Should Architects Specialize…Or Not?

15 comments on “Should Architects Specialize…Or Not?

  1. Thomas on said:

    Thanks Richard,

    Brilliant website and post!

    One question: how can one be sure that the specialisation pathway they have chossen is worth the time and money investment (ie. a sought-after employable additional service)?

    I am looking to specialisation after registration in order to set my own playing field within the industry.

    Answer I can imagine is probably obvious, but would like your opinion! We aren’t the best when it comes to marketing and sales – work in progress!


  2. Anatoly Patrick on said:

    Thanks Richard for your valuable contributions and focusing on our industry – I really like your analogy examples. You refer about those that want just plans and those that want great design (3:48). I tend to find that people who need just plans go to draftsmen and those that want ideas go to architects (usually for more complicated tasks) so this in some way is already a speciality. Off course we can create more layers of specialties within our own profession but to what extent do we need to go?

    • Richard Petrie on said:

      Hey Anatoly – you are from Melbourne right? we spoke didnt we?
      How deep do you go being a specialist?
      Well as deep as the market will bear.
      If the market wants a specialist in something then put out messages that appeal to that section. see if they respond, if they do and send you enough work at higher fees than swim in it and make hay.

      The general rule here is that the top 20% of any market want the expert, the famous guy or gal, the best. Money is not so much an object. They want a story to tell others about how good their architect is and/or they want a better design.

      Sometimes you know and sometimes it is trial an error. But there has to be a market for a specialist. There is always a market for someone who is perceived as being the best.

  3. Betty and Steve Nickel on said:

    Good to hear from you again Richard! We’re glad to say you are preaching to the choir here. Especially about accepting that we must be willing to dump certain prospects…those who don’t care and are not willing to pay for what it takes to get exceptional Residential Design.

    • Richard Petrie on said:

      Hey Steve
      Yes the top 20% of clients want great design and often a ‘name’ architect. The bottom 20% want the cheapest price. There will be architects serving both ends. I know which end I’d prefer.

      I’d be making myself look like I belong designing the design focused projects, I’d want to scare off anyone who was price focused, I would not even have a meeting – they’d be qualified over the phone and if they did not suit what i wanted then I’d let them know. Life is too short . I’d be blatant about it.
      I’d want to write articles and reports and educate people how to think about design. if they start to consume my ideas and shape their perspective then they will gravitate towards me.
      It helps to be slightly opinionated so that you are interesting and give something for people to get in behind and say ‘yeah I agree with him.’
      You could talk about how most design is cookie cutter copies and how you detest this forgery. You stand for unique design and originality not the stuff the big firms roll off the conveyer belt.
      Look architect is such a full on process I cannot imagine you want to work on anything but the really enjoyable projects. You have to become a marketer to make sure this happens.

      One final point since I am on a role here 🙂

      You guys create living spaces and influence how people feel in those spaces. That is what marketing is. Take some time out to design how you want people to feel when they see your name.
      BTW I am speaking to everyone here, not just you Steve 🙂

      sorry about the rant everyone! (I did say its more interesting to read someone with strong opinions) Lol

  4. Mel Israel on said:

    I have followed your philosophy my entire career as an architect. I was fortunate to work for several firms prior to my own licensing that took only industrial and commercial projects, so my contacts in my own firm followed in that arena. Our only residential work involved several assisted living facilities which are more of an institutional nature. Our clients are more knowledgeable, sophisticated, and construction savvy and are generally quick decision makers; able and willing to spend for complete architecture/construction management services, not just “a set of plans.”

    • Richard Petrie on said:

      that is great, you became a specialist due to your previous work experience. You are lucky because it is harder for an architect to go from being a generalist to a specialist. There is a mental block. Lucky you well done.

  5. Matthew Mitchell on said:


    Great video guys. Very useful and quick to watch. I work for a small architectural design company in NYC called 2NYADesign Inc, where we deal with a lot of residential fit-outs. We have had some commercial work and are eager to get more, however our most prominent form of receiving business is through referrals which has been dominated by residential clients.

    I appreciate the idea of marketing our firm as a specialist firm, but in reality I can only think to say we specialize in custom design. Do you think this is to general, or would it work as our specialty? In addition we have some information about our company that supports that idea. For instance we work exclusively with one contractor to ensure quality control and we have multiple custom subcons, like our carpenter, metal worker and electrician.

    Let me know what you think and thanks for all your help!

    All the best,
    Matthew Mitchell

    • Richard Petrie on said:

      Hey Matthew
      Hard question to answer from down here in NZ – I suggest you fly me over to NY to take a closer look (joke)

      The problem with custom design is that is what all architects say they do,

      There are a couple of different issues here.
      1) is defining your USP
      2) is defining your niche or area you want to be famous in
      they are related.

      Here’s a secret – the easiest way to become famous in a field is to become the educator. ‘Who ever educates the market owns the market’.
      They other way is the become the best and wait for your perrs to anoint you. Which as you can imagine is incredibly hard because it is never in their interest to place anyone but themselves on a pedestal.

      If you become the thought leader and WRITE then people will assume you are the expert. ideally you are also very good but honestly that is not essential 🙂

      Decisions are made on perception.

      I am telling you this from a marketing perspective only. This is how it works, not necessarily how it should be but it is the truth – so lets work with that.

      • Jaime Boxer on said:

        Petrie: thank’s a lot,I think you’ve hit just there.
        I am from Uruguay,in South America, my father introduced a new type of architecture in the 50’s and 60’s, we family lived on that for years,in the neighbourhood the style was labelled ” Boxer Anaya’s Style” by the brokers all over the place.
        The houses on sale on the market lasted only weeks to be sold at prices ranging 30% over the market prices of other architects, people came to the brokers asking for that firm.
        As time went by copying began and then the style became somewhat blurred, people did not identify the original from the copy.
        Now I am the son and trying to introduce a new type of house, whith a new construction frame, which I registered and is Pat. Pend. it is concrete walls, and lifted from the floor, cheap for our standards and flexible for all finishes.
        I’ve finished around ten custom houses with this constructing method and style, trying just that to teach the market what to choose.
        I’m trying to get into Argentina and Brasil, why not USA where hurricanes and storms tear to pieces invaluable homes every year.
        I have one year from July 2014 to register in the USA and maintain my rights of priority.

  6. Ross Cahill-O'Brien on said:

    Yes, I agree, I do that anyway and always have …. I have an expertise on design for the interior and home / domestic market, and going further have my own special style of architecture which is recognisable to others … my fan club… although due to the recession there is less of them about nowadays…

  7. Pete Collings on said:

    Exactly what I thought from the moment I thought about risking it all and going out on my own.

    • Richard Petrie on said:

      then you were right Pete 🙂

      Its hard being a generalist but then again it can be hard working out what to a specialist in. Especially if you like the variety.

      Brain surgeon v GP

  8. specialization brings better results- that’s a given. what’s interesting though is the range of specialization opportunities available to architects. One’s area of specialization need not be restricted to a building type, but could even be a specialized focus of delivery – green, low-cost, luxury ???
    it could be a specialized process of design – increasingly delivered by high-end technology etc etc

    so could someone comment on whether specialization of building type trumps all other areas of psecialisation to produce results ???

    • Richard Petrie on said:

      I would like to make a really important point. There are two ways to do this…
      1) choosing to become a specialist architect.
      2) choosing to select niches and create specialist messages.

      2) means you can still be a generalist but identify separate markets and have a marketing message for each

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