What it takes to be an architect

by Ric Blenkharn, Bramhall Blenkharn Architects, Malton, www.brable.com

I recently attended a housewarming. The client had kindly invited all those involved in the design and construction to their home and it was fantastic to see so many smiling faces, happy that nearly three years work had resulted in an awesome new building.To me, the most rewarding part of being an architect is seeing a building that has been been translated from an idea through a hand-drawn sketch and card model and then into numerous technical drawings before a year of construction on site.It led me to think that those seven years of training to be an architect had true value. What continues to surprise me is that many people are unaware of what an architect does and what an architectural education involves. Rather than someone who “just draws plans”, the reality is significantly more complex.

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Seven long years

The journey starts from a rigorous architectural education, which is usually split into a three year degree, a year working in practice, a further two years diploma and a further year in practice-before a gruelling professional practice exam that allows you to call yourself an architect.It is important to note that the title of architect is solely reserved for people who have taken the correct exams and have the appropriate experience to be on the national register of architects.Subject matter at university covers a wide range of subjects including an understanding of climate, topography, demographics, sociology, history of architecture, theory, design, technical construction and environmental issues.The education starts with the design of very simple projects to build up an understanding of creative problem solving. Projects are then subjected to critique sessions, where students are grilled about their work. This process is vital, since it forms the backbone of presenting ideas to clients in a work environment.

Practical experience

The theoretical knowledge learned at university is then coupled to the practical experience of working in an office. This makes you aware of the many bureaucratic and practical processes involved in the job. You will learn about town planning, building regulations, health and safety issues, office management, administering building contracts, visiting and inspecting work on construction sites. You will meet clients and other building professionals, such as structural engineers, quantity surveyors, ecologists and environmentalists.Having gained experience and passed the final exam, you will then be a qualified architect. As most professionals will tell you, this is only the start of your architectural education, since new problems and situations arise every day.No two days are the same. One day you will be meeting client, the next, sitting down and drawing out ideas; the next having intense discussions with planners. It is a truly stimulating and, yes, stressful job. The responsibility is immense to ensure that the buildings you design are robust and safe, meet the brief and contribute to the built environment.I explain to clients that every new building is a prototype and the skill set needed to achieve success is why our training is so long and intense. Yet, when you see the concept turned into reality, the pride and sense of achievement is immeasurable. There is nothing better.