blog, by cristina lanz azcarate
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Happy World Architecture Day 2015

I was looking for a photo of “me as a stereotypical architect” and I think I found the perfect one: This photo was taken by a dear friend and I think that you could easily play “how to spot an architect”: Dressed in black (to simplify the morning rituals), Camper shoes (for comfort), Cycling friendly clothing (to be able to jump on the bike to go to meetings or site at any time), large bag (we no longer carry portfolios but still carry large bags) and a foldable umbrella …which lives in the bag (to give us shelter anytime) …Gosh!


After all that, back to the story:

I decided that my contribution to this day will be sharing my chapter in an on-going project we have at NAWIC titled “Ask the…”. It is a collection of mini interviews with professionals of the construction industry to share an insight to their daily lives as well as their journey to get there with the next generation in mind.

It is available for free online and as the project grows we hope that it will become a true reflection of our industry that may attract the new faces we desperately need in order to overcome the Skills Shortage that we are already suffering and it is about to get worst.

Architect: Residential

What do you like most about your job?

“I love the sense of achievement I feel when people move in to the buildings and happily settle in to start a new chapter in their lives. I also love to see communities come together through the process of planning wanting to see their neighbourhoods thrive.

I like to work in a diverse team where everyone brings a new point of view to the table and where each person shares with the team their particular expertise for the benefit of both the team and the project.

I joined the profession to change the world by   creating places that allowed people to have a good life and there is , indeed, something very   empowering in helping clients and               communities achieve their own vision . “

What are the challenges?

“There are many challenges; but i rather look at them as opportunities.

The planning frameworks is complicated and often contradictory, specially in large scale     regeneration projects as politics mix with the everyday .

Working and leading a very large team of consultants and architects by shifting the focus from the individual forces to the common goal is also a challenge at times; however, it helps to     remember that we don’t (individually) have all the answers and who you are doing your job for.”

How did you train to be able to do your job?

“I am a real nerd. I love learning about  everything. The way I see it, the better I am the more useful I become to the clients I work with and the team.

I commenced my training in architecture in San Sebastian, Spain, where I am from; but i decided to complete my training in the UK because the technical and fragmented nature of my studies made me nervous. I felt that unless I looked at buildings as a whole, I would never be the architect I wanted to be.

I chose the UK because I spoke English and London was a place I felt a connection with. I knew nobody here but this did not stopped me. (There are many Europe wide opportunities for British students too)

Due to a misunderstanding I ended up studying longer than I would have needed to (this I learned years later). However, because of that, I had to find a job and pay my way at a small company where we designed and built our own projects. Hence, by the time I completed my second degree (Architecture in the UK is structured in 3 parts) I had a considerable experience in managing the design process on site whilst many of my peers didn’t.

It took me a while to register in the UK because you have to take another course and I had become busy delivering large regeneration projects. Eventually, as one of those came to an end, I saw a window of opportunity and took the exam .”

Did you find any gaps in your studies/training when you started working?

“ In Spain only architects can design buildings, If you are not an architect, you cannot. In contrast, in the UK, you do not ned to be an architect to design or build. As a result, the architect has the role of a designer/coordinator and there are many engineers who deal with areas that, in Spain, we were trained to deal with.

Education, in the UK, reflects this. Therefore, if you are thinking about studying in the UK, you will need to carefully consider what type of architect you want to be and find out which school would prepare you best for that as what you learn will be vastly different.

As a senior architect who has been involved in recruitment at the offices where I’ve worked, I’d say that finding a company where you can get a good practical experience between your degrees is key to complete your training.”

Does your job require continuous development? How do you grow/develop in your job?

“ Learning never, ever, stops. Not in architecture, nor in any other job. The world is changing at a rapid pace and we need to keep our eyes open to stay competitive and to be competent.

CPD (Continuous Professional Development) is required by the professional bodies in order to ensure that we keep on the top of changes in technologies, legislation and industry wide advances. You are expected to better yourself to stay sharp and offer the best service to your client.

Personally, architecture is something i feel passionate about and it is part of my everyday life. I therefore read a lot of magazines, travel to purposefully visit buildings and regularly attend lectures and exhibitions. These are not chores for me but the tools to let me be who I want to be”

Does your job rely on changing technologies? Are you expected to be up to date or is this something that companies offer?

“It does. The current trend in the industry is to use technology to improve efficiency and part of that plan is using online based platforms to work remotely with the rest of the design team. (you can read more about it on the BIM Coordinator chapter). In order to do this, I have had to learn how to use different softwares that have capacity to do this and the company has paid for it.”

Does your job promote awareness on environmental issues?

“Sustainability is more and more embedded into design as legislation requires for minimum standards to be achieved. Then, each client/studio partnership may push the minimum requirements higher.

As the high demand on housing is stretching the boundaries between where you would and where you would not have built in the past, I am interested in developing strategies where by rationalised systems can collectively deal with a variety of issues.”

Does it involve community engagement in any form? Does your job require / leave time for you to volunteer or take part in other activities?

“ The large regeneration projects require for me to work with the local communities. The involvement depends on where the project fits in. I recently worked in a project where the developer had a development agreement with the local authority that required for us to deliver a new market, a Local Service Centre and elderly accommodation for existing council tenants. I regularly met stake holder from all three groups and worked together to make sure there was a place within the scheme for them.

I have done a lot of volunteering (mentoring at FLUID, collaborating and charing NAWIC (London and South East) in my own time and since the summer, I have incorporated part of what i do to my day to day job as part of the company’s CSR. In addition to this, my former company developed a structured mentoring program in support of the least experienced members of staff where I also mentored.”

How does a normal day look like for you? Where are you based?

“The day to day changes depending on the stage of the project. When you are in the design stage, there is a lot of time at the office, on the computer ,drawing and testing; but also a lot of time discussing the brief and strategies with both client and wider team. There is also a considerable amount of time negotiating with local planning officers at their offices and consulting local residents on the immediate areas.

When you are in the construction phase, the pace is faster. First you need to work with the team to detail the various strategies and develop the construction details. Then, very often, you need to assist the client choosing the right contractor to build the project. Finally, you need to lead the building of it. This means coordinating the team, answering questions, attending emergency calls on site and addressing emerging issues to do with coordination. It is never boring.”

How many people do you work with? Does your job involve team work?

“The team changes depending on the project. Each type of building requires different set of experts and a different number of people.

The construction industry relies on teams and so does architecture. You can do very little without a team as it is highly unlikely that you will design and build a project with your own two hands and no team.

New technologies and efficient methodologies however ,are resulting in a dramatic reduction of the architectural team. In a project where a few years ago I would have worked with 3/4 people to deliver a planning application, I am working on my own with support from an other person at specific stages“

What character traits are useful in your job?

“You have to care about the work you do and be a team player , flexible and honest. You will need to be comfortable asking difficult questions when your client’s best interest requires it and you will need to constantly remember that this is not your project but the result of a partnership with your client. (This can be hard when you have put your heart into something and it disappears in front of your eyes. Briefing is key)“

What has been the best decision you have made with regard to your career?

“The best decision was to come to London and stand in my own two feet. However, coming to terms with the limited role of the architect (by comparison with Spain) was a shock at first.

I have since found ways to successfully work within the UK framework and have no regrets.”

Any lesson or tip you’d like to share with the younger you?

“At school you are given the impression that you will be able to design what you think is right for a client on a site but this is not a reflection of reality hence the important of a good brief.

Before you do anything, spend time listening to your client/boss and understanding how you can help them realize their “dream/vision”. This alternative approach will save you heartache and will give you a sense of purpose as enabler.”

Where could someone learn about salary expectations and Training?

RIBA Appointments, salary guide – Link here
Bespoque Careers – Link here
Architects Registration Board – Link here
The Association of Consultant Architects- Link here
Royal Institute of British Architects- Link here

Any useful links you would like to share?

Mimoa – Link here
El croquis – Link here
Architizer- Link here

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