In the second post in the Careers Series, Rachael Sherratt shares her experiences and thoughts on being an architect. Rachael is an Associate Director and Architect working at Noma Architects in Bristol. In addition to this she is a Women in Property South West committee member and a mentor. I asked Rachael a number of questions to give an insight into working in the construction industry as an architect and the route in and find out how this can work with a young family too.
What is your role and what does it entail?
I am an Associate Director and Architect. This means that my job has two elements. The Architect side of my job means I design buildings, from an early sketch illustrating a vague idea of what a building might look like, to detailed construction drawings used on a building site. The Associate Director side of my job means I manage teams of people within our office, checking everyone knows what they need to do on each project, looking at fees, workload and office management strategies.
How did you get into architecture? Is there a typical route? Are there any other paths to getting into your field?
I have always been interested in design - and I was drawn by the 'reality' side of Architecture - that something you design is then translated into a physical building. My DT teacher at secondary school was very interested in architecture, we researched Le Corbusier and had study visits to London, which nurtured my interest. I took the traditional route - an undergraduate degree at university, followed by a year placement in practice, then a second degree at university, followed by a professional examination in practice. It's a long route involving 4-5 years at university but punctuated by placements in an architect's office so doesn't seem too bad! Most people seem to go down this route, although if you have significant practical experience in an Architect's office you can apply to have an interview and submit a portfolio to become qualified, but this seems to be rare. You need to register with the ARB and RIBA to call yourself a Chartered Architect (as I am), and each has a clear set of guidelines you need to meet in order to be admitted onto their registers.
What do you like about your job?
I love how varied it is. Every single project is so different, it is inevitable no two days are the same. It is a constant learning curve. One day you may be sketching out some layout plans to see how many houses can fit onto a site, the next you might be on a building site trying to agree with a contractor the best way to practically construct a stonework detail. And ultimately, I love seeing something I designed be turned into reality - walking around a building which you designed on paper (often a few years ago) is incredibly rewarding.
What are the best and worst things about your job?
Seeing a project you are working on come together is my favourite part of my job - whether that is seeing the 3D visuals for a planning submission or design panel presentation for the first time, or seeing the physical building on site (especially when the scaffold is dropped on a building and you suddenly get a real sense of the impression of it). That hardest part of my job is the inevitable compromises you have to make as part of a wider team - you may need to amend a design in order to secure planning permission for example, as something the planning officer has requested... or may need to reduce certain aspects of the design in response to cost constraints. You have to remember to not get too close to a design personally (Which can be hard if you have spent months and months working on it!) and look at the global picture of the project as a whole.
How would you recommend getting started?
If you think you are interested in Architecture I would recommend trying to get a week-long placement at a local Architect's practice. As it isn't a course that is taught in secondary school, it is invaluable to get a feel for what it really involves for yourself before enrolling at university. Also look at Architecture journals (many are now online as well as in print) to see what is currently going on in the industry, and grab a sketchbook and start drawing interesting buildings, cityscapes or details that you see - this will hone your eye and help get you started on critical thinking.
How do you find the work/life balance in your job, being a working parent particularly as one in a senior role?
The construction industry admittedly is lagging behind some other industries in terms of their acceptance of flexible working and work/life balance, although the last few years have seen a real marked difference in terms of companies signing up to the ethos of how important it is for staff - young and old(er) - to be able to commit to both work and a home life. For me, with two young children, it is important to be able to have flexibility in terms of working hours so I can juggle childcare pick-ups/drop-offs, school plays etc... No-one wants to miss out on seeing their children growing up, but it is also important to me to be able to show my children that I do have a career as well. Remote working and being able to slot in work amongst other commitments is key to getting this to be a success - both my husband and I have senior positions within the industry and although our team know we might not be in the office every day 9-5, they also know how to contact us if they need to, and we ensure we are organised with workload resourcing or meeting organisation to enable us to balance all aspects of our lives. I think we will see this becoming more and more common - not just for parents, but for everyone - people who want to do sports, go shopping when its quiet, be at home if they are expecting a delivery - all simple matters that will likely affect all of us in life at some point or other. And studies clearly show that a workforce which are able to work flexibly are in turn more committed and energised, thereby being more efficient and productive. Something which as a manager I know is key to the successful running of a business.
Architecture can be a really rewarding career- it combines a bit of maths, physics, design and construction disciplines, so can be suited to all different personalities and cater to different strengths of personalities. It is a vocation not a 9-5 job, but the rewards that come with it are well worth the effort!
Follow Rachael and Women in Property SW on Twitter at @RachelsArcade and @WiP_SW