Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more


  • Comment

Choosing the right place to work is one of the most important decisions you make. This guide aims to help both people training to be architects and those looking to develop their careers. Sutherland Lyall offers advice on choosing an employer and securing a job, and information on key practices is provided.

By the time you have paid your first annual fee to ARB you will have spent at least a couple of years in and out of architects' offices. But how do you get a job with a practice in the first place?

And how do you continue to get jobs and experience during those two journeyman decades before, as architectural mythology has it, you might be able to go on site with your first major building?


At the moment there is something of a sellers' market. The Bartlett reports that its Part 2 graduates expect to get three job offers for every four interviews. Annually it offers university places to only 90 of a typical applicant list numbering 1,800, so perhaps this is not typical of all schools. But other more general indications of the balance of the job market include the fact that headhunters from some large and medium-sized architectural firms have adopted the longstanding practice of the design world and now scout the degree and diploma shows.

They are searching for that elusive talent that will shake up the too-even tenor of the firm's ways, inject some radical thinking and, perhaps, end up beguiling the more knowing clients.

This need to search for talent along with recent changes in employment law and practices mean that a lot of current employment packages for architects are extensive and quite seductive. They are, frankly, devised to persuade talented designers to commit to a long-term relationship.

There is a certain amusement for outsiders in watching established architects who have set up on their own or with some college friends, been successful and, by middle age, grown mediumsized and sometimes large practices. As students they wanted to run their own practices and they wanted as much variety in their early architectural experience as possible. But now they are urging, in addition to the flair and perhaps maverick drive of their own early years, the need for consistency and practice loyalty.


Tyro architects with good degrees and attractive portfolios are well aware of all this. They are not immune to the celebrity aspect of certain practices. So it is cool to work with the current stars: Foster, Rogers, Grimshaw, Farrell, Adjaye, et al. And, in some cases, Quinlan Terry and Robert Adam. These are names the chosen can casually drop in the bar after work because they, among all the UK's student output that year, have been called. Also, and this is not necessarily good news for practices with corporate intentions for the highest of young high-fliers, rather a lot of them intend to set up on their own. Actually, it has always been like this. But happily for practices on the lookout for talent attached to longterm commitment, a lot never get around to it.


It would be a real sellers' market were it not for the fact that quite a lot of young architects from all over the world want to work in the UK - mostly in London. Fletcher Priest director Tim Fyles says: 'We have people writing in to us from all over the world and our staff is multinational: Colombian, Argentinian, Swedish, Australian, New Zealanders - and, because we have a German office, German. So we also have to ask people about their work visas and whether they want to stay beyond their official time.'

You hear the odd grumble rippling through the afterwork bars, not so much because there are too many foreigners about but because some of them, although very talented, are apparently prepared to work for little or no salary. It happens.

John Assael says: 'We sometimes have people who say they will work for us for nothing. We just don't want them.'


One of the problems (and great pleasures) for young architects is that, like the priesthood, architecture is almost more of a vocation than a profession. In one of his last pieces, Reyner Banham compared the training of architects with the long initiation of young Samoans in the tribal longhouse famously described by anthropologist Margaret Mead. In architectural longhouses all over the world architects are imbued with the mores and customs and habits and traditions of the international tribe and come out from their final ritual cleansing to take their place in the hierarchy of the tribal community. As one Part 1 graduate put it: 'You can't do it as a nine-to-five job. You are never going to make any money at it - and because it is so badly paid you have to love it.'

The downside of loving what you do is that young architectural office-fodder is exploitable, however unconsciously, especially in terms of excessive unpaid overtime, because that is one way of signifying your commitment to the tribal cause. It is also, according to one student, to do with being foreign and having rich parents. 'They sometimes work for less, especially Germans, and they are willing to work massively long hours, whereas home kids might like to have a life.' Anecdotal evidence suggests that working excessively long hours is probably more prevalent in London - and that it also applies across all the professions.


Most architects are white, middle class and male. Architects would like more women who start architecture courses to continue them.

One partial explanation to why they don't may be the general tendency reported by the Bartlett's head, Ian Borden, at a recent AJ conference 'Achieving Practice Success, ' ( ajplus 12.01.07) that 'many students are choosing to treat Part 1 as a stand-alone degree'. As one female Part 1 student, committed to running her own practice put it: 'White, male, public school: you are very conscious of that. And you graduate when you are 26 or so and at around 33 or 34, if you want to have kids, you have to take a career break. So it's very interesting how women manage to do it.'

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.