RIBA South/South East Student Mentoring Scheme – Charlotte Earnshaw

Stage 3 – BA (Hons) Architecture

UCA, Thursday 14 November

Prior to meeting our mentors I had briefly researched the practice I had been paired with and so was excited to meet my mentor and find out more about the type of work they take on. I think the majority of us from UKC were curious about how valuable the scheme would be to us; at this point we had no real indication of how often we would be meeting our mentors and what sort of input we would have within their practices. We had been expecting to gain an insight into the goings on of life in a practice and, personally, I had been sceptical about how often I would be able to meet up with the mentors considering the heavy work load of 3rd year, and of course the availability of my mentor.

After the initial introductions we were encouraged by the organisers to take a seat in the UCA meeting area in order to get to know each other a bit more, and we got straight down to booking our next meeting time, Tuesday 10th December. From there we discussed the type of design projects my mentors practice are involved in and the nature of that work. It was interesting to compare university experiences between myself and my mentor and was it quite encouraging to be reassured that the hard work during third year will all be worth it in the end, although obviously there would be much more work to follow. I was able to ask a few questions and gained some helpful advice about portfolio presentation and the opportunities available for part 1 architecture students after university.

The initial meeting eased my nerves and afterwards I was thoroughly looking forward to the visit to practice in a few weeks’ time.

The Practice, Tuesday 10th December

After a very early start to the day and several train delays I made it to the practice (fortunately, on time) in Hythe, Kent. I was given a brief tour of the two studios (upstairs and downstairs work on differing projects to keep things organised) and introduced to various members of the team – designers, structural engineers, model makers and interior designers. Initially I was working on a housing project but I was quickly moved onto a local school extension and redevelopment project in the early stages of design. During this process I met and worked with my mentor where the skeleton of the School layout was amended and designed. It was very interesting to see several architects working in unison on one project and this gave me a greater understanding of how best to schedule the design process of my own university work.

Throughout the day problems were found within suggested schemes that had been made and eventually we found a solution which accommodated the required dimensions of class rooms and other educational facilities. It was my job to take the sketched layouts and transfer these dimensions to a CAD document and overlay this onto a site plan. More issues were found and overcome during this stage as some areas on the guideline sketch had been over or under estimated.

At the end of a VERY long first visit I was able to reflect upon my contribution to the team and was invited back for a week of work experience over the Christmas holiday period.

Monday 6th January – Friday 10th January

I began the week by working on the same school scheme that I had been involved with on my previous visit. It was interesting to see how the scheme had developed and I was quite pleased that the areas I had been part of developing were working well within the overall scheme. Instead of developing the school further, I was given the task of planning out a small area of the site which was originally a school car park and playground space – the proposed area is due to become a housing estate of fifteen units. I drew up the sketch scheme in CAD, a similar task to the one I did during my first visit. This task took several hours as various factors needed to be resolved.

Later in the week I moved onto a different housing project and took part in amending plans and elevation drawings. This project was due to meet a deadline on Friday so it was imperative that I worked efficiently and made use of the time wisely so that I was not hindering the development of the scheme by being slow. I feel that this experience was very important and I was able to put into context the importance of design flare accompanied by efficiency and ability to clearly and effectively communicate to other team members. I had been fortunate to work with a part 1 student in her year in industry during this design process which was helpful and I gained many useful tips during this process. I also used my knowledge of Photoshop and other display software to help layout sheets to be viewed at a large scale as presentation devices.

Large meetings were held throughout the week about the two projects I had been working with and further developments were made to both schemes, it was interesting to see the number of people required to be part of the process as I had not anticipated the importance of large meetings such as the ones held in these situations and have gained further understanding of the implication of time and money towards large scale developments of residential and educational developments.

In addition to the design work, I participated in mass tea/coffee making and A1 paper folding, both of which I am incredibly talented at!

By the end of the week I was feeling part of the team and was glad I had participated in a full week of mentoring rather than one single day as it gave me a fuller insight into the general process of development. I am looking forward to a site visit on my third visit and am hoping to the see the school developments later in the year.