What sort of work does an architectural technician do? What skills do you need? What’s it like working in the architectural team at CMS? If you’re curious to find out the answers to these questions and more, read on.
We caught up with architectural technician Grace recently to gain her perspective on what its like behind the scenes. She shares with us what sparked her interest in construction, how she started her architectural journey, and gives lots of insight into her role. Enjoy!
How does your role as an architectural technician differ from that of an architect?
I would describe architects as having a design overview of a project, conceptualising it as a whole. It’s then a technician’s job to go in with a magnifying glass and build up the detail, making sure it’s buildable and compliant.
Why did you choose a career in architectural technology?
Honestly, I didn’t – it found me! After GCSEs, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I went to a Bath College open evening and whilst there I stumbled upon a Construction Design and Management course – they had drawings and plans laid out, which sparked my interest. I decided to do a Level 3 qualification there, and then started thinking about whether to go into project management, quantity surveying or architectural technology.
One day I was approached by my lecturer, who invited me to attend an interview with CMS, who were looking for an architectural technician. They took me on to do my HNC (Higher National Certificate) and now it’s been 7 years!
What does a typical day look like for you?
Around 90% of my day-to-day work is spent drawing on Vectorworks, and every few weeks I go out to site for site inspections and general enquiries from contractors who are working on our projects. I also spend some time communicating with other consultants and contractors on live projects.
What is your favourite part of your job?
The variety! Knowing that, typically, in 6 months’ time I will have a different project on my desk to work on. Getting to work on so many varied projects and briefs is what has made me continue with the job, as you’re always learning and gaining new experience. It could be a residential project one week, and a couple of months later a commercial project that’s twice the size and value!
My first project at CMS was working on Wiltshire Air Ambulance’s new airbase, a large-scale project carried out on a Design & Build contract, in which we worked with a contractor. In contrast, one of my latest projects has been a high-end residential project working directly with a private client, very technical in nature with a lot of unique detailing.
What’s the company culture like?
I’d describe CMS as a very close-knit company, in that everyone is approachable. Whenever you have an issue or need help with something, someone will always be happy to offer that.
What opportunities have you had to learn and grow your knowledge and abilities?
CMS supported me through my apprenticeship, giving me a great foundation of knowledge to build on. Plus, the benefit of working in a smaller team is that I’ve been given responsibilities sooner than I might have if I worked in a bigger office. Within a small team I’m far more integral, and because of that I’ve been fortunate to have had more opportunities in progressing my career as an architectural technician.
What construction methods have you been most inspired by?
It might sound simple, but I’m really interested in brickwork. When it’s done well, it can look amazing! The challenge is that we can design things to our heart’s content, but often it will get value engineered out. So, we rely on the people working on site having the correct skillset and level of care to build it properly and fulfil the design.
What key skills would you say are needed to be an architectural technician?
Patience, an eye for detail, and the perseverance to sit through a 40-page document on door handles! Integral to my role is thinking about the end use of a particular item, room or space and what is needed to make it function.
For instance, when you’re choosing a sink, most people think you just choose a sink! But as an architectural technician, you have to think about all the components that go into making that sink work – the plug, the waste systems, the various connections, taps and so on. There can be a lot of information to process and complex problems to solve, but there’s always a solution to be found.
Can you share a challenge you’ve found in your role?
Something I’ve found challenging at times is explaining things to people who aren’t necessarily construction minded. For example, explaining to a client why they can’t use a certain type of insulation, or why a particular fitting isn’t going to work in that instance.
There’s a big difference between talking to your colleagues who are used to discussing the details and using technical terms, and then talking to clients without that background. Over time I’ve learnt to communicate things in layman’s terms in a clear and concise way.
What advice would you give to someone interested in a career as an architectural technician?
My best advice would be to practice! If you think you’re interested in architecture, then draw, build stuff in The Sims and Minecraft, create floor plans on Pinterest, start designing spaces on your own. Every bit of practice will help you to gain a better idea of the industry and establish if it’s a path you want to take.
Was there anything that gave you an initial interest in construction?
Yes, I loved creating buildings on The Sims in my free time, and this was what gave me an initial spark for designing buildings. From there I started to use SketchUp for modelling, and later started using more professional programmes. Who knew a computer game could spark a career that I now really enjoy!
What software, tools or resources are most integral to your work?
Vectorworks. I couldn’t do my job without it! Vectorworks is the drawing software that is used in every one of our architectural projects. And also, the internet. Sometimes I wonder how construction projects got done years ago when there was no email or internet! Nowadays, if you’ve got a question, you can quickly google it and find a product that solves your solution.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
Having started off as a more junior member of staff and progressing to where I am now, I see myself in a role where I’m maybe mentoring and supervising newer members of the team. I’m also interested to see what jobs come in, as it can be so varied!
What interests you about the future of the construction industry?
Long term, I’m interested to see where the construction industry goes with regards to materials being used and technology. Sustainability is such a big topic at the moment, but I wonder how much of this is just being talked about in principle, and how much of it will actually be implemented. I really hope we can make progress, but I feel that some of what we see is greenwashing.
The statistics can often be quite shocking. A recent report from Impact on Urban Health showed that the construction industry is responsible for 18% of large particle pollution in the UK, rising to 30% in London. Also, according to the European Commission construction creates around a third of the world’s waste, and at least 40% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.
For me, it’s vital that we carry out our work in a way that is increasingly sustainable and low waste, so that we see improvements in statistics like these in future.
If you have any questions about a potential career in architecture or architectural technology, please get in touch with us and our team will be happy to help.