David A Birkbeck

When they’re spelled out and formalized, joint ventures between two architecture firms mitigate risk for both sides (and for the client). They also offer an opportunity for the two firms to retain work when each offers expertise in some areas, but perhaps not others. It’s a little like the city-states of Athens and Argos teaming up against the Spartans during the Peloponnesian War—and if you think the wartime analogy is a stretch, then you’ve never been in charge of an architecture firm during an economic recession and its aftermath.

Going beyond the joint venture, and to help each other in the bust (and boom) times over the last five years, some Portland, Ore.–based architecture firms—including Ankrom Moisan Architects, Boora Architects, GBD Architects, Opsis Architecture, SRG Partnership, THA Architecture, TVA Architects, and Yost Grube Hall Architecture—have opted to share architects.

It’s pretty straightforward. If one firm has a substantial amount of work in the near term, and doesn’t want to staff up internally, its principals can borrow architects from other firms for discreet periods of time. Both firms sign a contract that details the duration of the “loan,” the compensation for the individual on loan, and the level of flexibility that individual can expect in their schedule. The contract also ensures that the firm receiving support from another firm won’t actively recruit the individual in question.

“Of course, if someone wants to make a move and join another firm, they can,” says Jeff Yrazabal, AIA, a principal at SRG Partnership, “but that process is initiated only by the individual and only outside of the loan agreement.”

SRG has signed loan agreements with three other firms in the area—THA, Opsis, and GBD—and all were positive experiences, according to Yrazabal. “It’s good for our staff to have an opportunity to work closely with others, and when there’s all this activity between firms it feels like the architecture community here is advancing collective knowledge by elevating our respective skill sets,” he says.

Like anything, however, there’s a potential downside. “The loan idea is risky,” Yrazabal admits, “but the benefits of sharing expertise are far greater than the risks involved.”