Architectural Assistant

July 2021: Pathway to becoming an Architect

The process of becoming an architect is a long one and consists of three
parts. Although there are now apprentice routes available (currently only at
part 2 stage), I have outlined the most common route below:

Part 1: This consists of a 3 year Bachelors (BA) degree in Architecture,
followed by a ‘year out’ in an architecture practice, where students gain
valuable industry experience prior to embarking on part 2.

Part 2: This consists of a Masters degree in architecture (MArch) which is a
2 year degree. Students will then take at least another year in industry at
this stage prior to embarking on part 3.

Part 3: At least a total of two years of industry experience are required
prior to beginning part 3. The part 3 qualification consists of coursework and
a final examination / interview in which you will be assessed on your
competence. Following successful completion of this course, this is the point
that you can call yourself an architect.

My pathway

Because I was good at Maths in sixth form, I first went to university to study Mathematics at Herriot Watt University, Edinburgh in 2013. After a year of study, I decided this course was not for me – none of the popular career paths following a maths degree really interested me – and so I looked to do something else.

Due to an interest in art and design and in the built environment, I decided that I would apply to the University of Dundee to study Architecture. Part of the application process for this course was to submit a portfolio of artwork, which I worked on in my spare time (this didn’t need to be architectural in nature). An informal interview is also usually required for applicants. Thankfully, I was successful in my application and started study in September 2014. This was a three-year Bachelor’s degree (BA) which I completed in 2017.

Following this degree, I moved back to the North East of England, where I’m originally from, and looked for a position as an ‘Architectural Assistant’ with a local architecture practice. After a few months of job-searching, I eventually found a position with a practice in the North East of England.

My experience of part 2 differs from the traditional route as I opted to begin a graduate apprenticeship which started in September 2018. The graduate apprenticeship combines both part 2 and part 3 into a 4 year part time course undertaken whilst working in practice. One day a week is spent studying whilst 4 days are spent at work. This really worked for me, as it allowed me to study whilst gaining industry experience and earning money at the same time.

I will be beginning my final year of the apprenticeship in September, which contains the part 3 element. I expect to qualify as an architect in September 2022, eight years after beginning my Bachelor’s degree.

A Typical Project

At work, we generally work on domestic projects, most commonly these are new build homes, extensions and holiday cottages. We usually have many projects active at one time, and these will all be at different design stages. Some projects will be at a very early concept stage whilst some might be in the process of being built. Due to these factors, each day is different, with different tasks and different challenges.

The majority of my time is spent producing drawings, ranging from a hand drawn concept sketch to a CGI (computer generated image). Most commonly, I utilise Building Information Modelling (BIM) software to produce drawings, which is a software which allows you to draw a building in three dimensions. My time is also spent doing research, producing documents, in meetings, on emails and on site.

As my role as an architectural assistant, I take on many of the roles of an architect, liaising with clients, consultants such as structural engineers, planning officers, suppliers, manufacturers, building inspectors, contractors and sub-contractors.

At an early project stage, tasks might include:

  • Visiting a site and taking a measured survey, then returning to the office to produce a set of digital drawings of the site based on the survey.
  • Producing a number of concept sketch designs for the client.

At a later project stage, tasks might include:

  • Liaising with a structural engineer to coordinate our architectural design with their structural design.
  • Visiting construction sites to inspect construction quality.

Overview

If you have an interest in art and design (and to a lesser extent geography), you will likely find Architecture to be a very enjoyable and rewarding subject to study at University. Although it can be hard work, almost all work is design based coursework, and there are very few exams.

There are many different practices out there which work on a variety of different project types. Some might specialise in schools, some might specialise in hospitals. Each practice will approach projects differently and different projects result in different experiences.

Architecture as a profession can also be very challenging at times, as if there is a problem, it usually falls to the architect to work out a solution. Despite these challenges, I find my experiences as an architectural assistant so far to be overwhelmingly positive. For many people, building their dream home is a once in a lifetime experience, and in that regard I am very privileged to be able to experience that with them.

Your questions answered!

How difficult was it to get an architectural assistant job? Is interior design similar?

It took me a few months to find an architectural assistant job after my undergraduate course at the University of Dundee, following several interviews at various practices. Many of my fellow students found it much easier to get a job as they were happy to relocate to London or other major cities. There are lots of factors that would affect how easy you might find it to get a job such as the quality of your portfolio, whether you are looking for a particular type of practice to work for, or whether you are happy to relocate for a job. I‘m afraid I can’t speak for Interior Architects.

Do you learn to use the different kinds of software you use on the job or did you already have experience of using it at uni?

A bit of a mixture. I learnt AutoCAD (a 2-dimensional digital drawing software) and Sketchup (A 3D modelling software) whilst at University. Whilst I was searching for a job, I taught myself Revit (a 2D and 3D Building information Modelling software package) to boost my CV. I then learnt Enscape (a plug-in software which renders your Revit model) whilst working. Products like Revit are quite complex and take years to master, so learning in continuous.

What’s the best part of the job for you?

The best part of my job is when a client expresses how happy they are with our designs or the completed project. I enjoy working with clients who are as passionate about their project as we are.

How come you chose to study in Scotland at the start? Is it cheaper?

I chose to study in Scotland because I wanted to move away from home to study. I chose Scotland over other places as I didn’t want to live in a ‘big city’ and wanted to be close to the countryside, as I enjoy hiking etc. I was familiar with the country as I had been on holiday there many times as a child. It didn’t make a difference to my fees or cost of living, though, which would have been the same if I’d stayed in England.

If you weren’t in architecture what other career would you like to do?

Many people who study architecture don’t end up becoming an architect. Studying architecture gives you many different design skills which are transferrable. Someone who studies architecture might end up being an artist, a graphic designer, product designer, photographer, interior designer, landscape architect, or another job in construction. In my spare time I have built playhouses for nieces and nephews, which I have enjoyed, so would consider attempting to make a career of this.