Self-Starter Urbanism: Small Firms Tackle Big Projects on Their Own Terms

Self-starter urbanism: small firms tackle big projects on their own terms
Pasadena Bike Transit Center concept. // Courtesy Peter Tolkin Architecture

For small architecture firms, transitioning from designing buildings to designing urban spaces is easier said than done. Without a commission for a large-scale project, they have two options. They can wait, and carry on with small residential and commercial projects. Or they can initiate urban design work on their own terms—as design-builders, developers, or independent researchers.

South Pasadena-based Peter Tolkin Architecture, incorporated in 2007, chose the latter course. “We really want to work on the larger scale of cities and planning, though I’m fairly pragmatic,” said design principal Peter Tolkin. “I haven’t had a chance to plan a city.” The biggest roadblock Tolkin faces is competition from larger firms, with their impressive budgets and better name recognition.