Architecture firms are often described as “corporate,” “specialist,” or “starchitect,” but what does this mean? Major firm and compensation reports from the AIA and DesignIntelligence often hold back from categorizing firms in these ways, because labels are slippery. For example, is a corporate firm one whose ownership structure is that of a corporation? Or is it a larger firm that serves major clients, primarily in the private sector? Similarly, the distinction between a boutique and starchitect firm depends on one’s point of view: Rem Koolhaas and Frank Gehry, two of the world’s most famous architects, have both resisted the “starchitect” label. And the distinction between a specialist firm and a practice with strong expertise in certain areas can also be gray.
But if you ask an architect to describe where they work, or ask for career advice on where to look for a job, these are the kinds of terms that are used. So it can be useful to better understand what these terms refer to, even though they are not absolute.
Archinect’s Architecture Salary Poll asks respondents to identify what kind of firm they work at, using these categories, and the data is revealing. On this page, we’ll look at firm characteristics such as size, pay, and primary market, to understand what characteristics lead people to describe a firm as “boutique” instead of “corporate” or “specialist,” and how firms described in these ways differ.
The other pages in this series are Job Titles and Licensure; and Focus on Gender, which considers experience, salaries, and satisfaction through this demographic lens. You can also browse individual career stories here.