[REPLAY] How Design is Impacted by Large Corporate Firms Differently Than Boutique Studios?

Beatrice Girelli, the Principal of Indidesign, joins our founder Patricia Garcia for an incredible interview that covers a variety of topics ranging from finding work in the USA in 1999 to turning down a big buy-out offer for Indidesign 5 years ago to the basic concerns that she has regarding the state of the industry.

Yesterday, November 25th, 2020, our CEO Patricia Garcia connected with Beatrice Girelli to join in the Architect-Us Interview Series. Their conversation ranged from her work as Principal of Indidesign in Los Angeles, to successfully implementing a firm organization strategy that emphasizes multi-disciplined talents, to the differences between working in the USA versus Europe as a Director, and the value that her experiences abroad brought her practice and her personal growth.

In the beginning of the interview CEO Patricia Garcia begins talking about her experience working at HOK and other large firms, and the value of creating multi-disciplined practices. Beatrice goes on to emphasize her experience in the UK as a crucial step towards moving to the USA as it helped her improve in English and she was able to gain confidence while working in London before heading over the pond. One of the initial biggest barriers for her was the measurement system and she had to relearn it when she got to the USA. Both Patricia and Beatrice agreed that working in the USA has shown them the value of adaptability and being able to learn how to solve problems holistically, not just your one part that you are good at.

Beatrice arrived in Seattle in 1999, at the peak of the Dot Com Bubble and when technology companies were springing up everywhere. In this kind of setting, she was able to find work at firms of all sizes, yet she was interested in working at a smaller firm. According to her, the H1B was easier than they are now, the requirements are higher. 150,000 in 1999, and 50,000 now in 2020. In many cases, a J1 visa may be the better option for a younger talent. 

One of the key parts of the interview, especially for a foreigner, is making the visa process clear to the hiring firm, so if you know exactly what you need, the employer does not feel like it will be a big lift for them.

As Patricia began to transition into the questions regarding the differences between European style of Design and Architecture and American style, they both agreed that a main difference is the specialization of Architects in the US market. This specialization makes it difficult for decision makers to find talents that are adaptable and flexible across teams. Such focus can lead to the Silo Effect, which in turn can mean less multidisciplinary firms. When she was looking for work in Los Angles, she realized that many of the smaller firms were looking for architects with international experience to promote multidisciplinary practice. Beatrice  main objective was to learn the profession to make a bigger impact!

20 years ago, smaller firms were not really prevalent, but nowadays the scene is amazing with all of these smaller firms that are designing

Now that she has been a Principal of a firm for over 8 years, some of her key challenges have been how to balance good design with cost with client input? It is difficult, yet possible with a more personalized approach from a smaller firm in her opinion. It is important to learn how to balance requirements of a business with the quality of the design process and ushering the quality consistently. These are some areas that school does not prepare you for!

One of Beatrice’s key critiques is the specialization of Architects. Whoever manages the project from the Design perspective must be involved throughout the process, and not just one part. The person who conceptualizes the project should be the same one that manages the project through to the end! They can be and should be the same person.

The Project Designer can and should be the Project Manager as well!

One of the main reasons that she decided to open a small 15 person multidisciplinary design firm is because she understands the importance of being able to adapt and be flexible to weather the storms that happen every so often. For example, while starting Indidesign, she created a network and used collaborations to get her name out there, which allowed her to get more projects even though she was a small firm. She has a very hands on, no marketing, approach that allows her and those that work with her to be involved in every aspect of the build. According to Beatrice, the best marketing tool is the quality of your work! It speaks for itself!

When she first started it took two years before she started getting larger projects coming in and their recognition preceded them. After 3 years of working day in and day out to build her firm, she was offered a buyout for Indidesign from a larger firm, but she did not feel it was right, she views it as her life’s work. On top of that, being one of a few Female Principals in Architecture is difficult, especially when you consider that only 17% of Architects are women, and those that are decision makers is even less. 

She has lost projects before because she had to compete with larger firms that had more of an edge against her, but she keeps focused on the goal of improving her craft. Yet she views the work she is doing as the most important because it is what her clients wants, and they expect the best quality from her.

Find out more about her recommendations for those deciding between working at a large or small firm, her perspective on the future of the Architecture industry from the perspective of a Principal, and how she uses multi-disciplinary strategy and organization to succeed as a smaller firm in Los Angeles.

If you have any questions for her, please submit them below and we will respond ASAP! 👇👇👇👇


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