When looking for an architecture firm, clients always ask about the organization’s work experience and portfolio. Yet the firm’s culture and character is an oft-ignored but equally important aspect in their choice. Inquiries that aren’t explored as often but that can be just as important include: Is there good team chemistry? Do team members “pull together” on projects when inevitable challenges arise? The answers to these types of questions speak to a firm’s ability to meet your needs.
A Decade of Supporting Our Clients, Our Community, and One Another
It’s our tenth anniversary at Patriquin Architects, and we’re very proud of the work we’ve done and the awards we’ve garnered over the last decade. But it’s just as important to us that we’ve succeeded in creating a strong, vibrant office culture that has made us all better practitioners, collaborators, and members of our community.
While I founded and am ultimately responsible for this firm (both its successes and its areas for improvement!), I more often use “we” when discussing decisions, accomplishments, and visions for the future. I do this because the firm has grown from a small “we” to a larger “WE” over these last 10 years, through early guidance from me, but more and more as a reflection of the ideas of the many who sit (and stand) at the table, so to speak. And therein, I believe, lies our strength!
Why Our Office Culture “Works”
We’ve certainly had our growing pains through the years, culturally-speaking. But, over time, we’ve come up with what you might call our “recipe for office culture success.” Some of the key ingredients include:
Practicing what we preach
We use our own office space as a test lab for architectural concepts and exploration. Our firm was an early adopter of the Fitwel certification system for healthy buildings, and we’ve used it to guide many decisions about our office environment. This includes everything from providing healthy snacks, active workstations, and “walking” staff meetings, to thinking about how our office sits within the larger urban context of transit, walkability, and other amenities.
Learning as we go
We’re now undertaking a Passive House “deep energy retrofit” of our office, to bring the historic masonry building (from 1816) up to advanced standards for energy efficiency and interior environmental health. We’re using this project to gain experience with the Passive House certification standard, develop familiarity with high-performance building products, learn new energy modeling software, and engage the entire office in conversations about transforming our space. It’s both an amazing learning opportunity that we can apply to future projects, and a chance to work collaboratively and democratically as an office. We’ve held office-wide design “charrettes” and been able to integrate design ideas from all members.
Recognizing the importance of strong business and personal relationships
We value office social life at our firm, and in cultivating it over the years, we’ve found that:
- Group field trips to projects (either finished or under construction) are excellent teaching tools and build pride in our work.
- Happy hours and birthday celebrations are a good way to learn about the many dimensions of our coworkers.
- Summer outings provide a well-earned break from work and opportunity for office bonding.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve had to get creative about spending social time together, but we were able to plan a socially-distanced summer kayak outing (culminating in a picnic on the beach) as a way to connect and enjoy each other’s company from a distance.
Remembering that by giving of our time, we get so much in return
We’ve also encouraged mentorship and volunteerism within our office. Paolo Campos, Max Ballardo, and Brian Gonzalez were founding members of the CT Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). We’ve had other members volunteer through the ACE mentorship program for high schoolers, and on the Women in Architecture Committee through AIA CT. I currently hold a position on the University of Hartford School of Architecture Advisory Board, and Paolo was honored last year by AIA CT with a “Volunteer of the Year” award, recognizing his extensive work on many AIA CT boards.
Placing a Priority on Diversity
We’ve carefully established practices and structures that give our firm its strong office culture and collective mindset. However, just as important are the individuals who have come to work for us over the years.
A formative experience at a cooperative architecture school—during which I worked and learned in six cities around the world, at offices of all sizes—exposed me to many cultures and led me to appreciate the value of diversity. When growing my own firm, I’ve prioritized developing diverse firm leadership, ensuring that all members of the practice have a say in how the firm operates, and encouraging all members to share their unique ideas.
We’re proud of this environment and of the diverse array of individuals who have chosen to work at our firm over the years. Especially in an industry where leadership often does not yet reflect the diversity of the communities served, we feel it’s important that Patriquin Architects champions creativity, inclusion, and a more representative workforce within our office culture.
That approach has proven to be a win-win for our firm and our clients for the last 10 years, and we know it will continue to be for the next decade.