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architecture

So, I finally qualified as an architect. 🙂

The hard work seemed to pay off and I was very satisfied with my final grade. End as you mean to go on, as the saying doesn’t go…

In this post I intend to explain what I’ve been up to in my fist few months post qualification and why I haven’t posted anything since… JUNE? Seriously??

Since I qualified, I’ve partly been trying to catch up with friends I’ve inadvertently neglected over the last seven years. While it’s cool to see how much they have (or haven’t) changed, it was hard not to sound as if you’re only dropping them a line to boast about you newly gained qualification.

“Heeey old friend!! I’ve just qualified as an architect and I thought I’d, y’know, see how you’re doing. Wow, it must be at least seven years since we properly caught up. I know this because seven years is exactly how long it takes to become an architect! So yeah, check me out…”

This second thing I noticed was how your main topic of conversation switches from whatever tedious area of contract law you’ve been studying that week to the fact that you don’t have to study anything anymore*.

I’ve now realised that this fact doesn’t have nearly as much significance to anyone beyond myself but it’s just so damned satisfying to say it out loud a few billion times.

The major benefit of not studying anymore was that I suddenly reclaimed half my brain. This was the half that had been keeping all my deadlines, essay ideas other assorted course trivia constantly at the back of my mind. It would occasionally take immense pleasure in bringing this info to the front of said mind – usually at 2am on a weeknight – but would normally just prevent me from fully concentrating on anything.

Now that I had a whole brain, I felt like I could take on the world! Run up mountains! Climb trees! Save kittens while I was up there! The works…

Anyway, the only problem with this is that it’s messed with my perception of how difficult things are. For instance, actually being an architect somehow seems easier than being an assistant. There’s more responsibility but that seems to work in my favour.

Even a few months later I’m finding I’m making the right decisions without having to think them through step by step. For instance, I’ll automatically call up the right person to ask them to speak to someone else, 5 links down the chain. I generally have a much better idea of where I fit in with everyone else and am actually enjoying my job for the first time since I started.

Occasionally I’ll have to plan my actions carefully but at least now I have time to do that. Or make a cup of tea.

So, in summary, I’ve spent the last few months having more fun. And tea. But now I guess I should use the time more wisely and post more.

Here goes…

* Not strictly true.

I need to finish a paper for tomorrow but some images of Peter Zumthor’s Serpentine Pavilion have just emerged.

I’ll comment (hopefully after visiting) in a few days but for now, more information can be found below.

http://www.bdonline.co.uk/news/first-pictures-from-serpentine-gallery-pavilion-2011-by-peter-zumthor/5020616.article

http://www.bdonline.co.uk/technical/serpentine-gallery-pavilion-by-peter-zumthor/5020460.articleZumthor's painting overlaid on the technical plan and section.

I’m really interested in seeing what Peter Zumthor creates for 2011’s Serpentine Pavilion (Hyde Park, London). Zumthor demands complete freedom from his clients – useful experience when you are commissioned to build… well, anything you want.

While half of me (the jealous half) disagrees with his stance on client-involvement, the other is mesmerised by his architecture. Most of his work is in hard-to-reach parts of central Europe and as a result, they tend to become sites of pilgrimage for architects.

But having followed Zumthor’s work for a several years, I actually feel quite ashamed that I haven’t seen any of his structures in the flesh.

Therefore, as this will be his first building in the UK  – and within easy reach of my lodgings –  I will try and follow its progress and post some photos along the way.  Afterwards, I’ll start planning my central European holiday!

Link to Architects Journal article

Probably the best advice I was given about one of my university projects was from Peter Salter.

Salter’s the type of architect who has only been commissioned to design a handful of buildings due to his unconventional approach to design and construction, besides his general awesomeness. On this occasion, he was invited to come and evaluate our studio’s final projects during and as I was an admirer of his work, I particularly wanted to hear his feedback.

Unfortunately he was quite unconvinced by my proposal to the point of saying “I just don’t get what you’re trying to achieve here”. Some architecture tutors, at this point, would leave to for a coffee or cigarette without explaining what they didn’t understand but to his credit, Peter continued ripping my scheme apart for a good half hour.

I think the best part of the discussion was that while it’s important to be emotionally attached to the building you’re designing, it was probably the first time I really felt a building actually change in my mind during a review, rather than in the studio afterwards. Previously, I had been too precious about my designs, despite knowing that an architecture school environment is aimed at developing your talents, not just being an arena to show them off.

Salter didn’t redesign my building for me, and the final design changed considerably from the scheme he saw, but it was a grounding experience that has honed way I question my designs ever since.

Building Design have just featured a brief summary of one of his lectures from 1991 (together with Chris Macdonald) and it reminded me how little press he receives compared to how much he rightly deserves.

There’s also some beautiful images by archidose of his work here.
Light monitor

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while. During the nine months of unemployment I was always imagining what it would be like if and when I found work. The weird thing is how differently it all turned out.

This isn’t going to be a list of THINGS YOU MUST DEFINITELY DO TO GET AN ARCHITECTURE JOB. It’s just what worked for me so you’re welcome to take whatever you like from it and ignore the rest.

1. My portfolio wasn’t the most important thing.

When I first started looking for work I had a huge plan about streamlining my portfolio, making it cover all the right areas and basically convince anyone who saw it think that I was the best person in the world, ever. I’d then apply to a few practices I really wanted to work for and hopefully get a couple of interviews. I’d confidently stride into the interview room, sporting a sharp suit, shaking hands with the interviewer before unleashing the most amazing portfolio the universe has ever seen.

Unsurprisingly, I’d only updated a few pages by the time I was invited to interview. The firm literally only saw my single A4 page resume (featuring with the image below) and about 5 or six working drawings from my previous year in practice to make sure I could draft. According to the guy who interviewed me, the fact that I’d been through six years of uni was enough to convince them that I could design and everything else was based on how I acted at the interview.

CV Image

Obviously I took whatever portfolio sheets I had finished, but it’s always better to apply for places straight away, rather than wait until you’ve perfected your presentation. If you’re anything like me, that could be forever! 😀

2. It’s fun to apply for other jobs with your architecture CV.

Ok, so it’s maybe not “fun” but I noticed I was getting a lot more interviews for jobs outside architecture when I used my architecture cv – about four or five more interviews per month. These jobs were anything from working in John Lewis’ menswear department to tour guiding. And it’s all good interview experience.

First of all, you always know the first question is going to be “So, you’re an architect… why the hell are you applying to menswear??” I’d just be honest with my reply that architecture jobs are hard to find at the moment and that I was looking in other areas for the next couple of years. After the first question (always my least favourite one) I relaxed and after a couple of months’ practice, interviews became a lot less stressful.  I noticed how you could work out the best answers to the standard “bullshit” questions like “What does teamwork mean to you?” I’ve been informed by interviewers that these questions are more to find out how you talk, rather than your deep philosophical musings on working as a group.

When it came to having my first architecture interview it was even easier because I didn’t have to explain why I wanted the job. I found I could relax and just concentrate on answering the questions more honestly because they actually were related to the job, rather than my feelings on “teamwork”.

3. I had to find the right balance between too intense and too relaxed.

I found this quite hard. On one hand you need to actually be enthusiastic enough to look for jobs and show potential all your good qualities. On the other, if all you do all day is crawl the internet for jobs, it’s probably going to reflect somehow in your personality. During my first few interviews I was probably a bit too desperate and I didn’t feel like I was acting like my real self. This did change over time as I became more familiar with wearing a suit and talking to random people about myself for half an hour.

After a few months I got to a point where I if I did get an interview I’d dress well, briefly research the company but generally treat the interview as a chance for me to interview the employer. I found my balance in that I’d do everything I could to attend an interview and be polite as possible but basically treat it as a fact finding exercise. Obviously I’d never say this to the interviewer but it felt good to know I was in control of the situation, regardless of whether or not they were going to give me the job. Every person will probably have their own balance but once I found mine, things became a lot less stressful.

4. I tried to apply for two or three jobs per day… before breakfast.

Looking for jobs online is like a really boring game of hide and seek. But unlike hide and seek, it’s easier at different parts of the day. I went on the hunch that since jobs were being advertised all the time, I’d have less competition from other applicants during the hours of midnight and 9am. Also with hundreds of people going for the same job, the sooner I could respond, the more chance I’d have of being invited to interview. This does mean getting out of bed in the morning which is difficult at the best of times, and even more so when you have nothing in particular to do that day. I found I could sometimes bribe myself out of bed with breakfast… although some days even that didn’t help. :S However, on the days I could manage it, applying earlier really improved my chances.

A few of my friends and relatives were kind enough to forward any jobs they thought I should apply for and this really helped widen my search. This was really cool and groovy of them so it’s worth making sure people know that you’re looking for work.

Also, from over 500 general applications and around 200 architecture applications, I only heard back from about 50 companies. At first this kinda sucked but after a while I got used to not expecting a reply and then when companies did respond, it was pretty cool. In fact, when I applied to the firm I’m currently with, I almost immediately forgot about it and had a few beers. Which brings me back to my original point…

5. Getting a job didn’t happen how I thought it would.

I was invited to interview one late December morning while I was packing to go home for Christmas – I was also going up to Edinburgh for Hogmanay straight afterwards so there was quite a lot of packing to do. On top of that, I was hardly prepared for an interview due to a combination of being slightly hung over, already in holiday mode and from not having washed properly for a few days (damn you, broken shower). It was also too late to change my train tickets so I was faced with the choice of either catching my train and passing up my first architecture interview, or risk missing my train (that had already cost £70) but with the possibility of getting a job.

I decided to risk it and go to the interview. There was about enough time to stuff some clothes in my rucksack before rushing out the door. Since I didn’t have space in my bag to bring a suit back with me, I ended up wearing what I was going to travel home in – a bedraggled jeans/sweater combo – but by this time I was hardly in the mood to care.

When I arrived for the interview I dumped my rucksack outside the meeting room door and walked in with only a couple of portfolio sheets. The interview seemed to go pretty well and they didn’t seem to mind my less-than-dapper attire. Not even the hiking boots. The interviewer really just wanted to find out who I was and tell me more about the role. After about fifteen minutes I was taken on a tour of the office and was introduced to the other members of staff. It was probably one of the least stressful interviews I’ve ever had.

As I was leaving, they gave me a list of later trains (as I’d almost definitely missed my original one) and asked me to email them some of my previous working drawings over the next few days. After that, they’d make their decision.

The following day I visited my previous practice and emailed off a few sample drawings. Half an hour later they called to offer me the job – the whole process from first contact to being offered the position lasted a little over 24 hours. It took quite a while to sink in but it did make for a rather awesome Christmas present. 🙂 It was only over the next few days that I realised how it was probably the worst I’ve ever looked (and smelled) in an interview, how underprepared I was and how I’d risked £160 on train tickets (that’s still a LOT of money to me) on the slight possibility of getting a job.

None of this happened the way I’d imagined. The mistakes I’d made (or had just worried about) didn’t seem to matter, while the risks paid off.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, this is just what I’ll try and do if I ever find myself in the job market again. Other people’s responsibilities may be completely different to mine (for instance, if you have a family to provide for) but from my postion, I found the best strategy was to apply as soon as possible and work on your portfolio later. Secondly, apply for jobs when you’ll have the least competition (like just before Christmas… or before breakfast). Finally, try to relax. Being unemployed screws with your self esteem but remember that it is a temporary situation – and it’ll make your eventual autobiography a much more thrilling read!

Good luck. 🙂