Disclaimer: I didn’t LOVE my Part 1 Year Out… and that’s okay…
I left university having been sold the idea that my year out would be this fabulous year of relaxation, inspiration and rainbows and, after a very trying third year, I could not wait! Who would have thought that in a job you would get to bed before 3am and wouldn’t have to spend crit day watching some overzealous tutor ripping apart your work? And you’d get paid?!
Flash forward 12 months and yes, I was working for a well known firm, getting paid better than most of my peers from university, and feeling overly cosmopolitan and lush. But, I absolutely hated my job. I’d applied in a panic after spending the summer travelling and rather naively thought that getting a job with a large, well known firm was the be-all-and-end-all, only to arrive and find that the firm really didn’t suit me, my design style or my way of working as I personally like (and need) to do a lot of research to keep myself motivated rather than working deadline to deadline.
Not only that but large firm office politics are a completely different ballgame to anything I was used to…(you think University culture is bad? Just wait!) I arrived back at University for my Part 2 slightly disheartened by the whole process, having admittedly lost a lot of confidence over the course of the year. However, much like everyone else, during the Covid-19 lockdown I have had a lot of time for reflection, in particular on what lessons I learnt during my year out that have really helped me for my future employment;
1. Money isn’t everything. Yes you need enough to eat, pay your rent, etc, but you shouldn’t solely think with your purse when applying for jobs as sometimes the lesser paid routes provide benefits in other ways.
2. If you get weird vibes at your interview – don’t accept the job! Your intuition is generally right and sometimes you just don’t click with people – that’s okay! For example, on one occasion I arrived at my interview to find that the whole office was abnormally messy. Although that would suit some people, I would have definitely found myself scuttling around the office feeling the need to tidy things, and luckily I recognised that before my first day. In contrast, I’ve arrived at an office before and felt inspired and at home just by seeing the amount of samples and books lining the shelves!
3. You have a lot to learn about architecture in your part 2 so if you’re in a job that is expecting too much from you in an area you didn’t learn in the first 3 years, it’s okay to say so. Architecture school is very different now to how it was 40 years ago, so not all architects know what skills to expect from a part 1. Adversely, if you’re working for a small firm that aren’t very clued-up in areas you are, like social media, or Photoshop, don’t be scared to make suggestions, they’ll most likely be relieved to pass those aspects on to you. There are skills and aesthetic styles you will have that, although fairly common within your University cohort, will excite and benefit the firm you work for, so don’t be afraid to show them off.
4. Everyone has a different style of working and designing – use this as an opportunity to learn more about methods that aren’t your own and take that back to your part 2 studies.
The architect I worked with loved to make a material palette to show to clients and sell her vision, and this was one of the first things I thought of when presenting my final presentation of fourth year, and it was really effective in solidifying my ideas.
5. Detailing doesn’t have to be scary… on your year out there will be a lot of people that know more than you about detailing – take notes on what they’re teaching you as you go and have that at the back of your mind for your part 2! Same goes for attending CPDs, some of which are just a sales pitch, whilst others are really beneficial for understanding the application of architectural design.
6. A year out is as much about personal growth and re-centering as it is about becoming a better architect – use your evenings wisely!
7. As a follow on, there are ways outside of the office to get architectural experience during your year out – you could attend lectures at your local art school, or join an education programme like the Mass Timber Academy!
(…cue self-plug…) The Mass Timber Academy is a recently released life-long education programme for architects and engineers, aiding in a specialism in mass timber systems like CLT. As student members, (applicable to your year out) you are encouraged to engage with a more environmentally sustainable method of construction in a way that you, unfortunately, don’t have in architecture school; competitions, awards, workshops and monthly newsletter.
Of course, there are many other opportunities for learning and designing on your year out, but uniquely the Mass Timber Academy’s programme aims to de-mystify the use of mass timber systems so that, hopefully, you will return to University for your part 2 with knowledge in this area that will surpass even your tutors. You’ve never had so much spare time so why not use it?
8. Network network network – even if there’s ONE architect or part 2 at your job that you really connect with, having the opportunity to ask them questions (in particular about going back to University and sitting your part 3) can prove really valuable. I also cannot press enough the benefit of online networking through platforms such as LinkedIn if used correctly, and this is something that if initiated on your year out will be of great benefit when applying for your jobs post-part 2.
I realise that some of this advice might seem completely useless, particularly if you are spending your year out in the architects firm of your dreams, but I know that if I had read this when working I would have felt relieved about the sort of experience I was getting. Don’t get me wrong, I learnt loads about architecture too and had loads of fun in the office, but when I arrived back at University everyone wanted to use their year out work as an opportunity for competition and I didn’t exactly feel like I was in the race. However, I then found that a lot of the people that loved their year out job actually struggled in the transition back to academia (especially since a lot of the projects are hypothetical…) whereas I was feeling very grateful to return and learn more in preparation for the big bad world of employment after graduating from my part 2.
Upon graduation, and due to my part 1, it has been infinitely useful to know what I DON’T want for my future career, and indeed provided some incentive to look elsewhere for my part 2 jobs which not only improves my CV, but also gives me a much broader perspective of the industry and its future. You’ll perhaps be glad to know that I have now found my interests lie in architectural activism and innovation, and I am working for a company that encourages and compliments me in these areas whilst also providing daily opportunities for a continuation of my learning down a non-conventional route (which suits me perfectly).
I believe that without my part 1 experience I would be in no way ready, both in character and experience, to have such a strong indication as to where my future is leading, even if at the time I was not so optimistic. Please know that your part 1 year out, although invaluable, is not the peak of your career and so if it does not meet your expectations should not be the end of the line, but instead an opportunity to further engage with the wild world of architecture and take some time for yourself.
This article was written by our lovely guest author Kirsty Watt!