Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Architects Diversify, Seek outside Work

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Architects Diversify, Seek outside Work

Article excerpt

Like a lot of Oklahoma City businesses during the past decade, a number of small architectural firms have gone by the wayside.

Some survivors interviewed by The Journal Record said they succeeded by taking out-of-state jobs and finding areas in which to specialize.

And it seems that for some clients, nothing beats the personal attention that a small firm can give.

Mariana Barthold, director of the Central Oklahoma Chapter of the American Institute of Architects since 1982, said the organization lost about one-third of its membership during the past three years.

"Most people have gone out of state, and there have been a few companies that have closed," she said.

"But the ones in the state have gotten stronger."

Barthold said business for the remaining firms seems to be increasing, and association membership is now starting to build, rather than decline, for the first time in three or four years.

"We stay very busy, and we have stayed very busy for the last couple of years," said John Ward, a partner with TAP - The Architectural Partnership.

Ward said about 50 percent of his firm's work is in seven states outside of Oklahoma.

"We've developed two specialties - churches and medical clinics - and I think that helps us stay busy because we're pretty diverse," he said.

TAP also has a general practice in Oklahoma City that includes a lot of office space planning, he said.

"We have a couple of very good local Oklahoma City clients who have really helped us through these times," Ward said.

"They always keep something on our plate."

Phillip Fitzgerald, with Fitzgerald Associates Architects, said his firm has grown during the past year, but only about 10 percent of the business is in Oklahoma.

"Most of our work is for two corporate clients out of Chicago," Fitzgerald said.

The firm does shopping centers and recreation centers around the United States, and is licensed to do business in 26 states, he said.

"With the downturn in the economy, it's probably made us look for other avenues of income, and most of that income is out of state," Fitzgerald said.

"I think in the long run it's going to be good for Oklahoma architects to have to look for other resources, so when the economy comes back we'll be able to take on the growth in Oklahoma."

It has been a similar story for The McKinney Partnership, Architects, in Norman.

Richard McKinney said the firm has made it through the past four to five years not only by going out of state, but doing work for clients on the national and international scale as well.

The firm has a second retail company, PRSM International, with Ed Bishop as principal partner. PRSM stands for Professional Retail Services and Management. The two companies do retail tenant design for national tenants, including about 100 stores in Canada and over 500 stores for The Gap and Banana Republic.

"This is a different kind of clientele or marketing base," McKinney said.

"We're actually dealing with national-type clients, and even if the economy were to improve here, we would continue to deal with national clients, largely based out of New York City and San Francisco."

McKinney said national clients transcend economic slumps, emphasizing their work in the geographical areas which are doing well at a particular time.

"Like right now, the concentration of our work is in the northeastern United States, like from Chicago east and from North Carolina north," he said.

If The McKinney Partnership wanted purely to emphasize their work on national retail clients, the firm would relocate, McKinney said.

"We can design and do the quality of architecture in Oklahoma that we could do on the East and West coasts if we wanted to, but the quality of living keeps us here," he said. …

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