Generalist vs. Specialist: How Strategic Diversification Benefits You

Aug 12, 2019 | Blog

By: Melanie Friedman, Principal, LEED AP, NCARB

What makes an architectural firm stronger – being a generalist or specialist? While this age-old argument continues to be debated, we have strategically worked to develop a hybrid approach that resonates with our team and provides great value to our clientele. The reasoning on both sides of the issue are rooted in a strong framework, but each has its own drawbacks as well. A quick side-by-side comparison can be seen in the table below.

With the upside of each approach having a lot of value, we asked ourselves if we could have the best of both worlds, and if it would be a benefit to our clients. The answer was a resounding “Yes!” It was a slow process, but we have strategically developed into a hybrid firm with a great deal of experience and focused expertise that maintains all the benefits that diversity brings.

We serve three main verticals: Education, Animal Care, and Beverage/Hospitality. Within those verticals, we have consistent staff that serve each area so that they can develop that deep level of understanding and expertise, and a systematized process for a more seamless client experience. Because we understand the value of utilizing resources, our staff is also continually building and strengthening relationships with vendors, equipment suppliers, and even other firms to serve as additional assets to our clients and our projects. We have not come across a challenge we cannot solve through ourselves or our network.

This variety of work also means we are skilled in designing within many different building types, from wood or steel framed, to concrete block and even precast panel construction. This has been an advantage to several clients that have purchased existing buildings to repurpose that have been outside the realm of a typical building type for their market. For example, we recently saw a private high school look at taking over a former country club. This knowledge can help avoid long lists of comments and changes required by the building department as well as providing for more accurate construction cost estimating throughout the design process.

Photo from Gervasi Vineyard’s Boutique Hotel, The Casa
3D Rendering of our Design Work ay Cuyahoga Community College Crossover between Animal Care and Education
Current trends have blurred the line between verticals, and expertise in multiple areas becomes necessary to successfully complete a project. In today’s connected world, we are seeing bars going into doggie daycares, overnight accommodations above breweries, as well as retail, restaurants and hotels at universities. With our emphasis on education, we are also strategically positioned to design facilities that teach the professionals in the other markets we serve, such as universities for Veterinarians and Vet Tech colleges.

Further crossover can be seen from education with the use of LEED and sustainable design. Many private sector clients are interested in pursuing aspects of being “green” without certification, and appreciate our ability to implement these strategies into any project type.

So, to those who say that a firm must choose to be a Generalist or Specialist, we say we have chosen – to have a crossover approach that enhances our creativity, knowledge, and passion for the work that we do. Best of all, our clients love us for it!