Architecture: practice makes perfect

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The Independent Online

Before their Part 3 examinations, architecture students need to build up their experience. Amy McLellan explains.

By the time students embark on their Stage 2 professional practice, they will already have clocked up five years of academic study and at least one year’s work experience in anarchitectural practice.



They still face at least one more year of work experience plus the gruelling final Part 3 examinations. Yet, by this point, students will know whether a career in architecture is for them and are likely to be raring to go and to put into practice the creativity and design ideals fostered during their time in academia.

“When you leave academia you may have very high ideals about design but those ideals will get tempered in the first year at work as you realise all the other aspects that are involved in getting something built,” says newly qualified architect James Daykin, 28.



“Getting qualified is a long process but it does mean you end up with a very rounded understanding of how the profession operates.” Over the course of their studies, would-be architects need to amass 24 months of professional practice in order to sit the Part 3 exams (formally known as the Examination in Professional Practice and Management).



In reality, many work for far longer, either to gain the broad range of practical skills and knowledge needed to sit the exams or to bolster their finances after five debt-laden years in academia.

Schools of Architecture are not insensitive to the financial burden of two degrees in this era of top-up fees and many now offer flexible earn-as-you-learn part-time programmes. Manchester School of Architecture, for example, offers a flexible delivery BArch that enables students to spread their Part 2 studies over four years.



“We have to adapt to new models of learning,” says David Dernie, head of Manchester School of Architecture. “Architecture used to be a white men’s club in London and if we are not careful that could happen again. Our cities are polytechnic and full of people from all sorts of backgrounds and we have to get a wide range of people in the profession or we will put at risk inclusive design in our urban environments.”



Until recently, the move from the Part 2 degree (this can be a BArch, diploma or MArch, depending on the school) to Stage 2 professional practice has been fairly straightforward. “The ease with which students move into the profession depends on the robustness of the economy,” says Dernie.



“At the moment there seems to be 10 to 15 per cent fewer offers around and this is slightly worrying because there is a time lag as practices are now working on jobs that came in before the credit crunch hit.”



There is no need to panic, however. “The impact of the credit crunch has been softened by the building frenzy ahead of the Olympics in 2012 and the Government’s drive to get new houses built,” says Dernie.



Architecture firms are still scouting for bright new talent. Lucie Gibson, professional education co-ordinator at the Royal Institute of British Architects, points out that practices gain a wealth of creativity and up-to-date professional knowledge from their student intake – not to mention the attractions of cheaper labour (Stage 2 students earn between £23,000 and £28,000 in London, less outside, compared to around £40,000 for an architect a few years post-qualification).



“Many practitioners also enjoy passing on their experiences and knowledge to the students,” says Gibson. “It’s definitely a two way process.” Most schools have strong links with local firms and students should check notice boards for adverts and sound out their professional studies advisor for tips and contacts. Philip Graham, for example, currently studying for his Part 3 exams while working at Edward Cullinan Architects in London, made contact with the practice while studying at Sheffield School of Architecture, where Ted Cullinan was the visiting professor.



Students should also check out the appointments on the RIBA website ( www.ribaappointments.com) and scan Archaos, the architecture student forum ( www.archaos.org),for a list of recommended practices. It’s also worth talking to school alumni for tips on where to go.

Once in practice, trainee architects should be exposed to a wide range of experiences in order to gain the necessary competencies to equip them for the Part 3 exams.



These competencies range from understanding procurement and contract law to dealing with clients and managing sub-contractors. These experiences, spread over a minimum of 24 months, are recorded quarterly using RIBA record sheets and count towards the final exams. Mature candidates with five years or more experience can use Certificates of Professional Experience as an alternative to the two years’ worth of detailed quarterly record sheets.



In addition to their professional experiences, candidates must submit a professional CV and a case study of a project they have managed to demonstrate hands-on job-running skills.

There are also written exams to test a candidate’s ability to solve practice management problems and make professional judgements in time-limited situations, and, finally, a professional interview in front of a panel of examiners.



This marks the end of the formal academic and professional training – but, as seasoned practitioners point out, it also marks the beginning of a lifetime of learning as the newly qualified architects get to grips with the endless variety of practice life.

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