Studying Architecture: Advice from practitioners (Part 2)

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We asked a number of practitioners, including our colleagues, about the advice they’d give anyone considering studying a built environment topic. In the second part of our series we speak to architects working in Scotland and ask them:

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about studying architecture/planning/landscape architecture/interior design?

It’s not easy, but then things worth doing never are

Stuart Falconer is an Associate Director of GRAS. He studied at University of Strathclyde between 2000-06, completing the BSC Hons in Architectural Design/Studies and Masters in Advanced Architectural Design.

“It’s a big commitment and ultimately you have the opportunity to enhance people’s lives though design. Its not easy but then things worth doing never are.”

Challenge yourself with a new way of working

Kieran Gaffney, Konishi Gaffney Architects, studied at Strathclyde University from 1988-1992 and then moved to University College London 1996-1998 for the second part of his studies.

“Spend some time in an architect’s office before you go to university, minimum a few weeks over the summer but ideally for longer. See what you think of the actual job. Lots of people say that architecture is a good foundation degree for other things and that may be true but university is expensive why not try and figure that out before you go? If necessary delay starting university and if possible, do what the English students do and take a gap year. The older students in my university were the most ambitious and clued-up. Architecture is a great profession and career if you love it but I know lots of architects who are still in the profession but don’t love their job, they simply felt trapped by their time / financial investment.

My other advice is move universities between degree and diploma – challenge yourself with a new way of working in a new environment – this was the best thing I did. Oh, and take any exchange opportunities – some universities runs Erasmus exchanges in Europe or more informal swaps to the US for example.

Never be afraid of asking too many questions

Mairi Laverty, Collective Architecture, studied at the University of Strathclyde.

“Architecture is a fascinating subject, and studying architecture is a discipline like no other. Architecture engages and inspires across a wide range of platforms; from the early days at university, visiting European cities to your first day at work in an architectural practice.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at university studying architecture, and although at the beginning it seemed like a steep learning curve with new jargon and terminologies, the sense of achievement from the skills you develop far outweighs any initial concerns. I will always remember the feeling of pride when I completed my first project as a qualified architect. Seeing your design realised is a fantastic experience and one that will continue to inspire you for years to come.

To anyone considering studying architecture the main advice that I would give is not to be concerned of the unknown, and to never be afraid of asking too many questions. The field of architecture is multifaceted – being a student of architecture can expose you to many different avenues of interest, bringing with it many rewards both within and outside of university.”

There aren’t clear right or wrong answers

Lynne Cox, Director, Roots, studied architecture and the University of Strathclyde. 

“Architecture is a challenging course.  It will be unlike any subject you have studied in school because there aren’t clear right and wrong answers.  A good answer in architecture is one that addresses the problems you have been set, whilst also creating something beautiful.  However, its not enough to have a good idea for a design, what will be crucial to your success is how well you can communicate your idea both graphically and verbally.  You will learn how to justify your decisions and sell your proposed design to win over your audience.  These are all very valuable and applicable career skills.

I believe architecture is an ideal course for you if you are creative, enjoy problem solving, and you want to broaden the way you think about the world around you.”

Do not underestimate how much hard work is involved

Micheal Holliday, Director, Roots, completed BEng Building Design Engineering and a Master inAdvanced Architectural Design both from University of Strathclyde.

“Do not underestimate how much hard work is involved in studying architecture. There is an amazing amount to learn about design, technology, sustainability, legal issues and so on. You really need to enjoy having a broad overview of people, landscape and buildings instead of a narrow focus on a single issue. But studying architecture can also be one of the most rewarding and satisfying things to do and the intensity of the experience means you will make lifelong friendships.”

You’ll learn from your fellow students, as much as from lectures, projects and tutors

Judith Wylie, DO-Architecture, studied at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, between 2001-2004 and 2005-2007, undertaking her Part I Year Out at Robinson McIlwaine Architects, Belfast (Part I Year Out) 2004  – 2005, before achieving her Advanced Diploma in Professional Practice, RIBA Northwest / ARB Registration in 2010.

“Choosing an institution to study architecture is a big decision, make sure to research the course as much as you can, visit the school, and follow the course you think will suit your interests the most.

Go on the school trips that are organised while you are studying. You’ll learn from your fellow students as much as from lectures, projects and tutors.”

Be patient, work hard and keep your mind open – the reward is worth it

Iain Monteith, Loader Monteith Architects, studied at the Mackintosh School of Architecture(part-time) 2003 – 2010.

There is no finish line to studying architecture. Sure there are milestones: Part 1, 2 and 3 , but when you decide to study architecture, and you want to do well, you are really selecting a vocation that will span a lifetime.

There are so many strands associated with studying or being an architect that it can be overwhelming, and I suspect that is why so many students decide not to pursue the course after the first year.

However, for those that do, the attraction to the creative and technical aspects of the subject and the investigation that both require is enticing.

The chance to create a part of a city, a public building, a house, or even a beautiful room, is an incredible opportunity and the skillset required to do so successfully merits the years of study.

The built environment is a reflection of society and by studying architecture it will change your view of the world. From Ancient Greece to Brutalist London, you will learn that architecture responds to the ‘Zeitgeist’,  so there is no end, there is a constant evolution of ideas in response to our changing world.

Student life, and indeed professional life is not easy as an architect.  Often you will work longer hours than your peers and you will most likely earn less money (initially) than your peers. However, the pain of the process is often out weighed by the satisfaction derived from delivering a successful project.

So my advice is: be patient, work hard, and keep your mind open – the reward is worth it.”


Read more about studying built environment topics in part 1 of our series of articles.

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