Interview with an architect

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Is that common in architectural practices?In small to medium [sized] practices, that’s common, but when you get into the big companies it can get more corporate.

What are the highlights of your study and career so far?I would say the Edible Pavilion project in Manchester. Tom Petch, from the Manchester School of Architecture, and myself built a pavilion out of recycled timber on a nearby allotment site (see www.citygrowing.org).

We first designed a new community growing site on a disused plot, for the use of plot holders and a neighbouring school. Next, we recruited a team of fifteen undergraduate students to help design and build the pavilion on the new site. We got the students designing facade panels, which they then assembled from scrap materials, and planted with edible herbs and flowers. So far, that was probably the most enjoyable project, as it was ours from start to finish; we got funding from the council and our studio unit, and we got it built.

How did you end up doing that?It was in our fifth year at university, during the School of Architecture’s Event Month - in pairs you had to pitch a written project proposal to the first and second years [students], and they chose which one they wanted to get involved in, so that’s how you get your team of people. You have a month to get it all together from start to finish, so it’s quite intense. It was linked to the urban agriculture theme I was exploring within my studies, so it was a way of testing out some of those ideas I’d been playing with and seeing if they actually worked.

What do you think are the most important skills to succeed in architecture?You’ve got to be creative and be able to think in 2D and 3D, in your head and down on paper as well – there’s not always a computer on hand! It's a mixed bag – you need to be very meticulous and logical with what you do, but at the same time, you need a side to you that’s messy, hectic and allows you to throw yourself into creative exploits that aren’t necessarily within your comfort zone.

What difficulties have you faced during your study?The long hours and the expense; it is expensive due to model making, books and field trips. Over the two unis I’ve been on two overseas trips, one to Paris and one to Brussels, both of which you’re strongly advised to go on. And you need a good computer to be able to run the design programmes, so that's an added expense.

What advice do you have for students wanting to study architecture?First of all, they should be prepared for a low income when they graduate. You don't make a lot of money out of it, not until later. It’s not as well-paid as everyone thinks - not for the hours you do.

Secondly, be prepared to work hard and play hard. It's a very social career and very social at university – you form a very close-knit group of people simply through being in the studio all day. Also, get experience whenever you can, like on a construction site, or in an office, and read books, visit buildings - just really throw yourself into it.

What are your plans for the future?I intend to continue exploring the possibilities architecture and urban agriculture can offer by getting involved with as many projects as I can, collaborating with the contacts I have made over the last two years in Manchester. After I qualify, I would definitely like to experience working abroad for a while, before hopefully(!) setting up my own practice.

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