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  • Writer's pictureRic Blenkharn

The role of an Architect

‘Do you draw plans?’ I can’t recall the number of times people have asked me that question when I have mentioned that I am an architect. I am constantly amazed that so little is known about what it means to be an architect and the time it takes to gain professional qualification. Seven years is the accepted minimum, involving taking two degrees and undertaking two years in working practice. At the end of the seven years there is a stringent professional practice exam to sit, before you can rightly call yourself an architect and begin life in practice.

For me, that role began in 1980 and I’ve had my own practice since 1987, which became Bramhall Blenkharn in 1994. I’ve been reflecting on this time, as we consider making a book of some of the projects we have worked on and to recognise the scores of people we have worked with. It has been illuminating to revisit the hundreds of schemes we have been involved with across the county. It has been an opportunity to look forward and to recognise that regeneration is taking place-so that the practice remains fresh, vibrant and committed to making a difference in all that we do. Like any business, it has been important to encourage and nurture staff on their own life journeys. I recognised from a very early stage of my career, that learning is a two way process, young learn from old and vice versa in equal amounts.

It has led me to think about what it takes to become an architect, and why clearly I feel that the profession has much to offer. For me, a very practical upbringing helped, with memories of helping my dad on various DIY projects across the home. From a very early age, I was busy with a hammer, saw and nails, building dens and go-karts and learnt how materials needed to be fastened together. Holiday jobs during school and further education were often spent on building sites. I learnt how heavy a hundredweight bag of cement was. I realise now, why health and safety implications have halved manual handling weights! I learnt the skill of hurling pairs of bricks onto a catcher on the scaffold so that their optimum trajectory was weightless-the cost being many a trapped finger end!

Educationally, a broad range of subjects is important. At school art, physics, chemistry, maths, geology, geography and English all had a role to play. At university you clearly learn about design, but you also learn about climate and geography, as to how they affect siting of buildings. You learn about the formation of settlements and transport systems. You have field study trips to both sketch and question how towns and villages have been formed. You learn about sociology and how behaviour is affected by the environment you create. You learn about structure, from foundations upwards. You learn about materials and detailed construction. You learn about building technologies. You learn about architectural theory and how to translate ideologies into practice. Through rigorous criticism [crit] sessions you learn to explain and defend your ideas. You learn to communicate passionately with others, through the exchange and enhancement of ideas. You learn to communicate through drawings and the making of physical models. You learn about planning legislation, building regulation requirements and health and safety issues. You study the law associated with design and construction. You learn about running an architectural practice and employment law. In fact, there’s very little not covered by the curriculum. It is in fact one of the broadest most engaging professions to be involved with. You never stop learning, and you never stop imagining and developing the next project. Sure there are frustrations as in any job, but the rewards are real and tangible. The built legacy of the practice is something to be immensely proud of.

At least I think so anyway!

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