What do students look for when approaching their Part 1 practice placement? We are celebrating our vital student team members, asking them about their experience working in the professional sector so far, which projects they are working on and the values and criteria they prioritize when applying to work at a practice.
Our fourth Q&A is with Part 1 Architectural Assistant Rachel Aitcheson. She offers her honest account of her initial inspiration, her project experience working with us so far and her work ethos and advice on contributing to a positive working environment.
What initially inspired you to study architecture Rachel?
To be honest I don’t really know what initially inspired me, I always loved building and creating things and so decided in primary school that I wanted to be an architect. For A-level I studied Art, Technology, Maths, and Physics and just figured that architecture would naturally be the next step.
I love the idea that through architecture its possible to help create places which can have a positive impact on individual people and communities.
Since starting at TODD Architects, what projects are you working on and with which team(s)?
When I first started at TODD Architects I jumped around a number of different projects which was great to get an overview of the variety of work happening in the office. Currently I’m mainly working with Colin Gibson and Jim Mulholland on the Norwich Union House development, an office and hotel in Belfast city centre, along with a PRS scheme on Corporation Street and an office building for the RUAS (Royal Ulster Agricultural Society) – when I don’t get snatched to help with other deadlines!
Where do you look for your design inspiration?
I look for design inspiration everywhere- the buildings around me, historical buildings, design from other countries- looking at what works well and what doesn’t. Working in a large office means that there’s so many past and current projects here to learn from too. Pinterest is also very useful of course for design and representation inspiration, but it can be easy to get lost in it!
Are there any specific architects whose work has inspired you or your work?
I’m a big fan of natural, pure Scandinavian architecture, which fits so well into it’s context, that continues to be a strong reference point for me. Designers such as Alvar Aalto and Jan Gehl whose work is so clearly focused on the human scale and interaction have strongly influenced my work.
If you had the opportunity (and freedom of a limitless budget) to create a radical and visionary structure, what would you design, why and where?
I’m not sure exactly what I’d design, but it would have a natural feel to it, nothing too serious or clinical. I’d love to create a place that would greatly benefit many people, be that in use, it’s location or simply by bringing people together. It would be a playful building which could be enjoyed by all ages.
What are the biggest challenges and the most rewarding elements of your work so far?
The biggest challenge I’ve found coming from university, students have such a limited understanding of the scope of knowledge that an architect needs to have. There are so many aspects which need to be considered, even from very early design stages, which I would never have thought about before, and so I’m aware that there’s always going to be more for me to learn. One of the most rewarding elements is simply seeing a design start to take shape and continuing to develop.
Apart from project scope and reputation, what would be on your list of priorities when choosing to work for a specific practice?
One of my top priorities would be that the practice is people- focused. This includes care for employees, clients and overall thought and consideration for the end-users of the buildings.
A strong, friendly team and a committed work ethos are also essential.
Are there any specialised areas / projects / sectors you would like to gain experience in?
Schools and community projects have always interested me, rather than larger scale projects, but at the moment I’m happy experiencing a variety of projects and getting an overview of different sectors.
Would you have any team-based beneficial activity, trip or workshop suggestions you would like to see happen?
Our recent trip to London was great, simply getting the chance to get to know people better outside of work and meeting up with our other office teams.
With summer here, I’m hoping for some fun lunchtime activities outside in the good weather.
What words of advice would you offer anyone starting out to study architecture today?
Be prepared to work hard. If you’re committed, you’ll get through it, even if it doesn’t seem like it at times!
Make the most of the people around you. It’s not a competition, so help each other out- you’re all in the same boat and a positive studio environment makes all the difference.
What’s next for you, what are your future plans?
I’m going to be taking another year out of university and work for a few more months, gaining more experience, then my plan is to travel for a while (I haven’t decided where yet!) before heading back to Queens for my Masters.