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Diary of a Part 1: The large practice

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Yaling Li found working at Aukett Swanke allowed her to build a wider professional skill set

Reflecting on her time in practice as a Part 1 University of Nottingham student Yaling Li found that spending time at Aukett Swanke allowed her to build up a better understanding of practice framework and how this affected her to build a wider skill set.

Before my placement at Aukett Swanke, my Part 1 course at the University of Nottingham had helped me acquire essential architectural knowledge, design skills and critical thinking ability. I felt that this provided a solid base that could then be used for more practical purposes in a studio environment.

Upon starting my job as a Part 1 assistant, I had anticipated and accepted that there might be a general disconnection between university education and architectural practice. I found that in particular I needed to respect different rules and pursue different goals. When working on the school projects, I was asked to reach the furthest of creative intelligence; the brief was always open to change or even undefined, and I did not have to work within any strict regulations or budgets.

The architectural practice, in contrast, is dealing with real projects. I have to learn to design under inherent constraints and to always satisfy the clients’ needs. This has given me an awareness of architects’ additional roles and duties.

The recognition of this disconnection allows Aukett Swanke to structure the role of a Part 1 assistant in a way that it is both beneficial to my career development and the practice. Under the guidance of my mentor, I was always encouraged to ask questions of the experienced members of the design team. They were able to help me understand the CAD manuals and quality assurance systems, and my professional skill set has been largely improved during daily office practice.

The most challenging part for me has been to build up a coherent and comprehensive understanding of practice framework. Gradually I have been exposed to different projects at different stages, from concept design to construction. This process has granted me access to the wider network of the design process, meeting several other characters at play including the consultants, the clients and the planners, and making my understanding of the architectural process and the commercial reality much clearer.

Working as part of a creative team has proved invaluable in facilitating a range of relevant skills, especially independent learning, which will be incredibly useful to my future Part 2 and 3 studies. Therefore I would like to work with Aukett Swanke for another year if possible and continue to develop my career, further preparing me for the return to college study.

Yaling Li, Part 1, Aukett Swanke

Mentor: Sam Castling, design principal, Aukett Swanke

Yaling Li joined Aukett Swanke in November 2014 and has been working on a wide range and scale of projects from high-level masterplans and feasibility studies to detailed planning applications for new and refurbished buildings.

Architecture is multilayered. The capacity to promote originality while demonstrating appropriate design process and communication, however poetic, helps to create and establish robust design proposals and interventions. Yaling’s work displayed a well-proportioned array of architectural flamboyance and imagination coupled with integrity.

From the outset Yaling adapted incredibly well to the pressures of the professional workplace, and demonstrated that she could rise to the challenges of learning new procedures while maintaining her architectural flair and curiosity.

Yaling has shown a desire and thirst for knowledge, she questions the unfamiliar while proactively taking it upon herself to expand her architectural horizons. All of her discoveries are meticulously recorded in her extensive notebooks that help to log progress and identity areas for further investigation.

The professional relationship between the Part 1 student and their employer is a reciprocal one in which if the right amount of time is invested can lead to a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. I have greatly enjoyed mentoring Yaling and would like to work with her again, it’s evident she has a bright and creative future ahead.

Tutor:Alisdair Russell, year two and three undergraduate studio leader at the University of Nottingham and the managing director of Caven Associates Architects.

The relationship between architectural education and practice is a contentious issue, with many in the industry claiming that recent graduates are poorly equipped to enter the profession. From my perspective as both a university studio leader and a practice director, it does need to be carefully judged. Students are often accused of wilfully embarking on flights of fancy without sufficient understanding to be useful in practice. Categorically I feel that is not the case.
 
Yaling’s work was not driven by theory but by iterative development and a gradual refinement of structure, space, form and plan. Detailed study of the early works of the High-Tech movement and Cedric Price formed key influences, the architecture gaining its filigree through playful exposure of structure and skin.
 
In my own personal experience, students who have been through our studio unit at Nottingham over recent years have been employed for their vision, work ethic and skill. Much criticism is levelled at students for lacking technical ability and for projects not being ‘real world’; however being a student of architecture is a time to dream and a time to experiment, with a lifetime of experience to hone technical skills. The study of architecture, most importantly, teaches an approach – to be critical and inquisitive.

All of our student projects are geared to aspects of architecture of personal interest to them, and our teaching is personally structured accordingly, while ensuring that all projects are ‘buildable’ regardless of programmatic ambition. Indeed the feedback I have had from practices and ex-students has been extremely positive. Our approach to design allows them to absorb any aspects required of them in practice quickly and to a high standard.
 
As we emerge into a new era of construction, an often quite staggering level of computer literacy places students at the forefront of the industry; to lead rather than to be led. Experimentation should be encouraged, along with critical thinking and resolution. I feel there are very exciting times ahead for our new graduates in architecture.
 

 

 

 

 

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