Architect Work Experience in UK
Getting the right architect work experience to become a registered architect can be difficult and there are a lot of challenges on the way. In this article you will learn from Russell’s experience as he talks about working as an architect in the UK, leading up and becoming a qualified registered architect. What kind of practical experience do you need compared to what he actually got.
1. Struggles with finding your first job
2. Working in a Structural Engineers Office
3. Working in an Architects office – small, medium and large.
4. Job Interviews
7. Office Politics
8. Lessons learned.
If you are in the construction industry or living and working abroad or wonder what its like in the design & construction industry, then this podcast will give you some insights.
Finding a job after University
After my first degree, RIBA Part 1, I couldn’t find a job to get architect work experience. I studied up north in The University of Huddersfield and I went back down south near Cambridge and I was looking for a job and I couldn’t find one for at least six months. I applied everywhere. I even got RBA. They actually helped me a little bit. They sent me a list of companies with stickers. I could stick them on the envelopes when I sent letters out to all of these companies. So that was kind of them.
I had a couple of interviews. One, a very small practice. They didn’t offer me a job because I didn’t think the experience they gave me was good enough.I remember that.
Anyway, I ended up getting a job, a structural engineer company because I couldn’t get a job anywhere else. In the first interview, structural engineer, he said he was a structural engineer, but he also studied RIBA Part 1 Achitecture. So he thought I was like him just finished my basic degree and then thinking of working at a structural engineer. That’s one of the reasons why I got the job. So I was working with him most of the time. He taught structural engineering to the architecture department in Cambridge as well. I ended up there one year.
It was quite different working for a structural engineering firm compared to architect firms later on. My boss tried to give me more architecture.
I was trying to be keen for everything. They offered a civil engineering course. Like one day per week at a local collage. Actually the collage was quite far from where I lived, I had to get a train.. So I went to this college one day a week. I said yes, I could get one of the office to go on this course. So I went on the civil engineering course because I thought maybe looking into going into structural engineering, I wasn’t sure at the time.
Oh, it was awful. So boring. Calculating reinforcement surveying, soil mechanics. I can’t imagine anything so boring than civil engineering. I was keen on trying it, but everyone in the class thought was a bit weird because I just finished an architecture degree and I was in this class, a bunch of people trying to be civil engineers, studying civil engineering. Oh, he’d just finished an architecture degree.
Anyway, that didn’t go very well, that job. I mean, first thing I did, they put me on a drawing board, drawing by hand. Later I started to learn AutoCAD for the first time. I worked on a refurbishment project whiche was a church and there was an architect, who did it in hand-drawn, and then I put the structure on with the help of the structural engineer.
And then after that, for a while I started learning CAD and then it was basically updated insurance. Most of the time started, there was architecture and so we got architects and put the structure on. But most of the drawings of structure was already drawn on there. So because you’re new and you’re just young, you’re just making revisions to join and so you just literally move in beams ten minute left and moving stuff 20 mil to the right.
It’s very small changes, but the critical dimensions kind of thing did a lot of printing drawings as well. So looked through a lot of drawings of hundreds of drawings. I saw prints in them structural drawings and can see a bunch of architecture. And so that was a quite good experience and you see how the engineers work and stuff.
There was a course in architecture and God knows were there was a senior technician and then he didn’t to look jealous or something because I was getting the same salary as him and he was my first day I met him. It’s like, you know, you get you’ll get the highest-paid technician or something. It’s like really weird. I wasn’t even getting paid anything.
Something ridiculous. What was it? The salary was, but it was pretty low. I can’t remember.
First Job at an Architects Office
After a year at the Structural Engineering firm I applied for this architecture practice to get to get architect work experience. This is in Cambridge where I was working. I applied for this architectural practice nearby and I went for an interview and got on really well and they were going, Oh my God, you work as a structural engineer, come work for us.
So I took the job straight away and I moved to Cambridge as well and I really liked that practice. I still look back at it with fond memories. It’s in a house like in the city, like three stories and different offices and different floors. There must have been about 15 people working there, which is like a medium size practice and it’s like family orientated vibe.
Everyone was really friendly. I was working on vet schools and a bit of housing and a small animal surgical suite. That’s when I started getting into health care. Also I worked on old people’s homes, a couple of schools and we started Microstation, which was another software, another CAS package.I mean, you learn these CAD packages or whatever software you learn after a few years, they’re obsolete. I mean, I learned MicroStationand I never use it anymore. So it shows you how important software is. Only it’s just a tool, really.
So the office had a good vibe, although a few weird arguments around the office, but no more than usual and I ended up working there.
I stayed another year when I did leave the second year I decided to go back to university, do my RIBA Part 3, to become an architect. They wanted me to stay and offered me more money but I left because I knew I would not go back to study if I didn’t do it then.
So you are supposed to work one year after RIBA Part 1, but I couldn’t get enough good experience after the structural engineer . I even went to my university and they didn’t let me back in. The tutors said I didn’t have proper, decent experience in architect’s office. So then I went to an architect’s office two years and then back to uni.
After Post Grad
After the RIBA Part 2 Diploma of architecture I had loads of interviews actually. When I got out of university, lots of companies were interested in interviewing me, they I got loads of job offers as well. They all offered me a job straight out of uni. That’s a good chance. If you ever finish in your studies. RIBA Part 1, I couldn’t get a job for sure, but like after I finished RIBA Part 2, everybody wanted me.
That was a good moment in my life. I had at least three interviews at least, and they all offered me a job. Some of them. It was two medium sized practises in Leeds. This was I studied in. So that Part 2 experience, I was in Cambridge, then Part 2 I decided to move to Leeds.
So I got offered jobs in medium size practises, small and large. They all looked pretty nice. I just couldn’t decide. Being young I was keen taking the job for the larger practise this is I guess which is one of the largest around have over 100 people in their office and looking back the other two practises were pretty good. One of them even offered me more money and I didn’t take still went to either interview I this was a lot different to interviews at the other place.
Large Architect Firm
The interview to get architect work experience had a massive conference room. It’s just like two people just getting interviewed and in there. And I remember the interview, I thought he wasn’t telling me what I’ll be doing on the set of the end the interview, what kind of work do you think I’ll be doing? You guys are probably the health care team.
Like I say, young and naive. I just wanted to work for this firm because there’s a big, famous firm, Aedas. I wish I didn’t, looking back at it. It’s pretty much my experience. Anyway, I took the job at the larger firm job and moved to Leeds.
The company put me on this health care team. It’s really shitty, all these other cool projects in the office and like there’s like the commercial team, an education team or retail team doing like big projects stuff and they’re up there in the shitty health centres in Lazarus.
I didn’t have much experience, so it was something I guess, but it was mostly doing construction drawings, detail and so on. Another member of another team would do the concept. Then it just gets passed on to you and your team and you just have to do the construction drawings.
That’s what happens a lot in these large practices, you get pigeonholed a lot, so ended up doing that for a year . Learning about construction and stuff really. I worked on a hospital for a little bit. There’s like two or three healthcare centres in Leeds. There’s one day I was working with an architect doing the bit.The concept was in three days and stuff that was fun for change because I was doing all the construction drawings all the time. I thought it was cool at the time because there’s a large architecture practice and there are really trendy and they had the latest technology and they had a rendering team that were really good and everything and the website was Fantastic.
So all that attracted me to the job. But I wasn’t really involved with any work that I found fun. It’s just, I mean, a health care team is good, bthere’s just it’s just health care. You don’t really get any famous buildings like Medical centres really.
Healthcare was usually related to government funding as well so they didn’t have much money.
Multi Discipline Company
And then I got made redundant after a year. This was even before the Global Financial Crisis and I found a job straight away, Atkins, which is another large firm because I knew some friends there. So, that was cool. And then the interview at Atkins was with a couple of guys and they were pretty cool. They were pretty young and they were mates. Those guys interviewed me, so I think straight away they gave me the job easy because I was friends with somebody who worked with them. So having somebody work there who recommends you, does help. They needed someone to use Microstation software, at the time. So that’s one of the reasons why I got a job.
And then I ended up working on Kings Cross underground for a while. It was a big Public Private Partnership (PPP) project. I enjoyed working on that. Then I worked on some schools for a bit, some feasibility studies. Ended up working there for three years. There was a college I worked on. So yeah, education and underground refurbishment. That office was a bit like, I just get a social life because it’s big.
This was like a multidisciplinary practise. So they had engineers and landscape designers and everything all in the same building. It’s good to work with a bunch of architects like that together, some of them like pretty good,
Some of the directors are pretty damn good. Some of them just talk too much. They’re just good at talking. I said directors, I think so. You got to be good at talking to be a director. That’s what I learnt.
I was working on same kind of stuff really – hardly any design work, mostly construction drawings. So much construction drawings, all the time. Even in Cambridge it was construction drawing, all the time, hardly any design work, hardly any concept work, much at all. 5% of the time we do doing concept design.
The rest of it was all construction drawings all the time. You might spend a week doing this concept or something, but then the rest of the year you’re doing construction joints for you. Learn about detail in and how things are put together, but certainly so much you can do if you’re not going to say I think I site very often. Few times a year maybe.
Because it was a large firm there are social benefits too. parties and stuff
One day I said to a director, okay, I’ve been doing construction drawings, for I maybe three years. When am I going to design something. And they said, Oh, you need more experience, learn how a building is built. And it’s like, Jeez, how much experience do you need before I can design a building or something?
Redundancies and Global Financial Crisis (GRC)
Then there was GFC kicked in and they’re making redundancies. So then redundancies came and that was a bit of a nasty process. They went round interviewing everybody and asking them really harsh questions like, why do you think we should keep you? Stuff like that. I heard that some people really slaged other people in the office and talked behind their backs.
Why should we keep basically you had to like fight for yourself at these interviews with the directors and stuff. So it wasn’t really very nice and then it didn’t work. The last in first down wasn’t didn’t go about as well. One of the new directors, he appointed some people recently over the last six months before redundancies and obviously he wanted to keep them because he employed them.
So those people didn’t leave. So he gradually got rid of a lot of people that he didn’t want there, basically. But, you know, businesses, business, whatever they can do, what the fuck they want, really. So that’s where you got to learn, really. And the guy feels that they can’t do that. They can’t do that. There’s a lot of fighting as well.
When people get made redundant, they really get emotional and you know, like really try fighting. You can’t, they can’t do this and like write letters and complain and stuff. You got to swallow your pride. You’re like, come on. Like someone’s employed you. If they don’t want you, they don’t want you. They can tell you to fuck off.
The thing is, in England there’s too many rules and regulations. If something happens and they don’t like it, they think they can’t do that. It’s like, if a disaster happens on the streets, then people say the government should do something. Its the government to blame? Hardly anyone blames themselves.
So if they want to get rid of you, fire you. They can fire you. If they don’t want you, then fuck off. You’ve got to take it. And if they don’t, you can’t just sit there and go. No, they can’t do that because they can fucking do. If it wasn’t you, they can get rid of you. Just leave and stop making a fuss about it. A lot of people making a fuss about it.
Anyway, I got a bit of redundancy pay which is okay like couple of months. But I was sick as I was leaving the country anyway and I ran that time. I just I was lucky. I just finished my Part 3 exams just before I left then I got made redundant, which was so lucky. I also got about three or four months pay, It was one month pay for every year you’ve been at the company, which was alright. But, you also had to be there a minimum of 2 years or something.
I’ll talk about salaries. I can tell you now because I don’t give a shit. I can’t remember after my first degree RIBA Part 1 I think it was only about £13,000 per year. Atkins, this was less than £20,000 a year or something like that. I’m pretty sure it’s £20,000 a year, so that would work out less than £1,500 per month. Yes, I remember I was getting about £1,500 a month. That’s minus tax, 33% or something like that. So you only get like £1,200 pounds a month.. God so like God, like 12 or 13,000 you bring in I’m like £13,000 a month. £1,000 per month would all go on my bills mostly. My rent was £550. So it’s, it’s pretty bad.
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So that was it got made redundant left. I got some lease, I got some money to leave the country. So I left the country and that’s when I worked as an architect in Bangkok
The larger practises had, too much internal politics and gossip and things like. So I didn’t really like them as much. Also you get pigeonholed a lot so not a variety of work. A lot of competition within the office too. Everyone’s pretending that they’re doing something really important when they’re not really.
I remember there was people my age working at this big architecture firm and they all dressed like they’re like they’re earning like, loads of money like, like dress like a banker. Trying to think their job is more important than they actually are. Half the people were not doing much decent work. It felt a bitbit fake, to be honest. A lot of it and it’s very corporate in the large firms also. They have all this graphics and everything and they have a guy to do this and that. So a lot of specialities there.
So, you could end up being a speciality person if you are not careful. You just be doing one thing all the time. You won’t necessarily be doing everything. That’s what the smaller firms are better because you do a lot of the design process from the concept to the construction, not just doing one bit all the time. That’s what I liked about the smaller firms. So you need to know what kind of practices. you like to work for.
For job interviews, it helps if you’ve got a rapport with the person. So find out, do some research on the person you’re getting interviewed by and really get ahead. If you’ve got some kind of connexion with the person who’s interviewed you, like you went to the same university or something like that, then that can help. I remember one company I worked for, a lot of people in the office came from the same universities. All a connection there.So if you find that connection, then you might find a way in to the job.
The architect work experience in the UK is very difficult to get the right experience for all the projects. I hardly got it really, and you have to do these log sheets. And then you had to do a case study as well. I wrote too much bullshit t for the case studies. It wasn’t very good, but I still passed that.
One project, I would work a year ago on concept design,then two years later I did a bit of feasibility and then a year before I did a bit of construction drawings. All muddled up on different projects. There was never a project that I worked from beginning to end. So it was all screwed up experience.
I had experience all over the place and it wasn’t structured and it wasn’t the same project and I didn’t really understand it because it was all mixed up. So my experience was a bit shitty really, due to the practises I worked at. And probably because I moved around a lot, I got made redundant. I didn’t really get the experience I wanted.
I managed to get enough to pass, but it could have been a lot better.
Make sure you know exactly what you will do before you accept the job. And don’t be afraid to turn it down. Don’t just go for a large practise, just because it’s famous for young architects.
They and the pay is not that great as well. There was a medium sized practise offering who offered me more, money than a large practice, but I didn’t take it. I wish that took it now, looking back.
90% of my time and experience was drawings construction drawings on the computer. The rest of it, maybe feasibility study here, and there or few days or a little bit design work. Not much design really. Mostly learning how to do construction. Doing really detailed sections, dimension drawings, details of roof lights and window details and stuff like that. I hardly do much of that stuff nowadays. It feels like that kind of stuff is a lot of waste, of time for architects. Everything good yes. However, I don’t think it needs to be that perfect. It seems like a lot of wasted time for an architect to spend all that time doing these pretty construction drawings. I don’t think a contractor would even look at them tha deeply really. I think there’s something wrong there.
Architect experience in UK is slow as well. A lot of approvals and a lot of consultants as well. Fire consultants, building inspectors and all this stuff and a lot of this stuff’s is done for you. People checking it for you. No one wants to take much responsibility.
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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