October 2016, Richard Hopkinson Architects

For my first entry I want to share a few of my previous practical experiences. I have selected two similar projects I worked on at my previous practice as a comparative reflective study. This journal entry will be slightly longer than later entries to cover an extended period of time in practice.

Before joining the Welsh School of Architecture at Cardiff University I worked at Richard Hopkinson Architects (RHA) for a year and seven months. I began my time here in October 2014 after I had finished my undergraduate degree. This was with a great deal of curiosity and nerves as I hadn’t had any substantial experience in an architectural office environment before.

In my first week, I started on a small 4 bedroom housing scheme worth £500k in Tonbridge. Looking back at all the projects I worked on at RHA, this was the best thing for me to have started on. The director of the practice, Richard, talked me through a great deal of the initial stages that the project would go through. He importantly took me along to initial client meetings. Although we held meetings in a professional manner they felt very informal at times which I was told was common for small scale domestic jobs. My boss explained how vital a tool good communication is in these meetings to achieve a successful end product. My starting role was to prepare client presentations for upcoming meetings, including graphics generated from sketch-up models that I built in the office. The project progressed slowly after the first meetings and design meetings were held weekly until January when we held the first pre-planning meeting. I was told it took a long time between the first client meetings and planning stages. I later realized this for myself after another similar project took a much shorter time to get to a final planning submission. By February I was working on final planning drawings and the design access statement to submit for planning after a second positive sounding pre-planning meeting. Unfortunately, this particular project never passed planning.

I learned a great deal from this project about the first stages of the RIBA plan of work. I learned how the architect-client dynamic works alongside each design stage as well as the relationship between the architect; the planners and their role within the design process. I started developing a practical vocabulary and  learned of the drawing standards in the profession and what is expected in a planning proposal. Through observing the whole initial process I could see that good communication with the planners is the key element for a successful end result and a foundation for later stages. Perhaps we misinterpreted pre planning advice given to us at an early stage in this project which lead to a negative end result. Importantly, I now had an introductory understanding of real life time scales of projects in practice.

The project on Rodney Avenue wasn’t the only project I was working on during this period. I prepared design presentations and consultation boards for an educational project in Eastleigh and produced rendered visuals for our client on the Yarrow Training Hotel in East Kent. This project was already underway on a design and build contract. I think I would have found multiple projects running alongside each other a lot more challenging before working in practice and during this period I dramatically improved my organizational and time keeping skills.

The second project I want to share was the last project I worked on at RHA and was for a small house in Tunbridge Wells. I came into the project a lot more confident and aware of local planning processes and the documentation needed to formulate a final planning application after my initial experience designing  the house in Tonbridge. After two months on the project I had put together all the necessary planning documents and we submitted the application. This was a lot quicker than the Tonbridge scheme. The house got called up to a planning committee meeting at the town hall in which I attended to decide the fate of the application. The meeting lasted an hour and a half and was a vital experience for me to hear from all the people involved in the planning stages so far in one room, as well as members of the public voicing their concerns. After much debate with my drawings being presented to a room of around 40 people including a jury panel, council members, highways officers, planners, neighbors etc. the jury passed the house for planning.

The planning committee experience helped me to understand the associated democratic and perhaps bureaucratic elements involved in the planning stages. It was a great introduction into planning politics. Perhaps the good end result can be accredited to a better level of communication among everyone involved, including a better relationship with the client and the planning officer involved.

I feel that working for a smaller practice has been more beneficial for my early development as it has come with a high level of responsibility that I may not have been involved in at a larger practice. The small schemes have also been beneficial in easing me into the professional world of architecture. I will be keen to experience a larger practice for my next placement to understand the differences in practice organization and to compare the nature of working on larger schemes. I also hope to gain more site experience in order to become more aware of the later stages of work in practice.


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