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Consulting Engineers

Ever dug a foundation?

I know of architects who’ve done their time working on a construction site before they got anywhere near a university.

And there are others who took summer jobs on site, or did a bit of building work before they found their first architecture role. And some who are building their own home right now and getting their hands dirty.

But still, there are a lot of architects who haven’t done any physical building on site. And the truth is, once you get a steady job, or start running your own practice, it becomes difficult to break away and work on a building project.

You’re already working long hours that clash with the hours on most building sites, so even if you wanted to get some experience it would be quite challenging to do so.

It’s a shame, because it would be really beneficial for all architects to work on site in a practical, physical building role. Otherwise we have to deal with the challenges that arise when we create skilled architects and designers who have never been involved directly in the building process.

There’s something about being on site and bringing a project to life from the ground up, that gives people a much deeper understanding of what’s required.

As a young engineer in South Africa, I had to work a minimum of 6 months on site in order to get enough site experience to count towards my relevant experience to qualify as a Professional Engineer. I enjoyed the time on site as it gave me an insight on how buildings were put together and constructed on site, which has proved to be very valuable experience. I have spent a lot of time on site since then and make a point of taking my young engineers on site whenever I can as I strongly believe it makes them better engineers, as it broadens their experience and knowledge of the practical aspects of engineering. Wouldn’t Architects gain the same benefits if they did the same?

Sydney-based architect Oliver Steele, founder of Steele Associates, shares my opinion and has talked openly about being one of a rare breed – an architect who builds. He says, “It is odd to me that it is considered unusual to do both. I’ve learned a lot about building from designing, and a lot about designing from building”.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Engaging with the building process gives you more practical knowledge, and enables greater creativity as you can rethink what’s possible both in terms of materials and construction.

What can we do to make sure that junior architects in particular get this type of experience?

Do you think that more on site experience would be beneficial? Or perhaps you don’t think it’s necessary? I would be interested to hear your opinion on this.

And if you have any projects you’d like our input on, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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