It’s too hard to be a Part 1 Architect
I once had a story relayed to me. During the annual Open House tours, a friend of mine happened to get the chance to visit the London Offices of a world renowned ‘Starchitect’. Whilst visiting the offices, he had the opportunity to chat with one of the Part 1 students working there. This is the story that transpired from that conversation:
The student had been working at this practise for 5 years, and during that time had only worked on one project. That project was based somewhere in the Middle East, at a site the student had never visited. 5 years. 5 years is a long time to spend on a project, but even longer when you spend the entirety of that period working on window details. The student also divulged that during those 5 years they had rarely left work before 9pm, most nights there until 10pm. Sleeping in the office was considered normal, standard practise. The workload was impossible to meet within a normal working week, and those who were unable to keep pace lost their positions to those who would put the extra, unpaid hours in. Shut up and put in, or get out. All this work, was undertaken for a wage not equivalent to someone flipping burgers or stacking shelves in a supermarket.
As an architect, you are no doubt there because you’ve fallen in love with the buildings of some of the worlds greatest architects. You’ve read their books, visited cities around the world dotted with their masterpieces, and dreamt of some day creating your own. For most, working for one of them, gaining vast experience and knowledge from them, is the goal. But why is it acceptable for part I architects to be worked in such a way, for less than mediocre pay? Is it the industries fault that we are undervalued, underpaid and over worked? Absolutely.
The sad truth is that when any job comes along in this current market, you must snap it up. Employers know how limited the jobs are, and use this to their advantage with lousy renumeration packages. I’m not expecting part I students to earn 6 figures, but something that at least matches the level of commitment, effort and time it takes to fulfil the role.
I’ve heard the argument from some that “this is the way the industry is, even qualified architects earn very little, thats just the way it is”. Why is it? Architects are highly trained, highly skilled professionals. It isn’t easy to become one, and right now, its getting bloody hard to remain one.
It’s about time RIBA showed a little back bone and helped support architects, at all levels. Why is there no pay structure in place to make sure services rendered are properly and adequately paid for? Why is it OK to pay a qualified part I the equivalent of £5 an hour (that is what £15000 a year worked out at once you start working 10 hour days)? The situation is deplorable, unacceptable and RIBA, architect firms and the governing bodies within construction should be ashamed.
I enjoy being an architect. It’s fulfilling (at times), engaging and the high you feel watching your design being built is amazing. But the way in which those coming through the universities are treated is awful, and it’s about time we developed a little support for them so in 15 years from now, we have architects giving back to the next lot, rather than feeding into this horrid cycle of ‘well, it was like that for me’.
These major architecture firms that are taking on part I students should start fulfilling their role as educator/employer, and make sure that the year out the student is taking is worthwhile. The pay is rubbish right now, but there is no need for it remain that way. A little more respect from everyone for the role which we play in construction will help to rectify these situations.