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My year as a Part I

Lydia Mills Lh

When I first started working at FaulknerBrowns, I was a little nervous. Almost everyone I knew who had worked in a large practice had mentioned long, painful working hours, feelings of being a cog in a machine, or spending months drawing toilets. Thankfully, my experience didn’t ring true with these accounts.

Thinking back to my first week, I felt excited but overwhelmed by the number of new faces, as I had previously worked in a practice of just three people which felt like a second family home. Although it took some time to adjust, I was grateful to be surrounded by people with such a huge range of skills, knowledge and experience. If there was something I was unsure of, someone was always around who could lend a helping hand. Even the previous Part I assistants were keen to offer me support in any way they could.

My first task was re-familiarising myself with Revit. Even though I had used Revit throughout university, it seemed like completely different software when used in practice. When I started I didn’t think I was very good with computers, but as I learned Revit in greater depth throughout the year, I realised that it’s fairly common to spend just as much time looking up how to model something, than actually modelling it. I found this encouraging, as this meant that it was alright not to know what I was doing all the time. Whether it was software, design or basic work skills, admitting what I didn’t know and being willing to learn was more useful to the people I worked with.

I was also interested to learn that project teams usually involved architectural technologists from an early stage. Throughout university I avoided technical details where I could. For me, they were mostly a box-ticking exercise—a confusing but necessary evil. However, through working with architectural technologists, I learned how to think about technical details as an aid to design, and even started to enjoy drawing them.

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On my first day, I was surprised to find out that I’d been placed in the studio (one of four that makes up the practice) that specialises in sport and leisure buildings. However, I quickly grew to love the work as I was learning something completely new that I would never have thought to pursue at university. I was also pleasantly surprised at how varied my work was and the level of creativity involved.

A lot of my time was spent updating drawings, which made me aware of how much I didn’t know about design and construction, especially the significance of small details, like the effect of a single millimetre of concrete in a competition swimming pool. The more unexpected tasks included testing methods of bringing daylight into sports halls and assisting with research on universal changing facilities.

It was also great to join in on meetings that involved being sat around a table with a pile of tracing paper and some pens, even as an observer. From the moment I decided to study architecture at age sixteen, I was told that on entering practice, creativity stopped dead in its tracks, all work was done on a computer and almost everything I learned in architecture school wasn’t ‘real architecture’. It was great to learn that this was far from the truth.

V2 Architect Looking At Sketches Drawings Part 1 Practice Architecture Lh

In the beginning, I had lots of questions about the profession that seemed too silly to ask. Over time I gained the confidence to swallow my pride and just ask. Before that stage however, I was grateful to be able to attend Part III study group sessions that were open to everyone in the practice. During the sessions, I discovered that the answers to most of my questions were on the Part III syllabus and so perhaps weren’t so stupid after all. I also realised that everyone present at the sessions had ‘silly’ questions. We were all learning and it was more helpful to be open about what we didn’t know and the challenges we faced.

Outside of day-to-day work, there were a lot of opportunities to attend CPDs and construction industry events and I wanted to go to all of them! With little knowledge of the wider construction industry, I was keen to meet the professionals I had read about in textbooks and even more so the ones I hadn’t heard of at all. Thankfully, the practice offered a lot of encouragement and contributed towards the cost of attending industry events. Taking the time to meet others in the industry definitely opened my eyes to the fact that no individual creates a building, and that good communication is critical to a productive team.

When I first joined the practice, I had reservations about being in such a large open plan workspace, however, I quickly settled in. This was partly due to the efforts made to make the studio a comfortable working environment. This ranged from social events and assigned mentors, to holding a coffee tasting to see which blend should go in the beloved coffee machines. However, it was the small day to day interactions with a diverse and talented group of people that made my experience so special. It was having long, heated lunchtime discussions on how to say ‘scone’; ‘Waistcoat Wednesday’ during the world cup, and getting overexcited each time an office plant grew a new leaf.

Reflecting back over the year, I believe that a combination of the positive working environment, varied and challenging work, and frequent learning opportunities, has not only allowed me to form a positive perspective of what an architecture practice can be, but has also encouraged me to continue developing myself as a professional in a holistic way.

Lydia Mills