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Alison Brooks: 8 tips for starting a practice

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‘8 things I wish I knew when I started out’ from the AJ Woman Architect of the Year 2013

Brooks, set up her own practice Alison Brooks Architects in 1996. It is the only practice to have won the Stirling Prize, the Manser Medal and the Stephen Lawrence Prize.

Speaking at the AJ Women in Architecture Winners Talk held at the Zaha Hadid-designed ROCA London Gallery, Brooks shared her top tips for starting a practice.

Alison Brooks

8 tips for starting a practice: Things I wish I knew when I started out

  1. If you’re working in an office now, treat it like your own office
    When I started with Ron Arad, that’s what I did. If something needed doing, I would just do it. Don’t wait to be asked. It’s a great way to learn about running a business
  2. Be experimental
    Don’t be afraid to try new things. It’s the best way to learn
  3. Be part of the architectural community
    Go out, make contacts, ask questions and become part of the industry. Later on, these people will help and support you.
  4. Get a business loan to inject steam your business
    When I started out, I didn’t realise you could get a business loan. During the early days, I was paying staff using my overdraft and my credit card. But you can get a business loan and invest in a decent printer, better IT… So invest in yourself, and pay the loan back over time
  5. Treat every project like it will be your last
    If you pour your heart and soul into projects, you will do better work
  6. Get a professional photographer to photograph your finished work
    We wouldn’t have got nearly as much publicity if we didn’t get professional photos taken. It’s an investment, and it’s worth it.
  7. Do competitions regularly, they will be your portfolio pieces, your research and development
    After Accordia I thought I was in danger of becoming trapped as a housing architect. So I entered some competitions. This was a way to get into public projects, and if you don’t win then the work you do is good for research and development. Competitions will give you the confidence to tackle a building type you’ve never encountered before
  8. Hang on to your idealism and values
    As Deborah Saunt said, ‘Hang on to your idealism and values, and be yourself’ - that’s a great piece of advice. If you stay true to your values then architecture doesn’t seem so much of a struggle
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