8th May 2017 

I Can Be... an Architect

I Can Be meets Amy Conneely, Architectural Assistant at Studioilse

Have you always wanted to be an architect?

I’ve thought about it since I was about 16. It’s a very specific thing to study, it’s so vocational. At university I think a lot of people don’t realise that you can do the course and have a degree after three years, you don’t have to be an architect. A lot of people think you have to do the whole qualification but actually you can do it for three years and opt out. I would say quite a significant number of people stop after three years with a degree in architecture and they become lawyers or teachers or anything else that people can do a post-graduate conversion course in. 

has being a woman has made any difference to your career so far?

Actually, I think it will make a difference to my career from now on, although it hasn’t up until now. The course at university is very evenly split, there aren’t more men than women at all but maybe twenty or thirty years ago there would have been a lot more men. Now, I get the impression most directors in companies are men but I think that that is beginning to change. If you ask people who their favourite architect is or if they know of a female architect most people couldn’t name anyone. Zaha Hadid is one of the few who people know and her office is just down the road. There aren’t many other famous female architects in the UK so I think in that respect it makes a difference to be a woman. The profession is in a sense controlled by men.

However, I think in practice you can get to a high level as a woman and that is happening more and more. A friend of mine has just started in a practice and they are 70% women. They want to be a female practice because they feel like females aren’t represented enough in the industry. I think that if you took a feminist perspective, you have to be more proactive in the industry to get somewhere, but I think when you are studying there is no difference between female and male students. I think it’s very even.

I wonder how you would feel if you were the one man working in the female dominated firm you mentioned, that’s a real role reversal.

That would be really interesting. I think that the fact that they are all women comes across in their projects too. They do a lot of schools, which may be because of the perception of a woman’s understanding of how to design those buildings. It comes across in which projects they choose.

So there are women at your firm?

Yes, but all of the directors are men. I wonder whether the decision women make to have children means that they don’t have the time to take on that director’s role because the director has the most intense role in the office. That could happen in any industry, not just architecture. I think women in our generation care a lot more about their careers though and are starting a family later so things are changing.

What advice would you give to a girl who wanted to be an architect?

I think they would have to passionate about wanting to be an architect because it’s a very intense course. It takes seven years to train and it is very hard work but if you are passionate about it you will really enjoy it. I think that pressure isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you are studying but there is a lot of pressure. You just have to make sure that it is really what you want to do. Seven years is a long time to do something that you don’t enjoy!

Do you think that children are aware of architecture as a career? There is a children’s book called Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty which I always wish I had read as a child. Literature can be a great way to teach children about different jobs.

I’ve never read it but it sounds like a great way to learn about things. I don’t think I had any idea what an architect was when I was seven, I think Grand Designs [the channel 4 television programme] was probably how lots of people our age know about architecture!

What do you have for lunch?

I’m really boring, I eat from one shop way too much. I just have a salad or a sandwich. Coffee is a big part of my morning too as it is for a lot of people.

How do you get to work?

On the tube. If I lived closer I would love to walk to work, that would be such a nice way to commute. For a lot of people in London though that just isn’t possible.

What is the best thing about being an architect?

In my opinion, it’s one of the few jobs that is a profession but also allows you to be creative. It’s secure in terms of job prospects and staying in one job for a long time. You get to be creative in an arty way but you have a defined career. I think that is one of the best things about it. You can be passionate about what you are designing and then you get to actually build something that you have designed and spent so long developing. Working really closely with clients is great too. Architecture is all about designing a building that suits the client and the use and I think that that doesn’t really come about in many industries, having that much personal contact with the person who is going to use the product at the end of the process.

It must be amazing standing in the middle of a building that you have designed.

Yes it is! There are such a range of works too. Even if you look around you now, where we have met in Farringdon there are so many different styles. They are building the Cross Rail in London and there are LOTS of architects working on that. I haven’t personally worked on it, but that is so different to working on something like a residential house. You can choose to specialise in something that you enjoy. The scale of projects is important too. For example, Zaha Hadid’s projects are huge and would have a lot of people working on them but if you are working on a smaller project there might just be two of you so you have a lot more say in every detail. If you are working on a huge project you can end up being responsible for something very specific, like the door schedule! You have to work your way up from doing the doors to having a real design input and more interesting jobs.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I think my highlight was actually when I was still studying. I was at Nottingham University and in my second year we did a project in South Africa. Twenty-eight of us went and we were all about twenty years old. We worked with students who were in their fifth year of studying so were more qualified than us. We spent a few months working through the design process and then we all went to South Africa and built the building ourselves. I don’t think many architecture students can say that they have had that experience but that was definitely the highlight of my whole education! We only had three builders and three project architects and everyone else was a student so it was pretty hands on. We even got a few days off to go on safari and to go white water rafting!

If you weren’t an architect, what would your plan B have been?

I think I decided from such a young age that I wanted to be an architect; it’s hard to think of anything else! I did look in to being a lawyer but I decided it wasn’t for me. That could have been my plan B, but I don’t think I would have liked it. 

My plan B would have been being an architect.

A lot of people say that. I think it is quite a romanticised industry but I think it has a lot of the perks and lots of those romanticised views are probably quite true. It’s really hard work but it is definitely worth it. If I didn’t do that now, I would really like to be a book designer. I designed and made some books when I was studying so maybe that would be my second career. I think it would be really fun and I wouldn’t have had to train for seven years. 

What are your aspirations for the future?

Theoretically, I would like to be in a position where I have a lot of control over projects so quite high up in a small company. That could mean starting up my own company with a friend or joining an existing company. A lot of registered companies are just two people and a lot of people work for themselves in architecture. I’d like to be involved in the growth of a new company