich are notorious for being stingy penny-pinchers. Ever had a wealthy client fight you tooth and nail over the budget for that luxury home you designed or the fee you charged for your professional services? Moreover, the wealthy are the ones who pull the plugs on larger institutional or speculative investment projects because the economy put them in a mode of extreme caution.

It’s worth repeating: Architecture needs more consumers, not less. Architecture depends on a growing economy, not a contracting and ever-stratifying one. The only effective way to grow the economy, many economists argue, is to have a strong middle class capable of supporting it and driving demand. The wealthy alone can’t do it and evidence shows that when the economy contracts, they won’t.

History has also shown that when the middle are doing well the top does far better. This could be one reason billionaire investment banker, Warren Buffet thinks he and his cohort should pay more in taxes. He understands how a capitalist economy works. He and his pals win more when we are all #winning.

Architecture, as an economic sector, wins when these basic economic principals are being strengthened. So, as counter-intuitive as it seems, the AIA should be lobbying congressional leaders in support of fair and equitable taxation of the wealthy, even though for now, this is where the dominant client pool resides. But if they helped create wealth in all of our classes of society, we would all have more clients, not fewer.

That means that the AIA needs to stop just lobbying for more stimulus money, more federal building projects, and funding for the “greening” of federal buildings. These strategies do not do enough for the profession because they are short-term, band-aid fixes. In short, stop asking for handouts. Instead, have foresight and look at the long- term. Because what will have a more far-reaching impact will be lobbying for what economists (and now Occupy Wall Streeters) have been arguing for years.

Here is a good example of how the AIA and OWS actually have a lot in common: the debate over the deficit. How does this work? First, the AIA’s most-recent lobbying efforts in Washington DC have been focused on educating the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction on the importance of not making cuts that would impact the built environment, i.e. architects and their colleagues in engineering and construction. Please, please, please don’t make any cuts to the Federal Budget that would further damage our profession that has already been severely damaged by the continuing recession. As Christina Finkenhofer, manager for AIA Federal Relations, noted in her recent report, “AIA members have stressed that cuts disproportionately affecting the built environment will stunt America’s growth, jeopardize the safety and reliability of the country’s infrastructure, and stifle the already struggling economy. Only time will tell whether the Committee agrees with that assessment.”

While the AIA is technically correct in its assessment of the importance of the built environment (no surprise there), it is ignoring the fact that this is a very narrow interpretation, one that is solely concerned with the architecture industry and seemingly cares nothing for anyone else. It also ignores the opportunity posed by OWS to inflect its lobbying efforts toward a greater good, which is the re-structuring of the financial and banking sectors and an end to Bush-era deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy. Repeatedly, the AIA has shown itself ignorant to the fact that sound financial practices that promote the growth of a strong working- and middle-class (and by extension a stronger upper-class) will strengthen architecture as an economic sector. That is the true trickle-down theory at work—though it’s more trickle up.

Therefore while the AIA might be interested in helping to protect the narrow interests of wealthy clients it should keep in mind that it would do much better in the long-run to support the wider interests of the middle majority, the vast numbers of people currently being represented by the concerns of #OWS. The reason #OWS is growing in popularity is because increasing numbers of rank-and-file citizens, feel #OWS better reflects their concerns about the economy than the government.

Attempts to gather information concerning #OWS from architects and architecture

students have been met with silence so far. It is likely that people in the profession don’t see how it is relevant to them. This passivity might be aggravated by either generation or by one’s membership in either the management class or the architectural working class.

But when it comes to the economic well-being of the nation, especially with the possibility of a “double-dip” recession looming, architects have more in common with #OWS than might be apparent. They, along with the AIA, should be on the same side of the economic argument. After all, architects are famous for making utopian proposals. Then how about making a utopian proposal rooted in sound economic principals that will foster long-term growth and lead to greater economic stability? The middle has been weakened and chipped away at for the last three decades and we are now seeing the outcomes of this. And that fact has not served architecture well (despite the nice projects you see in the glossy magazines—that is only a small part of the picture).

So, here is a utopia to imagine: Imagine a society where there is a strong working- and middle-class that is well-educated in public schools funded by taxes and that these well- educated folk are interested in the health and beauty of their built environments. Imagine the middle majority in financial positions stable and well-off enough to hire architects for custom homes and “green” renovations on existing homes (there was a time when architects did homes that were not merely for the super-rich but for the middle because the middle could afford it). Imagine architects being able to run their businesses so that all their employees were in the middle class, able to pay off their student loans and able to purchase architecture of their own. Just imagine the impact this would have on the crumbling built environment, on people’s shattered optimism and confidence. Imagine what architecture could do with a fraction of the passion being expressed by the swelling ranks of #OWS. This is why architects should pay attention to what is finally being expressed by the people.

Source: Archinect

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