The journey to become an architect is one of many struggles and accomplishments. Each step is achieved by setting goals, working hard, and doing what you set out to do. Every architect needs to follow their own path, and much of it is unknown. The process to becoming and architect and starting your own firm is often done through trial and error.
This week at EntreArchitect Podcast, How to Start an Architecture Firm with Architect and Author Timothy Ung.
Timothy Ung is a product designer and architect based in New York. After getting his architecture license at the age of 26, Tim started a blog called Journey of an Architect to document his process of design and pursue his goal of designing thirty theoretical projects before his 30th birthday in May 2020. He’s currently working on developing a podcast with a fellow blogger and evolving architect, Mike LaValley (EA161: SketchUp for Small Firm Architects with Mike LaValley).
In 2016, Tim led a day-long seminar on starting an architecture firm where he brought together an architect with a young, successful firm, two lawyers, two accountants, and marketing and branding professionals to talk about the important things to do when starting your own firm. His seminar inspired a blog post, Almost 40 tips for Starting an Architecture Firm, and an e-book Starting an Architecture Firm, and it’s only the beginning of his story.
Timothy was born and raised in New York and attended a fantastic high school on Wall Street right across the street from Goldman Sachs. During his time there, he was involved in the ACE Mentor Program, which brings together architects, construction managers, and engineers to expose younger people to these kinds of industries. He had 17 architects, 10 construction managers, and 7 engineers as his mentors. He then decided to go into the architecture side of things.
In the program, they designed a building for a competition for a design competition that the mentors put together. The theoretical building was a vertical farm located in a New York City skyscraper with the goals of feeding everyone in the area and use technology to gain passive energy to power the buildings around them. Learning from their mentor team was fascinating. His team ended up winning the competition and receiving a scholarship to study architecture at the University of Buffalo.
He also worked as an intern at Leslie Robertson Associates, where he was able to work with a structural engineer on the Whitney Museum of American Art.
In architecture school, he was confused about everything he was doing. After a few years, he started to understand the language and the design concepts. He graduated with a bachelors and masters of architecture and set another goal to pass his ARE within two years, which he then completed in 2016.
His next goal was to start an architecture firm, but he knew there was so much he needed to learn before then. Timothy set off to create a portfolio of work through his blog, aiming to create 30 projects by the time he was 30 years old. Through the process of that project, he’s realized his passion for design in general, including leather working.
What overwhelmed you when you got to architecture school?
Timothy came to university from a place where he was talking about architecture from New York City’s built environment around him. He started off with a lot of theory, and then had to do a lot of solo, independent work. After a few years, people were much more willing to collaborate and that’s where Timothy learned the most. He and his classmates were sharing and teaching each other new ideas and concepts.
Where did your seminar fit into your 30 projects?
As he started to learn more at the firm he works at, he started getting more opportunities and growing his responsibilities. Timothy realized he wanted to start an architecture firm by the time he turned 30, and knew he needed to learn more about the necessary steps to start his firm off on the right foot and be successful. He decided to bring together professionals who can teach the fundamentals of starting a business.
He met Mike LaValley in the local emerging professionals group, and their colleague suggested they apply for a grant to put together this program. They realized it would be a great opportunity to teach local architects how to start a practice the right way. They didn’t know what that was, but they knew they could find some people to teach them.
Once they received the grant and put the event together, they had 30 people that showed up for the event. All of the information that came from the event was inspiring. Each professional team had an hour to teach the best practices and the best way to start a firm from their field.
What does the book contain?
Timothy wanted to write something so that he could remember everything for when he was ready to start his own firm:
Create a business plan and setting your goals
When setting goals, know that your goals can change. You should have a 10 year goal, a five year goal, and an annual goal. Your business plan is your reason for starting your firm, something that’s personal to you. It can be a short, one-page plan or a 30 page document. It’s important to be comfortable with your plan so you can share it with others.
Have a brand for your firm
A lot of thought should be put in to your name. Your logo, the way you cary yourself both inside and outside of your firm, both go into your brand. Architects think that since we’re designers, we should design everything ourselves. When creating a logo, find someone who is experienced in graphic design and allow them to use their skills.
Invest in insurance
Shop around and ask each agency how they handle their claims. Will they know how to handle construction or architecture claims? Make sure you have the right person to represent you.
Never settle for less than what you’re worth
Know what you’re worth and don’t settle for less than that. Aspire for more successful projects every day. With every new project that comes in, you have to make sure that you’re getting paid what you should be getting paid and stop undercutting one another. You’re in this profession for a reason: because you’re passionate about it.
This is a living document that will continue to change as new ways of running a business come out. Read more at JourneyofanArchitect.com.
What is the one thing that small firm architects can do today to build a better business tomorrow?
“Start building a team and mentoring that team so that your business can thrive tomorrow.” – Timothy Ung
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