ARCHITECTURAL APPRENTICESHIPS

Photo credit - Architects Journal

Photo credit - Architects Journal

This article was written in response to this Architects Journal piece about the introduction of 'new' architectural apprenticeships in London.

Architectural Apprenticeships are not a new concept. This is exactly how I achieved Part I and Part II and I couldn't encourage it more. Learning on the job has given me such an advantage in the world of architecture.

If you imagine the regular route, of one year Part I experience before back to study Part II, I had five years office experience followed by two years travel, construction and life experience before back into part-time Part II studies, again combining another two years in the office while studying Part II.

So two years after Part II where most students would have three years total office experience - I have over ten years office experience and more than a few years of physical construction experience and project management.

This was my path. I chose it. But it was NOT widely advertised or discussed as viable options within the architectural communities in the U.K. There was only one school of architecture in Scotland that I could apply part-time, the Glasgow School of Art which wouldn't have been my university of choice, and I studied my Part II at The Centre for Alternative Technology, The Graduate School of the Environment, which wasn't a RIBA approved course at that time.

Financially you can support yourself. There are no huge debts incurred, or students exclusively from well off backgrounds as the norm. And let's remember that the original architects learned from their Master Builder. An Architect would have an apprentice and they would teach them everything they know, the architects assistant, was how information and knowledge used to be passed down. 

If there are more apprenticeship options now being offered I'd say the industry might finally be changing for the better!! I'm delighted to read this and encourage everyone to go for it. If you have any questions regarding my experiences, I'd be more than happy to answer them.

I also made a short video - back in the day - about working full-time and studying part-time you can watch it here. Please note that the Architects Map did not take off, and that blog is extremely out-of-date. But I do cover the finer points of why it is good to study part-time.

IS ARCHITECTURAL EDUCATION REALISTIC?

IS ARCHITECTURAL EDUCATION REALISTIC?

"In the real world, you have other jobs, time to spend with clients, extra projects, family and friends, hobbies, healthy eating. To spend that much time devoted to one project, sweat, blood and tears, the stress, the unbalanced lifestyle is unhealthy, and most importantly unrealistic."

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THE ROLE OF THE ARCHITECT

THE ROLE OF THE ARCHITECT

My thoughts on the past, present and future roles of the Architect in design and construction of the built environment. "It might seem as though the role of an Architect is pretty straightforward, but the role of the Architect is actually more complex than it might first appear..."

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HEMPCRETE Vs STRAW BALE CONSTRUCTION

HEMPCRETE Vs STRAW BALE CONSTRUCTION

"The two materials I intend to compare and contrast are hempcrete and straw bale construction; two easy to use building materials that could be sourced locally and built with volunteer labour, reducing both material and labour costs. I will compare them on their affordability, buildability, thermal and structural qualities and carbon sequestration ability.

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WHAT'S A PART TWO TO DO?

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Having worked full time for five years in conjunction with studying part time towards my undergraduate BArch Part 1 at Glasgow School of Art, After graduation I took a year out with well earned savings to travel a little, explore the world and most importantly volunteer and join in design and construction projects so that I could gain some valuable experience working with materials and doing the job of builders on site. The year out led me to some excellent people, projects and ideas of what I want to do with my life and career. Sustainable living became a large part of the volunteer way of life, and vegetarianism, community meals and permaculture food production became more and more important to me. It got me thinking, is there some way I can combine permaculture, food production and sustainable living with sustainable, off grid, well built and efficient buildings? Why live in an energy efficient building but still shop at Asda? Why shop and grow your own food, but your living situation drains you of gas and electricity?

I stumbled across the Centre for Alternative Technology in Mid Wales, where I was delighted to find they had a course for prospective Part 2 architecture students; a postgraduate Diploma in Architecture in Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies. Fantastic!! I applied straight away, the only Part 2 course I intended on applying to, and was invited for an interview. On my interview day I was blown away by the place, definitely for me. I couldn't stop telling everyone about it, and now that I've started it's by far the best place for me to be. A chance to explore my ideas through 18 months of full time education, attending one week every month. I can apply for a Part 2 at the end of the process and this is one step further towards my goal of becoming a fully qualified architect.

So what's the problem I hear you cry? Well there are 12,750 of them. That's £12,750 tuition fees that I cannot seem to obtain from any source!

As I am a Scottish student I cannot apply for a student loan through SAAS (Student Awards Agency for Scotland) because I funded my undergraduate part time by myself so don't qualify as a 'continuing student' which is the usual method of part 2 architectural graduates getting funding for their postgraduate degree.

As I have travelled for a year, and not worked, and now have a job which is a ten week placement and not considered full time, my credit rating is poor and the bank won't grant me a Career Development Loan.

As this is not a RIBA certified course, I do not qualify for any funding from RIBAs many sources.

I have already enrolled on my course. I have thrown myself in head over heels, love everything that it stands for, started a new volunteer side project within the CAT community and have the resources there that I need to explore my future endeavours. I want to create healthier, sustainable efficient lifestyles for people.

I am working full time in the three weeks in between the week long intense attendance required at CAT and am being funding for ten weeks on this work placement by a GoWales campaign.

So dear lovely people out there, do you or your company fancy sponsoring an enthusiastic architecture student in a predicament? Small or large, any donations are going to help me on my way!

You can tweet or email me if you are interested in helping, or have any further information that could help my situation. All suggestions welcome!

EDIT : I reapplied for SAAS funding and moved back to Scotland. I was awarded the tuition fees in loan from the Student Loans Company. Still not ideal and I have to pay it all back - but it provided me with enough loan to actually do the course!

UNPAID INTERNSHIPS : THERE IS NO DEBATE

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So over the course of the last few years, the recession has proved difficult for architectural practices to take on architectural students. They have difficulty keeping on their qualified staff, never mind having to pay students for their time, and to be fair having to teach the students while they're in employment. Especially if the architectural students are RIBA part 1 students as this will most likely be their first experience of a practice and how things are run in the real world. As a result of this, many many companies, (and this isn't just directed at architectural companies) have been offering unpaid internships. Students need experience before returning to higher education and the companies cannot afford to pay them, so offer an unpaid internship with - if they're lucky - some basic expenses such as travel and lunches covered. The idea behind this makes a lot of sense; as a student if you're struggling to find somewhere for experience and you are told by the governing body RIBA that it is a requirement before you can further your education, then many people may just think this is acceptable and part of the many debt inducing consequences of choosing to study architecture.

However, you would never ask a graduate in any other field of study who holds a Bachelors degree to accept no pay for their first job. Perhaps if the job was a summer position and between years of study, it would be acceptable; gaining hands on experience in the field before graduating and finding a paying job. It is actually legal to offer unpaid internships for a period of three months, and I'm certain this is what it was aimed at - summer internships.

Architecture requires an entire year of work experience, between Bachelors and Diploma/Masters, although RIBA has conveniently altered the requirements down to a minimum of three months recorded experience. Again, to be fair to RIBA this is to ensure the students aren't missing out and can still gain the agreed credits and head back to further education. But, it has instead helped to contribute to architecture practices getting away with only offering three month unpaid internships.

You are either studying or have studied architecture, so you know as well as anyone that it is an expensive course. It has to be one of the longest courses and it requires a lot of financial input. There are course fees, materials, accommodation costs and general cost of living. For at least seven years. SEVEN. If you're on the fast track. You don't even have time to pick up a decent part time job to keep you going, and during the summer months you'll probably require a good job to save up and help towards the next year. I cannot imagine the amount of debt full time architecture students rack up in their seven years. Especially if they live in England or Wales where they are paying course fees as well.

So with this in mind, I really can't understand practices that have the audacity to offer unpaid internships. Do you think these students are made of money? That they have rich parents or an inherited trust fund? If these are the interns you are taking on, then you've condemned the regular middle or working class student and hindered their educational progression and put the privileged one step ahead.

Another argument in favour of offering unpaid internships is that the practice puts time and effort into teaching the students, but my counter argument would be that if any person in your office is contributing to your practice making money then they should be paid for their time. They make you money, you pay them money. Simple.

I know it's a hot topic of late, and times are hard. Students need the necessary experience and those who don't gain it begin to question their continued studies. Practices are all struggling to keep going and I think it's admirable that they wish to take on students and give them experience. I just don't think it should be at the expense of the student. While they are working for your practice they require money for accommodation, food and living expenses...if you are not paying them, where do you expect them to get this money? There really is no debate. A graduate can voluntarily provide their skills if they wish but practices should not be offering unpaid internships.

FURTHER EDUCATION

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Is it just me or does anyone else feel a nagging sense of guilt whenever they're studying in further education? Living in Scotland our course fees are covered by SAAS the Students Awards Agency for Scotland. Each child is offered one undergraduate course funded for by the Scottish government. Sounds like a dream for many of you who studied elsewhere and have had to fork out a fortune for pricey course fees each year?

Because of this opportunity of 'free' studying we were all just expected to attend further education; if you had the right grades then why would you not gain a degree and further your prospects in life right? Careers guidance teachers are presented with the tough job of trying to steer teenagers into making a decision that could affect their career paths. Not once did anyone suggest to myself or so called 'brighter' peers that we would flourish in an apprenticeship or any sort of 'unacademic' course. That was just for the kids whose grades weren't up to scratch.

As a result of this socially accepted path my parents saved a sum of money that would cover my rent at uni, and I would find a job and save during the summer months to provide my everyday expenses.

After the first year, I realised with remorse that the course I had chosen was not for me. I searched for opportunities within the industry for work experience during the summer months and couldn't find anything. On further research I found out that there was only one job a year in my chosen field and I was on one of three brand new courses in Scotland churning out 60 students each a year. For one job? The odds were not in my favour.

I started searching for another career path to follow, and my mum suggested an apprenticeship in architecture. Architecture was something I'd be good at and had an interest in, but it was the idea of an apprenticeship that struck me most. Having dabbled in self reliance and providing for myself for two years the thought of earning a salary and supporting myself working and studying was ideal. Working on the job and learning the theory at the same time made sense to me. Practical and hands on.

In terms of studying, course fees and living expenses, I felt a huge sigh of relief. I wasn't going to be using my parents money any more and would be able to provide myself with independence, a flat, a car and a comfortable lifestyle. The practice I worked for helped with my course fees which were a lot lower than full-time fees, and I had my salary to cover any material and book expenses required by the course.

Having now graduated and received my BArch I face the decision of where to study next. I have to gain a Diploma of Architecture before sitting a final exam to become a qualified architect. Once again I find myself worrying about money and opportunities. If I take out a loan for fees and living expenses then I have to ensure I can land a job when finished to pay off the loan. We can't progress much in this chosen career without achieving the next qualification and with that comes a huge commitment.

Whether you rely on your parents, your other half, an inheritance or the banks to help you, does anyone else just feel this continual sense of guilt? All because we have to be academically qualified to do the job. What happened to the good old days when an architect took an apprentice under their wing and taught them everything they knew eh?

Bring back apprenticeships. Mine was great.

THE ARCHITECTURE STUDENTS NETWORK

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This Monday marked the launch of a new UK wide student body - The Architecture Students Network (ASN)whichlooks to replace Archaos founded in 1999.

The ASN will be an independent network of student representatives from the schools of architecture within the United Kingdom. They will focus on supporting and promoting architecture student events, harnessing student opinion, and engaging with both national and international relevant educational organisations.

It has taken over from and will continue the positive work that Archaos had been doing over the last decade. A statement from The ASN explained, ‘Building upon the positive work that Archaos has been doing over the last decade, the ASN would like to thank all of the students from Archaos, for their efforts in instigating fairer student working conditions and making a perceivable impact in clarifying information regarding the architectural education system in the UK.’

The ASN will be hosting a series of events this summer in partnership with various schools, and will be running the second Architecture Students Assembly, an opportunity for students of architecture to meet on an annual basis.

The next meeting of the ASN will be held at the University of Greenwich School of Architecture, Design and Construction on Friday 9th March 2012 and they would like to encourage students to represent the opinion of their respective schools at this meeting to contribute in the formation of an exciting new organisation.

The network is part of the easa010 (European Architecture Students Assembly) legacy and has grown from a generally shared desire for the establishment of a viable network that promotes communication between students in UK schools.

Visit The ASN website here.

Click here for more information on the EASA.

THE YOUNG ARCHITECT'S CAREER

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My thoughts in response to Arch Daily’s blog posted on the 30th January 2012 ‘Practice 2.0 : Championing the young architect’s career, a lesson from technology startups’ by CASE (written by David Fano and Steve Sanderson) http://www.archdaily.com/203841/practice-2-0-championing-the-young-architects-career-a-lesson-from-technology-startups/

Firstly, as true as most of this is in both the US and the UK, I’d say on the whole it’s a rather negative view of a young architect’s career path.

I have been finding more and more blogs that are either individually expressed views of people partaking in this venture themselves, or by a collective number of late thirty somethings who have passed that stage but can still remember and care to comment on the painful uphill struggle of getting to that point of ‘making it’.

It is probably easier to write negative views on a flawed system than look for the good in it, so I’m not knocking anyone’s blogs. In fact I enjoy reading them and I appreciate everything everyone has to say.

While I don’t disagree with the points made on the Arch Daily blog, and I know this is how the majority feels, I just thought I’d take the time to reply to this, as I have had such a great experience in the industry (so far) with the way I have approached my studies.

I want to give my positive spin on it, especially for those still in the process, or for the architecture students of the following generations, or perhaps even to let the more experienced architects out there feel a bit hopeful that it could still change!

Looking at CASE’s blog and their opinions on the intern experience in the US, I’m not sure whether the UK education system has any particular advantage over other countries?

After the first three years, a compulsory year-out in Practice is required. You cannot achieve your RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Part 1 qualification if you haven’t proven sufficient evidence of working within the industry. Granted in the last few years, what with the economic turn-down, they have relaxed the rules slightly, but that is only to ensure that they do not hinder students in their educational progression. Once you complete this year out, you are then expected to go back to university and do either a Diploma or a Masters (it all really confuses me, to what kind of qualification and where) but something that is RIBA acreddited and will get you to pass the RIBA Part 2 exam.

This is when you are required to go into Practice and work on a full project from inception to completion, so that you understand the process and when you sit your final RIBA Part 3 exam and interview you are quizzed on the various problems that came up during the project and how you dealt with them.

I’m not sure how this compares with the American System? Does anybody want to comment and let me know?

Secondly, my solution to how it could work; may be obvious to me, and to those who know me, but has anyone considered an internship/apprenticeship approach?

This means that you don’t leave school without many of the practical skills necessary to work on aspects required by the Intern Development Program but rather pick them up as you go along. Yes, you do get assigned to one particular phase and yes you do have to tolerate it, but it teaches you a lot and it doesn’t waste a further three years as you’re combining studying with working at the same time so it becomes a part of your education.

Another argument that the CASE blog puts forward is that the process doesn’t give young architects the tools and experience needed to run their own practices. I would argue my case for internships/apprenticeships as you are able to learn everything you need to know about how to run a Practice without actually handling any of the reponsibility or stress. I pick up on everything that goes on around me, and over the years (in conjunction with my studies) I have built up an excellent view of what to do and what maybe not to do and the problems you face and how difficult it can be to run a Practice.

As an apprentice from the very begining, I’ve not been exposed to the full creativity of university, where you can let your imagination run wild, and then the consequent let-down when you start your working life as an architect and experience the everyday mundane tasks, stressful time constraints, limited budgets and unimaginitive clients. It seems it has been a let-down for many of you.

My career has been quite the opposite in fact. I’ve known since day one that the real world and university are different. I’ve listened to the Architects around me moan about the job. I’ve witnessed every work experience school child we’ve had with us being told ‘don’t do architecture’. Even if it was said with humour, they’ve been fair warned!

Perhaps that’s why I take such a positive view on it. Such negative views from the very beginning has only meant I find things better than they were first envisaged, rather than the other way about : When I grow up I want to be an architect - and then it’s all downhill from graduation, dreams of drawing all day and creating masterpieces dampened by reality, budgets and experience.

It’s a tough world this architecture. And if we’re going to encourage further generations with Mattels new Architect Barbie and Lego’s famous architecture buildings, then maybe the key is to let them know what they’re in for from the very begining. Guidance Counsellors - we’re looking at you!!

My blog requires I end with a question in order to allow replies, so without further ado - any questions?

STUDENT BECOMES TEACHER

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With no idea what to expect I pulled up to Newton Primary School with a homemade consulting board game and a powerpoint prepared to give a short presentation to an unknown number of primary school children about Architects and what we do. Of the small class, only a few turned up for the presentation but the computing suite With no idea what to expect I pulled up to Newton Primary School with a homemade consulting board game and a powerpoint prepared to give a short presentation to an unknown number of primary school children about Architects and what we do.

Of the small class, only a few turned up for the presentation but the computing suite was full of other children who were very interested in the buildings too.

Far more informal than I expected I sat down on my child sized chair with my lime green tumbler of water, asked the boys their names, chatted to them for a few minutes and then began to flick through the presentation. They asked a lot of questions and I got a lot of feedback and interaction.

They wished they could attend the colourful schools and were surprised at the scale models and how detailed they were. The boy’s latest project was to build a bedroom in a shoebox so we discussed the importance of scale and measurement and how they had designed theirs. There was also a section on structure and how that too was important for keeping things up.

The architecture that absolutely killed though was the futuristic buildings of Dubai. I showed a video of the proposed rotating towers in Dubai and Moscow and images of the floating cities. The sleek, futuristic, shiny buildings held their interest the longest and they were extremely enthusiastic asking a lot of questions before going off on a tangent about guns, cars and base jumping off the top of the Burj Khalifa…

It was only a short presentation followed by a little video I came across on YouTube called The Three Little Architects :

It’s based on the well known story The Three Little Pigs. They really seemed to enjoy it, and I was thanked several times from the boys for coming before they ran out the door to play football…well, at least they have their priorities in order!

Big thanks to @innovusdecors @architectming @benjaminmurdoch and @colorcoat for project suggestions and @55n for loan of the consulting board game.

 

THE PROGRESSION FROM SPACE PLANNER TO ARCHITECT

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I purchased a fantastic new book while in NY this summer, from Urban Outfitters of all places. It’s called ‘101 Things I learned in Architecture School’ by Matthew Frederick. #13 states ”space planner creates functional square footage for the office workers; an architect considers the nature of the work performed in the office environment, its meaning to the workers, and its value to society. A space planner provides spaces for playing basketball, performing laboratory experiments, manufacturing widgets or staging theatrical productions; an architect imbues the experience of these places with poignancy, richness, fun, beauty and irony.”

This has been a turning point in my education. We are all told at the beginning of each academic year, that we will all ‘get it’ at different times. From first year at university, right through to Part 3 exams or even once practicing as an Architect. There is a point at which it all comes together. You love architecture and no longer do it because you have to make it through the course, or because you’re working on a project in the office. You actually love it. It all makes sense. You love learning new things. And you are eternally enthusiastic.

This summer was a turning point in my education. Having being told for three years ‘Kirsty go mad, you’re at the Art School’ and ‘Part-timers are always thinking about the reality of what can be built, and not just letting go’ I feel like I finally understand, and I’m ready to be bold, make decisions, justify things, create ridiculous explanations, and above all have fun!

To be fair, you may not actually notice the difference in my work…but the important point is that I feel I get it now. Ha.

I’ve missed out on the ‘studio’ atmosphere by being part-time at the art school; the influences, the chats, peer discussions, being pushed out of your comfort zone and the community feeling surrounding the studio. In a way, I feel like that is what Twitter and the ArchitectMap community has provided me with this past 6 months. It’s a wealth of information, inspiration and above all like-minded peers ready to discuss, suggest and share.

Is it a leap forward from ‘ye olden days’ when your architect peers were your competition? Is the world moving forward to create more collaboration and team efforts? I bloody hope so. It’s much more fun!

So there we go, I think there is an informal qualification that we should all be issued with when the penny drops : From Space Planner to Architect.