Three architects at established firms share how they land new projects when work is scarce.

Alan Maskin
Photo ' Tim Bies/Olson Kundig Architects
Alan Maskin

Olson Kundig
Alan Maskin

William Bostwick: Your firm is best known for its residential work, and that sector was hit particularly hard by the recession. Have you branched out?

Alan Maskin: We’ve just tried to hold onto our sectors. This wasn’t a time to start pursuing airports, for example. We’re into our fifth decade as a firm, and we have been through many other recessions. Our residential focus has always carried us through. But we reviewed all our sectors—what projects we’d been going after and in a down economy, how we’d do if we stayed with the same breakdown. We had been researching museum projects, but then started reading that they were becoming done internally as budgets were getting slashed. We had a museum open last year, but our other museum project had gone on hold. So we made a commitment to get two museum projects lined up for 2010, and we ended up getting five.

WB: So you guys have been busy. Any down time at all?

AM: There were a couple of months where we were slow and we needed to find work to keep people busy. We entered a design competition for the Tacoma Art Museum—we saw it as an opportunity for some of our senior associates to have a shot. And we won. In our idle time we also tried to build up our project graphics for books and job interviews. We ramped up our Revit training. We used the time to make us a stronger firm.

WB: You entered 2010 with a new name. Have you been marketing yourself as a different firm?

AM: The name change wasn’t really a hiccup. We just made it shorter. We didn’t have a marketing strategy around it—that would’ve been too expensive. But one thing we’ve been doing is extending marketing opportunities to our senior people. We have them crafting proposals, participating in presentations. They speak and make presentations in the community. Marketing is a learned behavior—you have to practice. So we’ve been training people on that.

WB: How has the AIA award helped? Is that as much of a boon when nobody’s hiring architects?

AM: That was great publicity. Our website hits increased exponentially. Plus, it was a huge morale booster—there had been a lot of worry here, and it helped. Yeah, [laughs] I can’t recommend that marketing strategy enough.