Unique Architectural Project has Designs on Next Generation of Architects

A unique exhibition that looks at how today’s architectural practices are responding to the expectations of newer generations is being put on by three budding students at the forthcoming Cardiff Design Festival to celebrate World Architecture Day (4 October).

The project, called ‘What Architects Do’, involved the students compiling material and putting into their own words what architects do and why good design matters.

Organised by the Design Commission for Wales, the Welsh School of Architecture and the Design Circle, the project saw students Megan Rourke, 17, Simon Keeling, 17 and Josh Morris, 15, spend time at one of three south Wales-based architecture practices.

Dubbed ‘Design Champions’ by the project, each student spent time in a firm over the school holidays, producing ‘design diaries’ of films, photographs, sketches, and observations for the exhibition, that are also available online at www.whatarchitectsdo.org.uk.

The students were put through their paces by architects Rob Firman (Austin-Smith: Lord), Michael Plageman (Davies Sutton Architects) and Dan Benham (Loyn and Co) and got involved in helping out in studio, meeting clients and donning hard hats on site to act as eye- witnesses on projects.

Carole-Anne Davies, chief executive of the Design Commission for Wales, said: “The scheme was an invaluable opportunity for these promising students to get to grips with architecture. It has shown them the complete spectrum of what architects do and, hopefully, inspired them to pursue a career in this field.

“By being part of the Cardiff Design Festival, the project will help to foster the next generation of architects and also help to raise awareness of the importance of good quality design among the general public.”

Sergio Pineda, tutor at the Welsh School of Architecture, said: “The architectural project is designed to encourage reflection on how today’s architectural practices are responding to the expectations of newer generations.

“The strategy behind the project was for was material to be compiled through the eyes of the young students and exhibited as a critical insight into the industry by its successors.”

Mhairi McVicar, chair of the Design Circle, said: “This has been a unique experience for the students, which has focussed on the people, processes and the atmosphere of architectural practices in Wales. We’re very much looking forward to seeing the work they’ve created at the Cardiff Design Festival. Their experience has not only been an insight for them, but a view to how the industry is perceived by future Welsh architects.”

An exhibition of the student’s findings will open at the Morgan Arcade in Cardiff on 4 October and will run through to 15 October as part of the Cardiff Design Festival. A public workshop in the Morgan Arcade on Saturday 8 October will provide opportunities to meet the Design Champions and their host architects in ‘Chat with the Champion’ and ‘Ask the Architect’ sessions, along with an ‘Architects-in-Action’ design competition between the participating architects.

The project is a major event in the Cardiff Design Festival, an annual celebration of the best in Welsh design across a range of disciplines. Throughout the Cardiff Design Festival (1-16 October) there will be a programme of talks, exhibitions and events, including the ‘What Architects Do’ public workshop, ‘The Best of Welsh Graduate Design’ and ‘Focus on Finishes with Boyce Rees Architects.’

Case Studies – Break out box

15-year old Josh Morris partnered with Michael Plageman, associate architect at Davies Sutton Architects

Josh Morris, who attends Llandaff Cathedral School, said: “I’ve found out that there is a lot more to architecture than just design. Michael has really shown me the process that they go through with each project, from researching materials to going out on site to oversee the building.

“My time at Davies Sutton Architects has been a really special opportunity. I feel I have gained an insight into architecture and learnt a variety of skills. I would definitely recommend doing something like this to other people my age.”

Michael Plageman said: “The experience was an excellent opportunity to get under the skin of the office. I tried to make the whole process as understandable as possible and show Josh how everything fits together.

“The prospects for students wishing to enter the profession are looking up. It was the commercial side of architecture that found it most difficult in the recession, but the niche sectors – for example, areas we specialise in such as historic buildings – rode it out quite smoothly, and other areas of the private sector are beginning to see an upturn in activity.”

Megan Rourke, 17, partnered with Rob Firman, director of performing arts projects at Austin-Smith: Lord

Megan Rourke, who attends Stanwell School in Penarth, said: “Before I started this work experience, I didn’t realise that you would have to pitch for business. It’s really competitive and a lot of research goes into coming up with the most innovative ideas to help win new contracts.

“I also learnt how some projects can take years to complete. Rob had been working on the Wales Millennium Centre for 10 years before it opened but, sometimes, he might only be working on a project for 10 weeks.”

Rob Firman said: “While we have little problem attracting young people to this profession, I often think some people’s perception of the industry is fundamentally flawed. People can often think of us as stuffy, office-bound and barrister like, but the reality is almost the opposite.

“That’s why this work experience has been so useful. The students have seen that it’s not all pretty pictures and colouring by numbers; it has given them a taste of the reality of architecture and a better idea of what they are, potentially, getting themselves into.

“It’s vital to train our successors. We take it very seriously and want to break down as many barriers as we can to an often misunderstood profession.”

17-year old Simon Keeling partnered with Dan Benham, project architect at Loyn & Co

Simon Keeling, who goes to Stanwell School in Penarth, said: “I’ve learnt how much patience and commitment goes into a project. There is so much attention to detail, from

planning which material is best to use, to thinking about sustainability, on top of working with a client to achieve something that both parties are happy with.

“I feel the whole experience has really developed my people skills as Dan had me phoning contractors and really getting involved in the projects. It has really made me passionate about pursuing a career in architecture, specifically of residential buildings, which Loyn & Co specialises in.”

Dan Benham said: “As well as teaching the students about the way the industry works, we were also able to learn a thing or two from them as well. It was useful to strip everything down and get back to the basics of architecture. We didn’t realise we used so much flowery language!

“It was great to have a fresh pair of eyes in the studio, and we were glad to have them contributing as they are often eager to push boundaries and bring a fresh way of thinking and questioning to the practice.”