Blueprint for a new career

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

When James Whitaker lost his job, he began a photographic project to find out how other former architects had coped with the slump. By Rob Sharp

By April 2009, James Whitaker had almost nine years' experience of studying and practising architecture. He had a job at one of the world's most prestigious practices, Heatherwick Studio, was about to take his final exams, and was enjoying London life. But it was a career built on shaky foundations. British building had been stagnating for a year, and his practice had been contracting. When two more clients put projects on hold, his firm made 10 architects redundant. Whitaker was one. The 28-year-old handed in his hard hat and joined the swelling numbers of ex-architects.

Instead of sinking into despondency, Whitaker, then an amateur photographer, decided to take pictures of fellow architects who had also been made redundant and who had turned their hand to something else. The subjects he found through word of mouth or by posting ads on design websites, paid tribute to the diverse interests and talents of his profession. Some former architects were teaching, others had gone into filmmaking. The portraits formed an exhibition, After Redundancy, which opens at RIBA in London today.

"After you've completed your degree and are beginning to accrue experience that goes towards your professional qualifications, you think that's it," says Whitaker. "You think you're going to be in the same job for the rest of your life. But I was the subject of circumstance and had to make the best of what I had."

Arguably, the recession hit architects hardest. "It's difficult to get the full picture, because there's a lot of self-employment in the sector," says Ruth Reed, the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). "But we were the first and worst affected, and that has now filtered throughout the construction industry. It's because we head up the construction process. Any downturn immediately affects us. It's getting better, but there has by no means been a full recovery." According to the Office for National Statistics, November 2009 saw the third monthly decrease in the number of architects signing on. That month, there were 1,600 architects signing on. In November 2008, the number was just 480.

In February 2009, RIBA announced that 30 per cent of architects were unemployed or underemployed. "It was becoming obvious that architecture wasn't a safe profession," explains Whitaker. "Being out of work was on the cards. You'd be mad not to wonder what you would do if you were made redundant. I wouldn't have made the leap to photography if I'd had a secure job."

The architect had no trouble finding 24 subjects working in radically different fields. "It's possibly the best profession for branching out," he says. "To be an architect you have to be a jack of all trades. Photography is an easy adaptation. Architecture is about taking pictures inside your head. The skills you need to present a design to a client are the ones you need to look at a situation and work out how you are going to represent it photographically. Architecture teaches you to be creative."

The portraits are brilliantly varied, sometimes emotional, sometimes banal moments in the subjects' working lives. Each is set up in the same way – the (former) architect is photographed in a setting of their choosing. One shows 31-year-old Sophie Teh standing outside a convenience store holding a cake stand ("I came to the cake business idea because I have so much passion for it," she says). There's 27-year-old Andrew Mobbs in a bicycle shop. The 36-year-old Sarah Akigbogun is pictured by London Bridge, staring into the distance: she is re-editing a film on the use of the Thames which she made as part of the 2006 London Architecture Biennale.

Many of Whitaker's subjects came from Edinburgh, the site of some of the recession's most asset-rich sufferers – the Royal Bank of Scotland, Halifax Bank of Scotland and Standard Life. "It seems like every practice there had to make redundancies," he explains. "It such a small city, and is so closely tied to the banks' fortunes."

Whitaker says the response to his photographs, published in the January issue of the design magazine Blueprint, has been "mostly warm". Would Whitaker return to architecture? "I would," he concludes. "I don't want to quit architecture completely, but I am really enjoying what I am doing. I would like to split my time between the fields. I'm hoping I'll come out the other side of this a much richer person – admittedly not in a financial sense."



How they went back to the drawing board: What the architects did next

Andrew Mobbs BA (Hons)



"After racing mountain bikes in my teens I decided to study engineering at college to try and get into the bike industry. At college I started riding BMX bike. I was looking out for interesting obstacles in the streets and I started noticing architecture. I studied architectural Technology in Southampton, then worked in Salisbury for two years before moving to London. I found a job at a conservation architects for three years but last June I was made redundant. After looking for architectural work, I had an offer to work in a bike shop in north London. It is not a career step I expected but it was nice to share some of my knowledge of bikes."

Andrew now works for Amanda Levete Architects.





Leisa Tough BA Arch UNSW



"I discovered I was to be made redundant on the darkest day of the year, there was ice on the canal and I walked and walked until my hands ached with cold. Within a week I was a waitress around the corner from my former studio and being yelled at by young chefs. It wasn't where I'd imagined I'd be.Needless to say there was no architecture work to be had. I came to Wapping Project, it is a favourite place in London, and flippantly over a meal asked for a waitressing position which, incredibly, led to architecture work. It was as though I'd been washed ashore. I'm inspired by this place and these people to pursue broader ambitions; to curate architectural events, return to sculpting and teaching. Architecture alone no longer seems a wise and safe path."

Leisa's visa expired and she returned to Sydney.





Adrian Welch BA (Hons) DipArch ARB



"In 2000 a former colleague from London came to see us in Edinburgh – with two kids we'd left London behind. I sketched a map of new buildings. A website was obvious – always up-to-date. I set up www.edinburgharchitecture.co.uk, and soon after glasgowarchitecture.co.uk, and more recently e-architect.co.uk. I was designing houses as the recession hit. Being made redundant I put all my energy into the site – now one of the largest architecture resources in the world."

Adrian is running his websites full time.





Josephine Leeder BA (Hons) MArch



"Losing my job the day after practical completion of my first building was harsh, though not unexpected in this climate. Since then I have been trying new recipes with the grand plan of doing vegetarian dinner parties for folk in their own home. It's probably not an ideal time for such a venture but it has been something worthwhile to keep me busy whilst I look in vain for another architecture job. My flatmates aren't complaining – they are fed pretty well out of my redundancy."

Josephine is doing a Masters in ecological design.





Liam Ross MA (Hons) MArch ARB



"Universities teach 'transferable skills'. Teaching is one. I've taught since graduating, and managed this transfer just as I was being pushed. University is quiet, especially over summer. Compared to an office, teaching work is solitary. Preparation, research and admin happen on your own. Colleagues meet every month or so to catch-up. Its nice to not have a manager. I've written a lot, and read more, but forget what constitutes a Relevant Event. I miss tea, BD and deadlines."

Liam is teaching at the University of Edinburgh.





Sophie Teh BScArch (Hons) BArch (Hons) ARB RIBA



"When I came to a crossroads about what I could do next with my career, this was my instinctive idea [a shop selling decadent cakes], but I continued exploring other options. I came back to the cake business idea because I feel so much passion for it. I'm applying my architectural experience to regenerate and regain public interest in a derelict corner of Archway for my business – mixing architecture and good food is my ultimate idea of creative and sensory indulgence."

Sophie is working part-time as an architect while developing her business plan for the cake shop.





Sam Potts BA (Hons) MA



"Architects shouldn't see redundancy as such a destructive event, but one of opportunity! We are blessed with the time to reconsider our roles and direction. Now is the perfect alibi to do something else. The Redundant Architects Recreation Association (RARA), provides an affordable studio, workshop and exhibition space to attract the redundant architect to enjoy something rarely found in a nine-to-five: a haven of total creative freedom."

Sam has returned to university for his part two.





Sarah Akigbogun BSc (Hons) Arch Eng AAdpl



"I had enjoyed my job at Alsop, so following redundancy there was a sense of loss, but beyond this, a sense of liberation. This was a marvellous opportunity to re-evaluate my practice of architecture. Since then my work has included writing, curating a film screening, doing architecture competitions and re-editing a film I had made for the 2006 Architecture Biennale. I hope this 'time out' will transform the way I practice in future."



Sarah is now working for Foster and Partners.







After Redundancy: Living in and out of Architecture, Gallery 2, RIBA, 66 Portland Place, London W1B, (12A)D, until 22 February

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little