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Beyond Part 1: Reflections on Real-World Experience for Early-Career Architects

The architecture field is known for its demanding education and rigorous training programs. For many students, the first step is by completing their degree in Architecture, also known as Part 1. This degree programme typically spans three years and comprises design modules, essays, site visits, model making and lectures. Despite the challenging nature of this degree, many students are drawn to the field for its creative and practical applications.

Pursuing a degree in architecture is not without its challenges; students often face questions and misconceptions from family, friends, and even educators about the difficulty of the course, the suitability and pervasive stereotypes about gender roles in the industry. Frequently raised questions by my own family and friends were: 'Isn't architecture a seven-year course?', 'isn't architecture meant to be one of the hardest degrees?', 'you must be good at maths and physics then?'. Even one of my High School teachers left me undeterred when they asked, 'Isn't that a man's job?'. It kept me working to achieve my dream of becoming an architect. I knew that my plunge into university would be a challenging experience, as it is one of the most demanding and extended degrees. I assumed it was because there was a lot to learn, which was why there were so many years of study.

I graduated from university in 2021, achieving an overall First Class Hons and receiving an award for the use of Materials in my 3rd-year project. But even though I had completed Part 1 of the required courses, I was still very much at the beginning of my architectural career. The advice from my university for finding a work placement was to start applying in April/May and to tailor our portfolios and personal statements to each practice we were applying to. At university, many students aspire to work for an AJ100 company and any practices that are based in London. No one mentioned working for a small practice, a startup, or any practices that are not located in the city. So when I started my job hunting process, I was reluctant to stray from these guidelines – only basing my own job search on what my cohort were looking for. However, as the architecture field is so competitive, it was tough to stay picky, and I was incredibly grateful for any opportunities I was given. After 6 months of looking, I finally secured my job in December 2021 at SPD Studio and have been happily working there since.

Third year final project drawing 1

Working for an SME of 16 people across three disciplines, I joined a small architecture team formed of 5 people. This has enabled me to be a part of the process from concept to planning and see what the other stages involved are. Despite only being a part of SPD Studio for just over a year, I have been given a lot of responsibility and have been able to add my own design flair to projects, documents, as well as through the representation of our drawings. The projects I started on were real-life – a stark comparison from the creative and eccentric briefs from my university days – but I still did not have the right skills to be an effective team member. Even though I was learning how to work in practice, my course should have prepared me more and taught me the basics of real-life architecture. In reflection, I have ascertained that despite studying an intense and demanding course, we were not taught the minimum of what is needed in practice.

So, what are we taught in Part 1? The most valuable and essential skill that we were taught, is how to approach design and respond to briefs. My university was more focused on the narratives and justification behind our designs, and this has been a critical skill to use in practice. The course allowed me to explore, research and design creative buildings and spaces not limited by real-life constraints. The course enables students to determine their own design flair and representational skills that they cannot always do in practice and helps students discover which design path they find most interesting. However, transitioning into practice would be a much smoother process if more real-life constraints and considerations were introduced as part of the course. There is no need to conform to building regulations or design guides, and the way that we are taught software is not up to scratch of what is necessary in practice. I think there should have been a way to combine these aspects with a creative and dynamic design brief to make the course relevant, yet engaging.

Third year final project drawing 2

Since my time at university, RIBA and the ARB have since released an article about potential education reform to how architecture is taught. The plans include changing the 3-part structure for a 2-part system, allowing for a flexible framework with new entry points and different pathways for prospective students. This means that other relevant courses will be acceptable for progression into Part 2 (typically, a Part 1 course must be obtained prior to continuing with Part 2 / (Masters) in Architecture). These changes aim to widen the field, improve diversity, and give access to all in the profession. New students will instead be recognised for what they know and what they can do rather than how they got there. This revised route will see students start their courses in 2025. The reform will encourage prospective architects from various courses to become architects, progressing the architectural profession through a different approach to the field, experience, and knowledge.

As the pathway into architecture is going to be reformed in the near future, it will be interesting to see how the transition from different educational courses into practice will be managed. From my experience, I think that it is more important to alter the educational content taught university to allow for better preparation for working in practice, rather than adjusting education structure into architecture.


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