People who make places: Wendy Smith

Wendy Smith

How do you describe what you do when someone in your family asks?

The term architect has a well-established meaning amongst most people who usually equate it with the design of buildings, but most people are unclear about what that actually entails. I try to describe it as someone that oversees the design and construction of a building, from the macro, the overall shape and size, to the micro and the tiniest detail. On average, an architect will make over 100,000 decisions relating to the design of the building and my role, as part of a wider team is to take responsibility for those.

What is the most interesting project you’ve worked on?

I’ve been lucky enough to work on many fantastic buildings located all over the world, but the one that really sticks out in my mind is ‘The Tower of Love’, a wedding chapel located on Blackpool seafront. It was the first project I worked on and I followed it from early stages of concept design through to completion. The realisation of a building is such a long process, anywhere from 3 years onwards from beginning to end, and the best moments are when you see your hard work come to fruition.

What aspect of your work gives you the best feeling?

The majority of projects I have worked on have been within the public realm and seeing the public engage and interact with a building I have worked on is extremely exciting. Designing buildings that can offer new facilities or somehow improve public amenities allows new experiences to occur and communities to develop. When putting something new into the world that is beneficial to people, there is a huge sense of achievement and reward like no other but of course, with this comes great responsibility.

What keeps you awake at night?

Architecture is a very hardworking industry and because of its complexity, it takes huge amount of resources to manage. As a result, in my experience late nights and weekend working hours are commonplace. Many people view architecture as a vocational subject where passion and enthusiasm for it outweighs negatives of extended working patterns.

What does your work now have to do with what you studied, if at all?

Like any profession, the industry is prescriptive about the educational requirements needed to legally qualify as an architect and the educational system is set up to reflect that. This is a three-stage process of qualifications of a bachelor degree, masters degree and professional diploma after which you qualify. However, although there are restrictions for those wanting to become an architect, there are many examples of people studying architecture who have gone to carve successful careers in other creative industries. Spatial disciplines such as product and furniture design, set design and sculpture benefit from the skills you learn whilst studying architecture.

What advice would you give to a young person interested in a career like yours?

Although the educational process is prescriptive and completion is very long process (it took me ten years from initial degree to final qualification), I would advocate that students should not rush this process and instead take time to engage and develop skills that fascinate and engage them. An art foundation year might be a good way to begin experimenting with sculpture and spatial aspects of design before embarking on an architectural degree. As mentioned previously, architecture equips students with a whole range of skill sets that can be transferred to a range of different scales, from planning a new city to designing a chair and often skills that can be applied from other disciplines provide the cross pollination of ideas needed to energise a creative industry. Being a well rounded and engaged person.

Wendy working with pupils from St John Bosco School in the Exploring Nine Elms project

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