Case study

Architect — Lauren Jenkins

Lauren studied Architecture at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. After gaining experience in both a small and large-scale practice, she now works as an architect with Barton Willmore

How did you get your job?

While at university I gained employment at two local Aberdeenshire practices - one was a summer job and the other was part of my fourth-year placement. I went on to work for my placement practice for two years post-graduation.

These jobs offered experience in a variety of residential and commercial projects, from small-scale extensions and alterations to existing buildings, through to new-build houses and interior office/shop fit outs.

In 2016 I decided a change of location and pace would further my knowledge and understanding of the field. With Edinburgh in my sights and a desire to gain experience in a larger practice, I was made aware of an architectural assistant post at Barton Willmore through a friend of a friend.

After 18 months at the practice, I went on to study towards my final qualifying exam and now work as an architect.

What's a typical day like as an architect?

Each day varies and that is what I love about my job.

I'm currently working on the third phase of the Pennywell and Muirhouse Regeneration Project in Edinburgh - a new housing development on brownfield land, north west of the city. Day-to-day this has involved: interpreting the clients brief, developing a series of house types alongside our developer client for use across the site, preparing a detailed masterplan layout of the site, preparing detailed designs for the planning application, attending public consultation events and preparing technical detail packages to show the contractor how it is to be built on site.

I think a common misconception about an architect's role is that we spend our days 'drawing pretty pictures'. While drawing is a big part of the job, the role also involves a lot of project management and needs coordination skills. We liaise closely with clients to understand and develop their brief, as well as other design team members (e.g. engineers, quantity surveyors etc.) to develop a coordinated design. We must have an in-depth knowledge and understanding of how things fit together. For example, how do you stop water entering a building? How is the roof space ventilated? How and where do services enter the building and how are they distributed?

Ultimately, the drawings have to tell a detailed story of how the building will be physically built, but there is a lot of work that goes on in the background beforehand.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy the variety of projects, the scale and detail that my role offers. One day I can be preparing a masterplan layout at 1:1000 scale, the next I'll be preparing 1:1 details demonstrating to the contractor how the building is to be constructed. Some days I meet with clients and on others I'll help to prepare tender documents for new job bids.

It is also exciting to see something that you have spent a lot of time developing finally come to life. To go on site and see contractors using your drawings to build a physical building is very exciting. Once complete you can step back and say, 'I played a part in designing that' and know someone is benefiting from the use of that building.

It is a great feeling to know you have contributed something physical to the built environment.

What are the challenges?

You need knowledge and understanding of many different fields. The role requires an understanding of design, construction processes and building materials, but also calls for an understanding of legal and financial processes, procurement, building contracts and project/practice management.

The length of time to qualify can also be quite daunting. I started university in 2008 and became registered in 2018. The final registration exam is something you prepare for while working full time, so this can be a challenging time period. There is a lot to learn and the learning never stops.

In what way is your degree relevant?

Architecture is a vocational degree and without it I would not be able to call myself an architect. However, the degree also incorporates elements of design, management and construction law, so it could equally open doors into a variety of career options if I ever chose to change direction.

How has your role developed?

The journey from architectural assistant to registered architect has seen my role develop significantly over the last ten years.

When I started out in my placement year I was tasked with relatively simple duties, such as assisting on the preparation of drawing packages and 3D models, taking notes at client meetings and observing and learning how things are done under the supervision of qualified professionals.

Today I have a more definitive role, which, while still learning every day from those around me, involves more autonomous working, direct liaison with key clients, and more responsibility for projects and my own work. I am becoming more involved in the business aspects of the practice, assisting in the preparation of bids for new projects, seeking business development opportunities and helping others in their preparation towards their final exams.

I work with a fantastic and very supportive team of people who actively encourage progression and development.

How do I get into architecture?

My first piece of advice would be to seek out some work experience in an architect's practice, even for a day or two, to get a flavour for the job.

Entry requirements vary between different universities, so research institutions and discover what subjects/grades are required to get into the school. Most universities also run open days, which give an insight into the course.

Finally, be observant. From the bus shelter you stand under on your way to work or university, to the room you're sitting in right now, someone somewhere designed it.

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