Reflections on my journey to become an Architect

Posted by on May 4, 2018 in Architecture

Reflections on my journey to become an Architect

On my first day of studying Architecture at the University of Strathclyde, one of the lecturers pulled out a card from his wallet and held it up to the room full of nervous students and asked us, “Does anyone know what this is?” The card was yellow with three letters on it, ‘ARB’. No one in the room could answer him. “This means you can be sued” he proclaimed, we all laughed (not exactly sure what exactly he meant by that) and that was the beginning of my journey to become an architect.

10 years later and having successfully passed the Part 3 Examination in Professional Practice and Management in March of this year, I’m proudly awaiting my very own ARB card in the post.

So how did I get here and how does one become an architect? The process is broken up into three parts. My journey spanned six years at the University of Strathclyde firstly completing an honours degree in architectural studies (Part 1) and taking a year out on a work placement, followed by a post graduate diploma in advanced architectural design (Part 2) with a term spent on post-graduate exchange at the Università Iuav di Venezia in Venice, Italy. You might think that after all of that, I could call myself an architect, but you would be wrong. Upon leaving university at this stage, my work title was ‘Part 2 Architectural Assistant’, as it is only after completing all three parts of the journey that one can officially call oneself an architect. Interestingly, the title of ‘architect’ is protected under Section 20 of the Architects Act 1997 and is regulated by the ARB (The Architects Registration Board) who keep a register of people who have had the education, training and experience to become and architect. It’s serious stuff, and anyone using the title wrongfully can be prosecuted.

As a Part 2 Architectural Assistant, I had developed years of experience designing to university briefs of fictional projects like a bathhouse in Kelvingrove Park and a weather centre in St Andrews, but as I had learned during my Part 1 professional experience year out working at Fiona Sinclair Architect, who specialise in architectural conservation, there is so much more involved in being an architect than just designing.

After university, I embarked on what I like to think was a well-earned break from the world as I knew it to clear my senses, regroup my thoughts and focus on the question now facing me, what should I do now? I threw myself into a voluntary international development project in India. Through the International Citizen Service programme, I became a team leader on a water, sanitation and hygiene project in a tiny rural village near Mysore in the Southern State of Karnataka, called Naganapura Colony. I wanted to use the skills I had developed at university to benefit others and to see the impact of construction on a community first hand. I lead the team of eight young volunteers through the construction of 82 very simple concrete blockwork squat composting toilets, in a village which previously had none and openly practiced open defection.

I returned to Scotland with a new pair of eyes, having seen the positive impact of our team’s hard work, I was more focused than ever and determined to become a fully qualified architect. Over the next two years I was employed at Smith Findlay Architects in Glasgow with the aim of working towards the Part 3 exam. I benefited from exposure to a variety of projects including residential extensions, a hotel design, a school refurbishment and feasibility studies for two bus stations.

In 2017 I registered for the Part 3 exam and spent my time during the day in the office slowly taking on more responsibility on projects. I gained invaluable experience of practice management, business, communication, contracts, law and procurement. During the evenings I buried my head in the books or attended weekly study group meetings. Crucially, I even learned what that professor had meant all those years ago when he said that architects could be sued, and in turn, how best to avoid such issues! This year was undoubtedly a challenge for me in terms of staying focused, organised and managing my workload.

In Scotland, the exam is taken by candidates through APEAS (Architects’ Professional Examination Authority in Scotland) and consists of three components.


The first one was experience, for which I prepared an ‘Experience Based Analysis’ 6000 word paper analysing my personal experience working on a project and drawing conclusions as to its delivery in comparison to best practice procedures. Secondly, an ‘Evaluation of Experience’ 2000 word document was required to explain how and why I have met the criteria to sit the examination. Lastly, and my least favourite, was the ‘Professional Experience and Development Record’. This was basically a set of logbooks spanning over three years of my work in practice. One logbook counted for three months of time and required to be filled in weekly describing in detail what work I was carrying out and what I had learned to create a record of my development.

The Practice Paper

The second element was a written examination paper I sat in my office over a 72 hour period. The paper consisted of ten questions, each one a different project-based scenario requiring a written response to solve the particular situation. Most of the questions were based around a scenario like the contractor has built the extension on the wrong property or the client has moved staff into a dangerous unfinished building. To make things even more interesting, there was no one correct answer and each candidate could use their own judgment, ethics and understanding they had developed along with the type of contract, appointment and other information expressed to answer the question.

The Oral Examination

The last element to the examination was a verbal examination interview in which my experience, knowledge and answers to the exam paper were questioned and scrutinised by experienced examiners who had studied all of my submissions in detail. This part required me to present myself professionally, speak confidently and demonstrate my abilities face to face.

In contrast to the rest of the exam process, the results are delivered to each candidate very simply. A table is published each year on the APEAS website, with a list of registration numbers and either the word ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ next to it. When I read the word ‘pass’ next to my number only two months ago, I was filled with the greatest sense of achievement.

So why should you use an architect like me? Why not just employ Jimmy the builder from up the road who can knock together your dream home on the cheap? I hope my story provides the answer. Architects have undergone rigorous specialist training over an extensive period of time to not only develop the skills to design something functional and beautiful but also to ensure the delivery of your project is run professionally and delivered to a high standard.

As an architect, clients tell me their dreams and place their trust in me to bring it to life. What greater honour is there?

I’m looking forward to meeting everyone in my new role at GLM and the future projects that we create.

Ruth Mclennan