Day in the Life: Architect
Published: 03 Oct 2014
My day begins at 7am – I’m not much of a morning person so really all I do is get ready for work, have some breakfast and get out the door. I like to walk to and back from work – it’s about a 30-minute walk each way, so it’s an easy way of getting some exercise into my day. Recently moving our office into the city centre was a massive bonus for me in this regard.
I aim to get into the office for 8.45am. Our official start time is 9.30am, so this gives me a good chunk of time to prepare for the day without the distractions of ringing phones or lots of people in the office.
One of many things I enjoy about my job is that my days can vary hugely. What I do each day depends on the projects I’m involved in and the stages they’re at. Some days I spend most of my time in the office doing desk-based things like developing concepts, putting together a planning application or general correspondence. Other days might consist mostly of meetings with clients, contractors, suppliers or other consultants and then on other days I’ll spend most of my time on site. I have a range of responsibilities, but my main role is to run a project from its start to its conclusion.
Once I’m at work, the first thing I do is have a cup of tea while I catch up on any e-mails that have arrived since the evening before. I have a strict rule to never check my work e-mails once I’ve left the office in the evening. Sometimes that’s not an easy thing to do, but I find it impossible to switch off from work otherwise.
After that, I plan out what I’m going to do or what I’d like to achieve that day. On a quiet day, if I don’t have any demanding or tricky projects on site I like to use mornings for more admin-based tasks like typing up letters or e-mails, reviewing/assessing cost construction reports, researching materials, filling in contract paperwork or generally just doing some project administration.
My busier days tend to be a result of projects being on site, in particular if it’s early on in the site stages. Starting on site is sometimes the most intense time of any project’s lifespan and, as such, it tends to be the time where it’s the most demanding of my time. It’s so busy because it’s the point where months of planning and several new people join the team that bring the project to life and take it from paper to a physical building. It’s also the point where any assumptions made about the existing building or site are challenged by the physical evidence and, as such, often calls for a quick reworking of certain details or confirmation of already worked-out ones.
I was recently involved in a project where we were working with a 162-year-old, three-storey former manse. The house was occupied up until just before work started on site so we couldn’t do any in-depth investigative work on the structure of the building – like cutting holes in walls or floors to see what lay behind or beneath, which is fairly typical when we’re working with existing buildings.
Once the building was empty and construction work started, the plasterboard linings stripped out of the area in question and it became clear that although we had been right about the original construction of the wall, someone had carried out work of their own in the last 50 years or so, and used a completely different method to put the wall back up. This meant that the steel system we’d designed wasn’t appropriate and we had to rethink the approach to take – not only quickly so that delay was minimised but we also had to do it as soon as the discovery was made.
This snapshot of a project not only captures how much my day can be influenced by a project on site, but it also gives a flavour of just how varied my job can be and how much “outside the box” knowledge is sometimes needed to go from idea to building.
This particular project was brilliant because it presented such an array of unexpected things for me to do or learn about, some of which are pretty standard but some of which were unusual. For this project I became an amateur historian/archaeologist on the building, the estate and the architect and heated garden walls, which indulged my inner Indiana Jones.
I also had to learn about bats, the types of roosts they have at what times of year, and how to accommodate them, and this was all before we could apply for planning permission.
I have lunch sometime between 1.30pm and 3.30pm, depending on how busy the day turns out to be. One of the requirements for the new office was to have as fully equipped a kitchen as possible because we sometimes have to work quite long/unusual hours. I tend to stay in for lunch but there are a variety of places to sit within the office which double up as breakout spaces from our open-plan main workspace – the perks of working for an architectural practice. My zone of choice at the moment is our lounge area that has an incredibly comfortable sofa with a large TV screen to boot.
Work after lunch is an extension of whatever I was up to in the morning. If I get the opportunity to, I enjoy doing more design-based work later in the day. I think it’s an extension of being at school when for two years I had double art class a couple of afternoons a week, since then I’ve always found it easier and more enjoyable to design, draw or be more creative later in the day.
Finish time is typically between 6pm and 7pm but this depends again on what I’ve been up to over the course of the day. I like to do tasks that are more company or business development related that are outwith my project-based work later in the day before I head home.
Through the week my evenings are pretty much dedicated to family, friends and doing any professional development or specific project research. For instance, I recently spent an hour or so reading up on drystone dykes building methods and how modern construction methods have impacted upon them. It helps when I need to lend advice to clients. It’s little details like this that make each day different; every project has its nuances. Sometimes the differences are slight but sometimes they’re exciting and unexpected. Who knows, I might get to be an archaeologist again someday soon.