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Budding Brunels Interview

Carmel's an Architectural Assistant  - Read her story:

In this months Budding Brunels newsletter, we’re talking to Carmel Keren, an Architectural Assistant at Fletcher Priest Architects. Carmel will be explaining just what it means to be a fully qualified architect, and letting us all know about what it’s like to work for a major architectural practice.

Who are you, what’s your job, and what company do you work for?

I’m Carmel, I work as a Part I Architectural Assistant for Fletcher Priest Architects. The practice employs around 100 people working urban design, architectural, interior, graphic design and research projects. Within the office I’m part of the Urban Design team, who work on the design of large-scale masterplans across London as well as various cities across the UK and worldwide. 

Can you tell us a bit more about what it means to be a fully qualified architect?

Architecture in the UK is regulated by the Architects Registration Board and chartered by the Royal Institute of British Architects. In brief, to qualify as an architect in the UK takes a minimum of 7 years- 3 years of Bachelors studies is your part 1 qualification, the part 2 is normally 2 years of university education and counts as a diploma, then the 3rd part is the final professional course with examinations. You also need at least 2 years of work placement- normally this is a year between part 1 and 2 (which is what I’m doing now) and another year between part 2 and 3.

Is your role at Fletcher Priest Architects a permanent fulltime role, or part of a graduate scheme? If grad, explain what the programme looks like?

This year is a paid placement which counts towards the minimum 2 years of professional experience which is required as well as your university education in order to qualify as an architect in the UK. In short, I’m here for a year in between the two parts of my university studies.

So what do you do on a day to day basis?

Within the wider office, the urban design team is relatively small so I’ve been able to get involved in different aspects of all our ongoing projects. As Urban Designers, we work together with councils, developers or private clients to design the urban realm- this can be streetscapes, neighbourhoods or whole towns. I get to be involved in some of the design aspects especially with projects that are in their preliminary stages. We test out a variety of options, present these graphically or in model form to the clients and work to refine the design. Day to day, my work is mostly using computer software such as CAD and 3d modelling, but also a large part is graphic based work, which includes a few sketches from time to time!

Do you get to go out on site and do practical work?

We visit projects during different stages of construction. As urban design is mostly involved in the initial planning stage, we also conduct public consultations as part of the project research. That was something I had been heavily involved in earlier in the year, which really opened my eyes to the challenges of explaining the projects and the potential improvements to residents of the area and also how fundamental that is, to good design.

What did you study at university?

I did my Bachelor degree in Architecture at the Glasgow School of Art. Architecture courses vary quite a lot between the different universities – some have a more engineering or technical focus, others place emphasis on design and the creative process. Being within an art school, architecture at the Glasgow School of Art has some of the more creative elements to it, encouraging experimentation at design stage. However, I also found it to be very grounded- our projects were realistic, set in specific sites around Scotland and asked us to deal with the various aspects of construction and detail design whilst considering context and sustainability as the fundamentals of our design.

What grades did you have to get into that university?            

I got A*AC, which was equivalent to the ABB grade requirements. Most universities also ask for a portfolio of art and design work along with your application. For me, this was mostly made up of my A-level artwork as well as some self-led projects that showed my interest in architecture. I had help from my art teachers in putting this together alongside my application, and brought it along to my interview in Glasgow. I didn’t necessarily have much work that related to architecture at that point- I think it’s more important to be able to talk about your work enthusiastically to show your personal approach.

Did you have any other experience before you got the job? Work placements, internships etc…

I did a week long work placement in year 12 at Fletcher Priest Architects, which was very brief but helped a lot introducing me to the profession and making the connections which eventually led me to this job! I also took part in a summer workshop at the Bartlett School of Architecture between year 12 and 13 which gave me an insight into architectural studies and was the first time I was ever involved in designing and building a structure.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

At university most of our projects are hypothetical so this has been my first chance to experience what is involved in actual real life architecture projects. I enjoy working as part of a team and I’ve learnt a huge amount from my colleagues. This job has made me look differently at the city around me - we design things that normally people wouldn’t notice. The way a street is divided into pedestrian and car access, routes around a neighbourhood- where shops should go, where a school should be placed... a lot of thought goes into these things!                  

What is the hardest thing about your job? 

Getting to grips with the software we use was difficult at the start. It was a very steep learning curve and even getting used to the regular office hours after 3 years at university was a challenge!

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I am hoping to go back to university and complete my second part of the architecture course. I’d love to gain more experience in different aspects of this profession- maybe working on a smaller scale next or in a different city. I hope that if I keep doing what I enjoy and find interesting it will eventually lead me to the right places.

Did you see yourself working in the built environment when you were 16?

I was thinking about studying architecture, but had very little real knowledge of what it was. I was always interested both humanities and sciences, and my A level choices reflected that- I took Maths, English Literature and Fine Art. Architecture for me was a way to combine these contrasting interests, studying a creative subject which also heavily relies on problem solving and practicality. The career prospects of learning what is predominantly a vocational course also attracted me.    

What did you learn at school which you’ve found relevant within the role?      

Architecture is barely covered at school so it felt a bit like a dive into the unknown. The way we were taught art at A-level was probably the most useful- learning to respond creatively to a theme and create a project by developing your ideas as you go along. Although maths A-level was a requirement of the course, I’ve not used it much beyond basic calculations. Essay writing was also involved at university so English literature was very helpful there.

What advice would you give to your 16 year old self?

Get involved! See exhibitions, go to architecture events, speak to people in the profession and get work experience in a practice if you can!

 

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