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Becoming an Architect in the UK: The overall process

If you want to become an Architect in the UK, it takes time, dedication and hard work. The route to full qualification is typically as follows:

This route would take a minimum of 7 years to complete, however, many people choose to work for longer between their Part 1 and 2 to save up money for their studies, or before starting Part 3 to build up their knowledge, expertise and experience. The Part 3 course can be started as early as the September following the completion of your Part 2 course, and is studied on a part time basis. Duration ranges between schools from 12 months to 24 months.

An alternative to the traditional route has been introduced by way of apprenticeships, which can offer Part 1 or Part 2/3 equivalent qualifications. Four universities are currently validated by the RIBA to offer the apprenticeships: London South Bank University, University of Bath, University of West England and De Montfort University.

The Viva Voce (oral interview)

Your final interview, the Viva Voce, will last approximately 45 minutes and will be conducted by two interviewers. The interview begins with 5 minutes of introduction and explanation of the process as well as gently warming up the conversation. Discussion about your Case Study will last approximately 20 minutes, with one of the interviewers taking the lead. Your Career Appraisal and career in general will also have approximately 20 minutes of discussion and questions, typically with the other interviewer, however both examiners can and will ask questions about any area. There is time allowed for at the end of the interview for any questions you have.

As you would to a job interview, you should dress professionally and comfortably. Arrive in plenty of time for your scheduled interview, to give yourself plenty of time to calm yourself beforehand. Remember, you are presenting yourself as a confident professional.

To prepare for the interview you should re-read your submission and reflect upon what went wrong and what you would do differently. You should also look for any weaker areas of your submission and prepare yourself for any questions that might arise. You could also consider some generic questions that may come up:

  • What legal ramifications could you face if you suffer a loss of data?
  • What process would you go through when starting a new practice?
  • What were the differences between your Part One and Part Two universities?
  • From a commercial sense, what is the benefit of repeat clients?
  • What is a professional?
  • How do you see your career progressing in the future?
  • How could you use CPDs to strengthen your areas of weakness?

Answering a question you don’t know the answer to

Whilst the interview usually becomes more of a discussion than an interrogation, you should also prepare yourself to respond to a question you do not know the answer to. A good examiner will probe your understanding to reach the limit of your knowledge, aiding you with rephrasing of questions where necessary or possible, and obviously you will not know everything, so it is important to confront the issue of a question that you simply do not know the answer to.

Responding with an immediate “I don’t know” or worse, a lengthy silence, is unlikely to sit well with the examiners. One tactic would be to take a moment to think about the question, and then consider what you do know of relevence. If you are asked a question about Listed Building Consent which you do not know, you may be able to respond with an answer explaining your understanding in relation to Planning Consent, whilst acknowledging that you have not had direct experience of the scenario in question and it is something you will take away with you for further research. Remember, it is not a problem to not know an answer, but a professional must know where to look to locate the right answer.

When you receive the (hopefully) positive result about a month afterwards, you can register as an Architect with the ARB. The title of ‘Architect’ is a protected title in the UK and if you are not on the register, you cannot use the title!

Part Three: Final submission

Your final submission document is likely to be comprised of the following elements:

  • your CV
  • a Career Appraisal
  • a Case Study
  • 24 months of PEDRs

CV

Your CV is included to offer an overall snapshot of your professional experience, so it is important to make sure it is fully updated! It can also be a good idea to include a small snapshot of selected projects to help reinforce the message that you have a diverse professional experience. During my final interview, one of the examiners commended me for not only including some selected projects, but for detailing the extent of my involvement.

Career Appraisal

The career appraisal allows you to share your ambitions, goals and experience. It is important to write honestly and thoughtfully, as you will probably be asked questions during your oral interview, particularly on how you intend to reach your stated goals.

Many people chose to include pie charts summarising their experiences at different work stages, which can make it easier to highlight areas of strength and weakness. It is also beneficial to include elements of a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat) analysis, which is often the starting exercise for your first draft of the appraisal. The appraisal should be approximately 4000-5000 words in length, which will feel uncomfortably short if you have a lot of experience to cover.

Case Study

The Case Study is the main bulk of your submission at 10,000 words. Whilst marks cannot be deducted solely for exceeding the word limit, you will be marked on your presentation and professionalism, so keep that in mind if you submit a 20,000 word Case Study! The Case Study is the vehicle in which you demonstrate to an examiner than you have experienced, or at least shadowed, across all work stages. Your Case Study is not a diary, and it is critical that you contrast your experiences with “best practice” methods, offering sufficient analysis, reflection and recomendations.

It is important to make it absolutely clear where your involvement with the project begins and ends, particularly if you are shadowing someone through part of the project. Many people will find the need to write their Case Study on two different projects in order to cover enough of the work stages. In this scenario it is important to write clearly and efficiently about each project to avoid any confusion, or lack of information, about the project. A project timeline and a summary sheet are two efficient tools to outline your involvement across the project, as well as the key facts for the reader.

When writing your Case Study you will be tempted to include absolutely every single piece of information, from emails to planning drawings and site photos. Whilst it is important to include enough information, you should only include the absolute minimum amount of information required to make the point. he readability of your Case Study will improve greatly if you keep the appendices to a minimum. For example, if you are critiquing the appointment letter, it would make sense to include the letter, but you would not need to include 10 pages of emails with the client leading up to the appointment.

PEDR‘s

Your PEDR’s will not only contain an account of your professional experiences, but also your reflections, feedback from your mentor and comments from your PSA. It is important to put some effort into your PEDR’s as they are the evidence of the varied experience you have had in practice. The reflections you make, as well as the outlook you had at the time, can be useful when writing your career appraisal, and may be called upon during your oral interview. One of the first questions I was asked during my final interview related to one line I wrote in one of my earliest PEDR’s. Reflection and self-analysis is an important skill to master throughout your career and will make goal setting much easier and worthwhile.

Part Three: Open book exams

An ‘open book’ exam means you are allowed to take books and other material into the exam with you. Any material found within the public domain can be taken in, which includes: books, presentation slides and course handouts. Any personal annotations in your materials must be kept to an absolute minimum.

A three hour exam sounds like a long time, but the amount of information you need to provide in your answers means you will need to be efficient in finding any information and writing your answers. Colour coded tabs or some other system of organisation will make it much easier to find information during the stress of an exam.

Remember, having a sufficient amount of information to reference during an exam will prove to be useful, even a life saver, but taking too much information in could be more of a hindrance.

It is crucial to practice with past papers to get the hang on the types of questions, the level of information required and the time it takes to complete each question. The exams at the University of Westminster had a choice of 8 questions, of which you would answer 5. Each exam had one question which was mandatory to answer. The compulsory question for the Law exam is typically about procurement routes and advising the client, and the compulsory question for the Practice Management exam is usually about the appointment and risks.

It is worth remembering that the multiple choice answers are worth the same amount of marks but are much faster to answer than the other questions.

Part Three: Workplace preparation

It is important to discuss your career ambitions with your employer as early as possible. Your employer may be able to offer support, in way of fee funding or employee mentorship schemes, as well as arranging suitable work based experiences.

Many employers wish to retain their staff, particularly if they have been with the firm for a lengthy period, and it is fairly common for course fees to be paid for. If your practice does pay your course fees, you will be expected to stay at the firm for a minimum period after you complete your course. If you decide to leave before the time restriction is up, you will be expected to refund some or all of your fees. It is worth discussing any arrangement of this kind with a HR professional before you make a commitment.

Medium and large sized practices may have internal mentoring schemes, which would be highly beneficial when progressing through Part 3. There will probably be many questions that you will have throughout the process, and having a workplace based mentor would quickly bring you answers to most of your questions. Workplace based mentor schemes may also have access to a wide range of materials specific to the type of projects you have worked on. This can be particularly useful if you need to review contracts and other professional material.

You will need to ensure you have enough experience across the various RIBA Stages of Work to satisfy the ARB Criteria. If you look back across your PEDR sheets and find that you are too heavily involved at Stage 2, you may be able to spend some more time at a different stage if you raise this with your Director.

Part Three: Mindset

Throughout the Part Three course, and especially so for the Oral, you need to have the right mindset. You are trying to demonstrate to the examiners that you are worthy of the professional title of Architect. If you do not have the mindset of the professional, if you are not confident in your role, you will not come across as a confident professional.

There are countless opportunities in the workplace to boost your confidence as professional. Speaking up during a meeting, instructing an external consultant or arguing your case with the planners are all factors that will give you a confidence boost. Presenting your Case Study project to your colleagues one lunch time is a great way to practice your presentation skills, demonstrating your knowledge and understanding of the project as well as opening yourself up to some constructive criticism.

It is also crucial to be positive in your writing of the Case Study and your Career Appraisal. You should be celebrating your successes, and projecting a positive message.

Part Three: Recommended reading

The amount of knowledge you need to absorb is vast and selecting the correct books to rely on can make a huge difference to your learning. The list of books below are those I reached for most often and used during the open book exams. Recommended by tutors during lectures, by friends and colleagues, this small selection is a great starting point:

Most university libraries will have a good range of books suitable for Part 3 study, and many universities have a huge range of online sources available. The University of Westminster had a subscription to the Construction Information Service, which provided me with all of the contracts, and associated guides, that I would need. This service was incredibly useful and I would highly recomend using it if your university is subscribed.

Tip: Forming a study group with your fellow students can provide quick access to a wide range of shared material, as well as asking recently qualified friends and colleagues if they have any useful material to share too. This method gave me access to material unavailable from the library or online and too expensive to start buying.

Photograph of a library shelf
A well stocked library

RIBA Part Three (Professional qualification)

Please note: The information contained here is based on my own personal experience at the University of Westminster, which will be slightly different to other universities.

The course run by the University of Westminster is based around one evening lecture per week, covering law and regulations during Semester One then practice management and finances during Semester Two. Each semester has one open book exam.

A personal tutor will be assigned to you early on, and they will set their own schedule for tutorials and setting of draft submissions, however, a semi-formal university deadline for a first draft will be early in Semester Two. This draft submission is mandatory but you will not receive a draft mark.

In early June your final submission will be made, which is comprised of your Case Study (10k words), your CV & Career Appraisal (4k words) and your full set of PEDRs in one single bound document.

Oral interviews are usually held in September, and are largely based on your Case Study and Career Appraisal. Results are announced in mid-October.

Deferral

Approxiamtely 10-15% of students enrolled on the course at the University of Westminster will defer each year. A deferral could be needed due to the lack of a suitable case study project, delays to your project going on site or a whole range of other reasons. You can self-defer, or you may be encouraged to do so by your tutor and in January you will likely receive instructions on how to self-defer.

When you defer, you will defer two modules at the same time (Professional Case Study and Professional Development and Experience). You will be given the option to defer by 6 months for a January submission and February oral, or by 12 months for a June submission and September oral.

Preparing for RIBA Part Three

Before applying to start a Part Three, it is important to consider if you are professionally ready. A huge part of the Part Three submission is your Case Study, which requires you to be involved with a project reaching at least Stage 5 on the RIBA Plan of Work 2013. An ideal case study project would be a small, traditionally procured project, which you work on across all project Stages (0-7). The chances of this scenario occuring for you are quite slim, unless you have many years experience, so most people will only have a small role in a project across certain stages. It is understood by the RIBA that it is difficult to gain exposure to each stage, so within your case study you can observe a project through some stages and have active involvement in others to demonstrate your experience across all stages of work. It is more difficult to convince the examiners of your ability through construction stage if you have not been actively involved in the project, so it is important to discuss the Part 3 requirements with your superiors at work to make sure you are working on a project (or projects) that will allow you to meet the experience criteria.

As many projects are now procured via the Design & Build route, this can easily be incorporated into your case study, however, it is likely you will need to contrast the Design & Build method against the traditional procurement route. Your personal university tutor will tell you what you need to include and what comparisons you need to make for your individual Case Study. It would be beneficial to obtain a balanced level of professional experience across the each stage of work where possible, as part of the submission is usually a Career Appraisal.

If you have fallen behind with your PEDRs, it would also be highly beneficial to update them as much as possible before starting the Part Three course. It is also worth noting that compiling and having signed off all of your PEDRs within the same period of time shortly before submission may demonstrate a lack of awareness, unreliability or lack of professional discipline to your examiners. Remember, you are trying to prove you are a competent, experienced professional worthy of the registered title ‘Architect’.

RIBA Part Two (Postgraduate)

A RIBA Part Two course will build upon the knowledge already gained, whilst exposing you to more complex project briefs and more challenging research. Some people choose to return to the same university they attended for Part One, which can offer the benefit of a familiar surrounding. On the other hand, choosing a different university can allow you to conduct research or study in a specific area closer aligned with your career aspirations.

The course will be largely similar to the RIBA Part One course already undertaken, whilst the skills and knowledge gained during the Stage 1 practical experience can also feed into your projects. The project briefs at Part Two will be more advanced, to reflect your experience level and the higher demands expected of you, and you will be expected to develop your projects to a higher level. Many courses will integrate your optional modules with your design studio in some way, and students who obtain the highest marks typically capitalise on this integration strongly.

Any areas of interest that you have discovered in your career so far should be leveraged when selecting studios and other modules, and can really start to mould your professional profile within sectors or styles. A consistent approach to style and area of interest will help you to develop a strong, distinct and coherent portfolio.

Stage Two practical experience

Upon completion of your Part Two course, you will begin your Stage Two practical experience, for the purposes of your PEDR sheets. You will need to start completing PEDR sheets again, but under the Stage Two category. You will need to continue to do this even if you begin a Part Three course in the September following your Part Two course ending. This means you will be studying for Part Three, writing your Case Study and completing your remaining PEDR sheets all at the same time.

RIBA Part One (Undergraduate) and year out

RIBA Part One

Beginning study at university is a fun, exciting and amazing time and it can set you up for a long and enjoyable career. The experiences will last you a lifetime, but it is also the foundation for the direction your career will take. The design studio that you select each year will help you to think about where you want to go in your career, what sector you work in and ultimately, what you want to achieve. Do you want to design commercial towers, social housing or healthcare facilities? Your university days are the time to learn, network and develop the basic skills required as an Architect.

Most Part One courses will begin with a variety of introductory modules, introducing the fundamentals of design, presentation and drafting skills. Different design software will also be used, possibly even with formal classes to help you learn how to use the software. It would be hugely beneficial to have a basic understanding of a range of software before starting your course, particularly a 3D program, which will make it easier to pick up other programs and build upon your knowledge and abilities.

Documenting and presenting your ideas quickly and clearly will be an important skill to learn, which can easily be done through a good sketch. Sketching and hand drawing skills will be introduced early in your studies and will remain with you throughout your careers.

Towards the end of your last academic year, you will be busy with your final crit, your submissions and the end of year show. This period is also a great time to prepare your portfolio, finilise your CV and make your online presence as professional as possible. If time allows, you should also begin applying for jobs, as many people will wait until the end of summer before starting their search.

Stage One practical experience/Year Out

Finding a job at the start of your career can be difficult, but if you prepare far enough in advance, you can give yourself an advantage. Gaining work experience as early as possible, such as during your school summer holidays, will increase your opportunites later on in your career. Finding summer work at architectural practices during your university summer breaks is also possible, but much more competitive. Leveraging you contacts and your wider network is the easiet way to find employment, and online job boards or recruitment agencies can also work out. In the practice I currently work at, we have previously hired people who have speculatively knocked on our door with the portfolio under their arm.

The job that you take during your year out can will set the stage for the rest of your career, with many people being pidgeon-holed into the sector they began working in. This is more likely to be the case if you begin your career at a large practice, where your experience is more highly focused in one area as opposed to a small practice where your experience is more spread out.

Professional Educational and Development Records (PEDRs)

As part of your final professional qualification you will need to submit ‘Professional Educational and Development Records’ (PEDRs). One PEDR sheet covers one quarter of the year, and you document the projects worked on, your experiences as well as your reflections and goals. If you work on many different projects, you may find your PEDRs are much more time consuming to complete as you need to add each project, with fairly detailed background information regarding type, size and scope of works.

Note: I have produced a more in-depth guide for completing your PEDRs which can be found here.

When you start working, you should begin to think about completing your PEDR’s as soon as practically possible, as it will become difficult to remember what you worked on. Your office timesheets are a useful resource when completing your PEDRs, as well as the ARB criteria and guidance on the PEDR website. You need to have each PEDR signed off by your mentor (in the office) and a PSA (Professional Studies Advisor – a decdicated person at your university), and there is a tick box for your PSA to mark if the sheet was submitted within two months of the end of the coverage period. Leaving all of your PEDRs until the final months of your Part 3 course may demonstrate a lack of professional care to your external examiner. You will need 8 completed PEDR sheets as part of your Part 3 submission to satisfy the experience requirement of the qualification, and you may be asked questions during the final interview, so complete them properly!

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