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Enter the AJ/Curtins Inspiring Graduate Prize

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A £1,000 bursary and a profile in the AJ are on offer to an outstanding graduate who has made a significant impact

When Bill Curtin was expelled from school, aged just 14, his career prospects can’t have looked too favourable. Still, after a spell doing a desk job at engineer Sir Frederick Snow and Partners he founded engineering practice WG Curtin & Partners (now Curtins), a company that would endure long after his death in 1991. Curtin strongly believed in the value that young people could bring to his business, employing both university graduates and young people from a youth centre in Toxteth, one of Liverpool’s most deprived areas.

For the second year running, Curtins is partnering with the AJ to offer the AJ/Curtins Inspiring Graduate Prize – a competition inspired by Bill Curtin himself. With a £1,000 bursary and profile in the AJ up for grabs, the contest celebrates an outstanding Part 2 or Part 3 graduate who has made a significant impact on an architectural business, or demonstrated good business sense on an independent project.

Last year’s winner, Vanessa Lee, 30, (pictured) studied architecture and landscape at Sheffield University and is a Part 3 graduate at BuckleyGrayYeoman. To mark this year’s competition the AJ caught up with Lee at a scheme she has been working on up to construction stage. Pure Aldgate is a 16-storey student accommodation block in east London which stands out with its zig-zagging elevations and orange terracotta cladding.

It was amazing to have that extra £1,000 to top up the fees and get the equipment I needed

Lee believes showing commitment to a variety of projects is the key to winning the AJ/Curtins Inspiring Graduate Prize. ‘I put quite a diverse mix into my application,’ she says. It was Lee’s sanitation project for an NGO in Agra, India, that set her apart from the other finalists. The project involved improving the town’s drainage systems and creating clean water using low-level technology. A piggery was created to house pigs which previously foraged in the sewers, and toilets built utilising the treated water. Lee also advises those entering in 2016 to ‘demonstrate a bit of personality, rather than just listing a whole realm of projects’ and to ‘carefully select projects that best reflect what you enjoy and the range of stuff that you’ve worked on’. The entry should also be ‘unique to yourself’, she advises.

Since winning the award last November, Lee has mainly worked on fitting out three floors at BuckleyGrayYeoman’s office refurb at 10 Bloomsbury Way in London. While the project is smaller than her highest-profile scheme to date – the refurbishment of the 16-storey Henry Wood House – it still has the same ‘feel and presence,’ she says. As for the future, Lee is excited (but tight-lipped on details) about working on a new build, which will be submitted for planning in late June or early July.

Lee says she ‘put to good use’ the £1,000 bursary she received, commendably spending it on fees and books for her Part 3.

‘It was amazing to have that extra £1,000 to top up the fees and get the equipment that I needed to be able to study,’ she says.

What advice would Lee give to aspiring graduates? ‘You always have to go in and be realistic,’ she says. ‘It’s a business – it’s not just designing every day. Sometimes you can’t do the design you want to do because you have to respect the needs of the client and the market.’

She adds that the business side of architecture is often about ‘making sure you do a good job and making a good impression’ to ensure clients come back for future projects.

Lee argues that to be successful in architecture, you have to be up for anything. She says: ‘You just have to be open to everything and keep absorbing all the information around you.’

About Curtins

Bill Curtin

· Bill Curtin (left) founded his engineering consultancy, WG Curtin & Partners (now Curtins), in 1960 from his bedroom in Liverpool.

 · The company offers a range of services including structural engineering, transport planning, civil and infrastructure engineering, geo-environmental advice and stakeholder engagement.

· The independently owned company now has 13 offices across the UK and Ireland. Its headquarters remain in Liverpool.

· Curtins was placed 34th in this year’s Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list. In 2015, it was voted in the top 50 of the Building Good Employers Guide.

· Curtins is currently in charge of transport planning for an entire block of homes within the Covent Garden Conservation Area in central London, after architect Piercy & Company won permission to replace the block in April.

How to enter

Entries are now open for the AJ/Curtins Inspiring Graduate Prize.

 · Shortlisted entries will be invited to present their projects on 24 November in Manchester.

· The overall winner will be announced on 25 November at the AJ100 Members Lunch in Manchester (all shortlisted entries need to attend both days).

· The deadline for entries is 30 September 2016.

Click here to apply 

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