Architect Experience in Australia
This article is going to be about working as an architect experience in Australia. I’m going to talk about subjects like
- First impressions
- Arriving in Australia
- Finding a job in Australia,
- Work life and salary
- Getting registered as an architect.
- Lessons learnt and advice
First Impressions – Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne
So, when I first got to Australia. I applied for a migration visa, permanent immigration visa to live in Australia. But while that was pending, I applied for a holiday working visa previously before I left the UK, I went on holiday just for free weeks. I spent one week in Melbourne, one week in Sydney, one week in Brisbane and around the coast. That area as well. After the trip I wasn’t quite sure where I would live. I think Sydney was the best one.
I didn’t like Melbourne at all really. It was like nothing iconic about it. The weather was a bit shitty. Melbourne was just, I don’t know, there was nothing special about it. It’s just like it reminded me a lot about Vancouver a bit. Vancouver’s nice had the mountains of stuff but Melbourne there was nothing like that. I couldn’t see anything there special about it. They had beautiful beaches and everything, but they were they were miles away. You had to drive to them. Well, they had some beaches in the city and stuff. So personally I didn’t like Melbourne that much.
And then Brisbane was even worse. There was like buses everywhere. You had to get buses everywhere. There’s no like no other transport, but it was like very similar to the UK, so I didn’t much like that much. I went to Byron Bay, which was really nice. That’s like a hippie beach area, but that’s not some place you want to work. I was looking for a place to live.
Sydney was fantastic, but that just had the wow factor. But it wasn’t really a place to live. I didn’t think because it was just too expensive and too compact. This the wow factor was there was fantastic. Sydney But, I just thought I don’t think it’s feasible living there because it’s too expensive. So I couldn’t decide where to go when I got back to the UK. So when I was in Bangkok I had a friend, English friend, he moved to Perth and he told me it was great because he’d been to those other cities as well.
Arriving in Australia
I met up with him when I went to those other cities. He had a cousin or something in Perth and he was staying there and he also got a holiday working visa or something. So he said, Come over to Perth and I’ll stay with me until you find a job. So I left Bangkok and I went there. He wasn’t there. I’ll stay in for his girlfriend or something for a while. So I landed in Perth and it was night time so I didn’t really see it much. It’s very quiet at night time and then the next day I think I went Scarboro Beach area, which is like the surf area of Perth. So it’s Western Australia. So it was very like it’s like a mini Los Angeles, it has a large car culture and West Coast is a complete beach.
So it’s quite nice, very quiet though. So the next day I went to Scarborough Beach and it’s yeah, it’s like quite peaceful and relaxed. It was nice. It’s very clean. There’s a few people on base. Then I went to like a bar afterwards. It’s just so quiet. There’s no one, nothing going on. Really. You’d be surprised. It’s like Scarborough Beach, I thought was a big thing, but there was nothing much going on.
Like at Night-Time especially. I went to this, the only bar I could find, and it was completely dead. So that was the first couple of days. It was like a bit disappointing.
Looking for an architect job
After a few days I went to the Perth city and I went to Hays Montrose, you know, the employment agency, who get you architects jobs.
So I started looking for a job. This lady there in Hays Montrose, she was saying, I hate coming into the city with a vengeance. This seemed weird to me. I got the impression that no one liked coming to the city. They all lived on the outskirts in these quiet suburb areas or near the beach or something and the city was , this place you kind of have to go to. I got that impression,
Walking around the town center, it was very much like the UK. First thing reminded me so much like the UK, the city centre, CBD, they called it Central Business District. It’s very similar. That’s all I can say. The shops and stuff the same. They have good public transport there, but it didn’t go to the suburbs very well. You get a Skytrain or Metro and then you had to get a bus, which is a pain. So the metro thing was good, but it didn’t go everywhere. It wasn’t that developed that much. That was Perth, really. Okay, but the beach was really nice. The best thing about it was like there’s a West Coast beach and you get the sunset there every night. That’s the best thing about it.
That was first impressions, but later on, like years later when I was in Tanzania, now I went to Los Angeles on holiday. And so much similarities between Perth and Los Angeles is unbelievable. Um, even the airport is designed the same. You kind of go in. I just remember this long drop off point is the same design as Los Angeles Airport. And then they have the West Coast, the car culture. Uh, like I said before, and the city things like, like cities kind of separate part.
The weather is not as great as everyone makes out. Um, even when I was in Sydney and Melbourne was pretty bad. It rains a lot. The weather’s not that great. Sydney is getting worse now as well as a lot of rain. But like Western Australia was supposed to be really good weather. But sometimes of the year its actually pretty cold. Especially in the mornings, going to work, it’s had that UK vibe – freezing, going to work. So it doesn’t stay hot for the whole year. They have proper seasons. You still get winters pretty cold, autumn and summer. So it’s not not warm all the time.
People make our Australia is warm all the time but it’s kind of a bit of a lie. It is and I think maybe Brisbane area Queensland that yeah. That, that’s probably that like warmer area. Ah yeah. North, Northern Territory and stuff. That’s probably warm. But a lot of the other cities, the main cities, like the bigger cities, the weather’s not great all year round, they have seasons.
There’s quite a lot of racism actually, and there’s a lot of drunk people in the city centre. I lived in this rough area and it’s considered one of the roughest areas like suburbs area called Koondoola, on the outskirts it was okay like is pretty good, but pretty rundown. But I asked people what they felt was the most dangerous part of Perth and they said the City Centre because people were getting so drunk out of their heads, get into fights and stuff like that, that it’s pretty dangerous. Similar to the UK was getting like that before I left. Then there’s stories of people on a bus being racist and I thought there was a lot of racism.
One thing that shocked me about Australia was, there’s a lot of racism towards the Aboriginals. I couldn’t believe it. Like they have nicknames to them and stuff like that, just terrible. Like, oh, they thought it was funny, but like its quite shocking. A lot of it seemed quite old fashioned. It’s like where England was like 20 years ago, that kind of vibe of some of it sometimes. So there was that. There’s yeah, there’s.
There’s these people called Bogans. or cashed up Bogans. Bogans were is a term used in slang meaning a person who looks and talks unsophisticated. It’s like equivalent to chav in the UK, you probably don’t know what that is. Someone who is a bit rough or something like that. But that was pretty good. I thought it was pretty cool because I started wearing bogan clothes and stuff, which was like, cool. Wear a flannel shirt and stuff and the baseball cap. So I started wearing that for a while.
Overall, Perth, was a good place. Um, but it was very family orientated. I found it very clean, a lot of it was very clean and nice. Barbecues and picnics near the beach are common. But they had all these rules like you’re not even allowed to have a barbecue with fire because it could start a bushfire. So it was hot plate instead. It’s kind of ironic. Australia is famous for barbecues, but you’re not allowed to have a proper barbecue. And there was like kids, very kids orientated, family orientated. So that was one of the reasons why I left. I’ll discuss that at the end.
Finding a Job
I had lined up an interview the last two days after I landed and, that went okay but didn’t get the job. That architecture firm have actually since become one of the best companies in that area. They’re doing all the big apartment towers now. Now they’re like famous for doing the biggest apartment buildings in, in Western Australia. I didn’t get that job for some reason.
Then I had, then I had a quite a few interviews come in. It was the money thing. I think I was asking for more money than they thought. I was comparing my UK salary and I asking for equivalent to that. And a bit more as asking for 70 or 80,000 Australian dollars per year. So, I didnt get any job offers. So I was saying 70 or 80,000 AUD per year and that’s what was saying that the interviews and I think that was putting them off .
Hays Montrose, which is famous agency for architects and other jobs. I wanted architect experience in australia. They were pretty useless for me. They didn’t help me. Then I had a few interviews and I started to understand the place a bit. As such and knew a lot of the companies. I had loads of interviews.
Around this time, a recruitment agency called me and wanted to meet me to like potential, like jobs and stuff. This really pissed me off… I met these two ladies. They were saying they were from a job recruitment agency for architects. Sat down I had a coffee with them and I told them loads of information and everything about Perth. They didn’t know anything about Perth, or what was going on. I told them about all my interviews, all about who I’m seeing. Tell them about what they’re looking for. And then they didn’t tell me anything. I was like, so pissed off after that. I’ve just arrived in Australia like a couple of weeks.
These recruitment agencies based in Australia supposed to get architects a job and I know more about what’s going on in the area than they do. Like they’re asking me, who do you have an interview with and what kind of work they did? I gave them everything on a plate. They didn’t tell me or share anything. And they didn’t even call me afterwards. I called them. Okay, you got any job interviews lined up for me? Nothing. Like I was just doing alright on my own without them. What a waste of time. You have to be careful with recruitment agencies. They’re just fishing for information from you.
Landing a Job
So then I had more interviews, and then then I start to get a bit desperate because no one offered me a job. Then I started lower my salary a bit. And then this one on health care came up because I had a lot of experience on healthcare architecture in the UK and Bangkok. So I got a job at this Healthcare Special Architect company. I won’t mention the name, but they were pretty good.
Work life and Salary
So the first company I worked for I stayed there for about a year. So now going on to like the work life and money. They salary they offered me was like $65,000 per year, which is pretty shit. I think it’s plus 10%. It’s like a pension. They call this Australian term ‘super’, short for Superannuation, or something they call it. I got $65,000 AUD per year plus the superannuation which is 10% or whatever, its another 3000 or 4000 AUD per year, um, goes towards this, it goes in this pension fund.
That was the salary and then minus tax don’t forget. So it’s like 30%, it’s like minus off that for tax you only get 60,000 AUD or something per year. But the best thing about Australia is you get paid every two weeks, which is fantastic. You never seen that before, you never got that in your career, anything. So you you feel good. It’s like happy. Waiting a whole month to get paid. It completely sucks. Every two weeks is just fantastic. They should do that everywhere in the world. Definitely, I think so. That was really good. I was finally getting architect experience in Australia.
And then, Friday after work, they would have drinks in the office. You would never get that in the UK. You wouldn’t. They would be against the law or something to bring a beer or some wine in the office like, oh no, no, no. Everyone just goes down the pub and spends loads of money. But in Australia they bring the beers in the office, they have a table Friday like 4:00 or 5:00. They’ll have beers, wine, cheese, pizzas and stuff.
There’s one company I work for. They got pizzas and beer and wine, like at four or five every Friday. God, I would eat so much pizza and drink so much beer. I got pay per hour, so. So I would work Sunday mornings and there’d be like beer leftover from the night before. I would get in my car and put all the beer in there and take it home. And drank it when I got home. So that was the second company I work for, another healthcare project.
Casual work vs Career
So the thing is with Australia it was, it was too casual, the work life. But a lot of interviewers would question my architect experience in australia, locally. They would say to me “You need local experience, mate.” Might they just say that as an excuse to bring your salary down.
“You need local experience, mate.”
I was there, I worked there for two years. Okay, I’ve got local experience now. You’re still fucking giving me the same salaries. It’s bullshit.
So they put you on these, contracts because this is after the Global Financial Crisis they didn’t want to employ you in a permanent position. So there was all these like permanent position people work in office and they would do fuck all. There was this guy who I was working on same project with him, he was doing ceiling plans for like six months on this hospital. He was just pissing around. Where I got is the contract roles.
I think it was only a three month contract with possibility extension. Then after the four months contract, they wouldn’t say anything. You just come into work and you just continue working. They wouldn’t give you another contract. Then I was working there for about a year. Then after about one year, the director comes in the office, sorry we haven’t got much work.
“We’re cutting back on staff. You’ve got a week. ”
Well, that was it. You were going in for months and month, pay as you go, all the time and then suddenly you just get told like that.
So I had to find a new job. But the good thing about , Australia, well same with any company really. I was, by chance, telling someone in the office and they literally called somebody, Ill get you a job, mate. And he called someone, he gave me a contact detail, someone on the other side of town and I called him, got an interview straight away for this other firm.
And um, around that time I was doing a Revit course at a local College called TAFE (Technical and Further Education) because I knew I needed to learn Revit and my company was working for. They didn’t use it. So I just finished the Revit course. It was called Revit Essentials one day week for four weeks. Four full days. I think it was just slightly after I left that job and then I had an interview for this other job and they were they were working on this huge multimillion dollar billion, I think it was $1,000,000,000 hospital in Western Australia, and it was the biggest BIM project in the world at the time. That’s what Autodesk said. I just finished this Revit course and I went for the interview and said I used Revit in the UK, I haven’t used it for a while. I’ve just been on this Revit course, blah blah. I had health care experience. I’ve just been working in Western Australia for like, a year, so I got that job and I think the girl that was leaving was also a British architect, so I kind of replaced her.
I worked on a huge hospital project, Perth Children’s Hospital, for a while, but it was such a big project. Contract was three months, pay as you go again, but I was getting paid per hour. Now this was good because, um, they had these timesheets there and everyone was like logging in as many hours as they could and they told us we can work on Sundays if we want to, and Saturday. So I would go in on sundays or satruday mornings. Like I said before, work on Sundays or Saturdays, and I’d take the beer from the day before. I didn’t work all day. I just go in and for a few hours log it down, take some beer and leave an extra three or 4 hours. And I think it was double the time as well because it’s a weekend. So that was pretty good. Racked up some money there. And then you’d put in 10 hours a day or something. Sometimes you would add an extra hour here and there and they wouldn’t know. So that was good. The pay as you good. So that was, that was good experience working there. This culture was quite good. They’re quite friendly. Um, there’s good vibe in the office, especially like the Friday afternoons and stuff similar to the UK.
This time I learnt from the last job about the contract. I think I was a three or four months, four month contract. When I run out of that four months, I started looking for a new job, because I knew I didn’t want to do what happened last time.
No one really wear suits or ties, but that was the same in the UK. Like you went for interviews, you never wear a suit or tie. Um, but you feel more relaxed .I think the way Australians speak is a bit more relaxed informal than it is in the UK. You know, it’s like I do my stuff like that. So it’s like it could I may it’s like it’s like pretty. You feel more comfortable and relaxed.
That second firm that was a big hospital I was working on, but it was so big that you like put in segments. That’s the thing you work in. It’s like the UK was the same shit I was doing, the UK. It wasn’t really designing or anything with both firms, just joined up doing the construction and stuff all the time. Not much concept work at all. Um, so the first firm was just yeah, construction details most of the time. And then the second firm I was doing space planning and space planning team. Such a is $1 billion hospital so big.
BIM (Building Information Modelling) Experience
The BIM project for the hospital project was so big that separates so many teams and it was so, oh my God, there’s so much beam procedures.
It was completely BIM organized. Looking back, it’s completely bullshit. They had one team doing families forever, one team doing space planning, and that’s what I was doing. One team doing this, one team doing one section, one team doing walls, one team working on doors. It’s bullshit man. So BIM organized.
I was doing space planning so like firm like the plans and stuff and mostly internal layout. So if I wanted to create furniture. I would have to send it, do a hand sketch and send it to the family team so they would make a BIM family for that furniture like a desk or something like that. Yeah, that’s the way of doing it. That’s how that worked.
After the four months I started looking for any job because I didn’t want to end up what happened last time, where the suddenly say, oh, you got a week. So I found another job and that was quite good. Um, I wanted to get out of health care, one of the directors was British, which kind of got me in the door.
RIBA Chartered Recognition
RIBA Chartered Membership helped with all these interviews, I think, because I put it on my top of my CV and we talked about it at my interview, but, this next practise I worked for in Perth, one of the directors, was British, he was RIBA Chartered Architect too and then it was a South African architect also. They were two directors, but the owner of the company was Australian. That’s how they run it. But I don’t know how much work he did. I joined that company and was working on a multi story office building, which I wanted to work on. So I enjoyed that. It was a smaller firm as well.
Both the previous firms with quite large firms, at least at least 50 people. Um, so that’s considered large for an architect, firm, but this one was like ten people or less, which I realized, is more what vibe I enjoy more. And you working on everything, you’re not just working on, um, you know, space planning bills, whatever.
So they didn’t have BIM managers and stuff. It’s just like there was a guy, they just did it all. They didn’t have any problems of BIM. We just do it yourself. So that was, that was fine. Um, if I had BIM questions I just asked that one of the guys in the office, we just did it ourselves. They had no problem with that kind of stuff. So I worked there for a bit on an office project.
And then I left after about 3 or 4 months because the Tanzania job came along.
So I was on a Skilled Migration Visa, which I don’t think exists any more. There was a working holiday visa I applied for also. But I didn’t use that because the permanent residential visa came in. So you can apply for a migration visa – that’s takes two years to go through. It takes a long time now. A lot of paperwork involved in Australia. Everything’s bureaucratic, so much paperwork and a lot of hard copies, not just digital. You can get it easier if you’re under 30. I think you can get holiday working visa also if you are under 30. You can work there for a year and then extend it.
One thing to bare in mind, there are so many agents that do visas for you. I applied did it my self on the governments website. Don’t get confused with all these visa agencies. Read thru The Australian Government and Home Affairs website instead and you can apply yourself and find everything out yourself on there.
With the migration visa, I had to stay there two years to extend it. But then I had this, um, Tanzania thing came, I came up. I didn’t quite stay there for two years before I left, so I screwed that up. They might extend it if I ever go back. I’m not sure.
Getting Registered As An Architect in Australia
Before the Tanzania job interview came up, I was thinking of staying in Australia, so I was trying to get registered in Australia as an architect. Done by the The Architects Accreditation Council of Australia – those guys are complete fuckers.
So, I was willing to follow all the procedures, right? So something like 14 copies of your portfolio, hard copies, student profile I had to send to Canberra.
I’m a British architect, I want to apply to be an Australian architect. So um, there’s two ways of doing it.
1. Experience (Not necessary architect Experience in Australia)
I decided to stay for education. Now if I went back now, I would try the experience way, I think it’d be a lot easier. But I did it for education and I had to send like 14 copies of my hard, hard copies of our portfolio to Canberra, and then they’d ask for an interview and then if I passed the interview, then I had to do exams as well. Jeez.
So I was willing to do the interview with the , had the interview with these guys from AIA, Not to be mistaken for the (AIA -American Institute of Architects !) I had some of my work and stuff. This Australia Institute of Architects and they were asking me questions about my degree in the UK they’re saying. You’ve got a Master’s? How did you get that in just one year. I said, Yeah, So how did you get the master’s then? Oh, you just did that?. I said it’s a full on Masters Degree of the three years, blah blah. And they were like trying to put it down. Like they’re jealous of the UK or something. I don’t think they liked a British guy trying to come and become an Australian architect. And then I showed, some projects and they’re asking me questions about projects at university. This was like how many years ago? There’s been like at least five years ago. I couldn’t remember them much. So the time they asked me questions was like, are they only setbacks on this project? I said oh not really, its a university project, and stuff like that. So, I wasn’t well prepared I guess.
So after the interview I got a letter from AACA saying like, from British education is not equivalent to the Australian education in architecture. I was like, what the hell are you talking about? So I I wrote a letter back to the AACA and made an appeal. I said stuff like, , how can you do this? How can you say this when, I’m a registered architect in the UK, I have experience, I’ve done the education system and registered the RIBA, ARB and everything. Australian education system is based on the British one. How can you say the education system of is not equivalent to the Australian one? I wrote them a letter explaining all this, had to wait like months. They wrote back. Your appeal has been accepted. We’d like to ask you for another interview. Please send another 14 copies of your portfolio. I was like, what the fuck? Another 14 copies are hard copies of my portfolio. That’s hell of a lot of money and a hell of a lot of hassle trying to do the coloured copies as well.
So then I got this interview for a job in Tanzania, that came along and um, I just took that.
Real Estate & Loans
Everyone was trying to buy a house, get a mortgage. No one there really had any money. They were getting loans, loans for house, loans for cars, loan on credit. They didn’t own the car, really. And then they had insurance. Like, made me laugh at this. I bought this second hand car, like, full, like off completely bought it. People were getting loans for cars and their car gets break down. They just get their, insurance, get a new car or something. It’s like, if it just breaks down, it’s just crazy. Everyone’s taking loans in Australia, its ridiculous. They’re getting loans for like $1,000,000 house and stuff and then just end up paying it off. The real estate in Australia was crazy. Worse than the UK. Its drilled into your brain. You must have a house.
But the other culture difference is was like one thing that shocked me was, these people who are, didn’t go to university, they were getting quite decent money, like as much money as me. I went to university for like five years, but tradies were earning decent money in Australia. Thats why everything was expensive to build because the tradies, the construction workers, they were getting paid really well.
Reasons for Leaving Australia
So the reasons why I left Australia was like the money wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. It’s more or less similar to the UK. I mean a lot of things are similar to the UK. That’s why I left. It wasn’t different enough, just the weather and the beach life stuff was better. But the weather, still had the seasons, which I wasn’t a fan of the cold. So the money was same kind of shit.
I was in Australia for just under two years and I thought, I’m doing the same thing as in the UK. I’m like trying to save up for a bloody house and like, just living off pay cheques. I mean, what could I do next? Like, just find a wife and like, settle down. I don’t really want that.
And it was really family orientated place. Like, it’s like everyone’s like having families and kids and everything. I didn’t really want that. I wanted a bit more excitement in my life. It felt like I escaped the most exciting city in the world, Bangkok to one of the most boring cities in the world – but its very nice. Sometimes Nice=Boring.
Australia was very nice, but it just felt a little bit boring, you know what I mean? So then this interview to Tanzania came up and like that was just bringing the excitement again. And I liked working in developing countries because I had work experience in developing country when I was at uni and stuff. So they offered me a job and so that’s why I left.
The only regret I got was, the visa- I didn’t stay two years. I lost the migration visa. I think there’s a possibility of extending it. Um, now, if I ever went back, um, but I would have to move there permanently. For anyone who wants to work in Australia as an architect, just be aware of that.
It’s very similar to the UK. The the beach culture is different. The weather’s slightly different. Um, but the work experience is still similar apart from the Friday night thing. Friday drinks thing. Then, the money’s not that great in Australia. People think its much better, but it’s just the same as the UK really, you don’t make much money. Still tax and everything and pay lots of bills. I was quite lucky because I was staying at a friend’s so I didn’t have any bills really. I saved a lot of money, but, like, they’re really into, you must have a house, get loans for houses, cars, uh, gyms, rents, all these bills.
Australia really want you to have all that. All these freaking bills, they are begging you to have a mobile phone contract like the UK. Town Centre was similar to the UK. So, I didn’t want that. I left the UK for something slightly different.
So if you’re thinking about Australia it’s nice but , it’s family orientated. If you are settled down you’d really like it.
This is based on my personal architect experience in australia. I’m not being judgmental for anything, it’s just my experience being there and I was only there a couple of years I was living and working there.
Russell M. Henderson is a practicing RIBA Chartered Architect based in Tanzania, East Africa.
Russell (Architect Russell) also makes videos on YouTube , TikTok Instagram & Skillshare sharing thoughtful, honest and pragmatic knowledge while working and living abroad.
Architect Russell Uncensored is podcast talking about an architects life unfiltered. From the over long education of 7 years to controversial topics such as RIBA and ARB to unusual architect experience abroad like working in Bangkok and Tanzania. This is content never before released on any platform and you can only get it here first. The truth through the eyes of Architect Russell, unfiltered and uncensored.
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