Starting out in architecture? We’ve been there

At this time of year, with students soon starting or returning to university, and graduates looking to take their next steps, we asked some of Chapman Taylor’s nearly qualified, newly qualified and not-so-newly qualified designers to offer advice, based upon their own experience, to those embarking on studying or practicing architecture and interior design. Below is some of the wisest:

Angharad Jones (Architect, qualified September 2018): “Be prepared for a long, challenging but exciting journey to become an Architect! The requirement to wear ‘many hats’ in the industry, such as those of a structural engineer, a quantity surveyor, a researcher and an artist contractor – the list goes on – means that you not only become an expert in the field of architecture, but also have a vast knowledge of other disciplines. For me, becoming an architect was not only a career choice but a lifestyle one too!”

Gillan El Sharnoubi (Interior Designer, qualified in 2015): “Follow your own path. Some people will have a very intense relationship with architecture and work all hours, while others will be more relaxed and intuitive. Don’t try to match what someone else is doing, because it may not be right for you. Find what you enjoy and go with it!”

Adrian Griffiths (Main Board Director and Architect, qualified in 1987): “While improvements in technology continue to dramatically improve our offer, they don’t replace the need for face-to-face communications with our clients and fellow consultants. It is good to talk!”

Peter Hyland (Architect, qualified in 2017): “Architecture is a tough profession – we do it because we love it. It is hard work, but it can be immensely rewarding. It challenges you in many different ways that other jobs don't. Always keep that hunger for learning – read, go to talks and visit buildings. Don't let architecture become ‘just a job’, but try to remember why you chose it as a vocation and maintain your passion for it.”

Nick Thursby (Director and Architect, qualified in 2000): "At the beginning of a scheme, don't beat yourself up by trying to solve all the problems at once. Instead, learn to prioritise and be patient. Furthermore, in a large team on a large project, not everyone can design the glamorous bits, but that is not to say that person’s contribution is less valuable to the success of the overall project. Finally, communication is key - you must learn to explain and articulate your ideas if you want to see them become reality."

Michael Swiszczowski (Associate Director and Architect, qualified in 2011): "When you embark on your career, you will meet architects who tell you that the financial rewards in architecture are not as attractive as you might think. Ask those architects to talk to you about the emotional rewards – for instance, that incredible feeling of pride that comes to you when you first visit one of your projects as a realised space. Or even seeing the footings in the ground – seeing how those lines you once sketched have now become something physical and real is very exciting, and even more wonderful is to think that these buildings will probably outlive you!"

Finally, some very practical advice from Architect Chris Penford, who qualified in 2018:

  1. Keep track of all of your hours and fill in all of your PEDR (Professional Experience and Development Record) sheets as you progress through your placement years. A lot of Part 3 students, myself included, had to retrospectively fill them out which proved to be a time-consuming task. Although it was manageable for me as I had been at the same practice from Part 1 to qualification and had access to all the relevant information, it would be extremely difficult to gather the information and mentor signatures from previous practices.
  2. Enrol on the next course as soon as you can. In my experience, colleagues who have elongated placement years or ‘take a break’ find it difficult to return to university.
  3. When on your Part 1 and Part 2 course, make sure you explore the limits of design and architecture. When you are on the course, it is your chance to present weird and wonderful projects without the constraints of real-world pressures and clients. On a related note, ensure you keep all your digital files organised and well-recorded throughout the year because you will change computers, lose a hard-drive or two and misplace portfolio work that you would like back at some point!
  4. At the end of each year, although you will be excited about finishing, take the time to organise a professional portfolio/catalogue of work that you can take to potential employers. Look at an abundance of examples online to discover what style reflects you and how you work.
  5. When on the Part 3 course, find out the specialities of people within your practice and keep asking them questions. It is important to understand why something has occurred and what the best route forward would be so that you can then reflect on the situation.

Chapman Taylor believes that widening access to good education is crucial for nurturing the best talent among the coming generations of designers and architects. As a result, we are raising money in support of the RIBA Future Architects’ Pledge, which aims to encourage and financially support talented future architects from primary school to post-graduate study. More details can be found at our fundraising page.

Whatever career path you have chosen, we at Chapman Taylor wish you the very best with your next steps.

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