My name is Alice, and I’m a Year 10 student at school in Camden. I had several questions about architecture, and I felt that it would be useful to hear from an architect what it is like. I spent a day at the RPP studio in London, to get a feel for both the place and the profession. Many people my age don’t really have an understanding of architecture, and what it means to be an architect, so I enlisted the help of Nat Lee, project leader on 1 New Street Square, a 20-storey office building in Midtown that is currently under construction, to answer a few questions I had.
Many people do not think about becoming an architect until they are looking at A-Levels or university. When did you decide to study architecture?
When I was applying for university. I decided to take after my older sister because I thought architecture was cool and I liked the mix of art and science.
Different jobs require different things. In your opinion, what skills and interests make a good architect?
Being able to draw is good. An interest in cities and details is useful – architecture works at lots of different scales. Having large scale ideas is good too.
If someone is looking to study architecture, which A-Levels or other similar qualifications should they look at?
Art, Science, English and Maths are all useful in architecture.
Architecture is a very demanding course, both in terms of time and effort. Did you enjoy studying architecture?
I did. There were parts when I didn’t, but mainly. I studied at two universities, Glasgow and Newcastle, and I enjoyed Newcastle more because it had a more constructive review process.
What was the best thing about studying architecture?
Getting to imagine and present your ideas. I also really enjoyed just drawing.
And the worst thing?
Not being able to stop, and feeling like you could go on forever, but having deadlines, so you had to.
If you decide not to become an architect once you have finished university, what other things can you do with an architecture degree?
I know someone who went into film. I also know someone who became a hedge fund manager. They recognised the complexity of architecture and were happy to hire her.
Are architects practical?
It really depends on the architect. Some architects are more focused on big ideas, others on fine details. I know one person who wasn’t able to find the front door at a job interview. She didn’t get the job.
During the last economic downturn, the construction industry was hit very hard, especially architecture studios. Does it worry you that architecture is so affected by the economy?
Yes, definitely. It’s hard to feel secure and plan ahead. It goes between two extremes – boom and bust.
Many people want to know what it is like to have a job before they commit to it. What is a typical day for an architect?
There isn’t really a typical day. It depends on the project, but it is usually a mix of designing, using model making or drawing, and co-ordination, in meetings and over the phone, and administration, recording work and saving it for later use.
In an increasingly digital age, many people now rely solely on computers to do jobs they once did by hand. Do you still draw?
Yes. I still draw a lot.
What’s the favourite project that you’ve ever worked on?
1 New Street Square.
I would like to thank Nat for taking time out of his day to talk to me. I can see how architecture appeals to people, and it has been interesting to be in the studio for a day, to see what it is like to be an architect. It is a fascinating and important profession, as it is all about the way buildings and people relate. It is a good balance of scientific thinking and artistic expression, and I believe that there is a wide range of things you can do in architecture, depending on what you are interested in. RPP is a great office, and a very nice place to be. I feel like architecture is quite closed to young people, as it is often hard to find out about, but my experience today has been very eye-opening and interesting, as I have been able to see what it is like to be in a working environment.