Melbourne-based designer Damian Shannon brought a unique perspective to our graduate cohort last year, after many years working in the construction industry. Here, he talks about the pros and cons of his background, and his experience of making the leap into architecture.
Studying for a career in architecture can be challenging and time-consuming. Even after entering the workforce there’s a continual process of learning and development to refine your skills as an architect.
Are there ways to fast-track the development of knowledge? The answer is no, but you can be strategic in choosing what you want and need to know – and the pathways that will get you there in the shortest possible timeframe.
I’ve been fortunate to change career paths, from a prolonged construction career to a new path in architecture.
There are some definite advantages to my background, and architecture students shouldn’t discount work in the construction field as a means of developing their knowledge. Ultimately, it can enhance understanding of what’s technically required when developing structural concepts and details.
Knowing the pros and cons
The primary benefit of construction experience probably isn’t surprising: it gives you a better understanding of materials, material connections, and the sense of what can be achieved structurally. But it also helps when it comes to coordinating consultants and managing the delivery phase of a project.
My construction expertise has definitely helped fast-track my understanding of these elements of architecture, and I’ve applied my knowledge to other aspects of the architectural documentation workflow.
There are also some drawbacks to hands-on construction insight and experience. If it’s not kept in check, I know that my understanding of technical details can be a hindrance on projects, with the risk of practicality overtaking creativity.
But I’ve discovered that I can minimise any potential impacts to creativity by customising the design process, including by developing structural solutions in the later stages of the process.
Getting hands-on experience
To gain construction knowledge that goes well beyond the academic, architecture students could consider work experience within the industry during study breaks.
Working as a student architect in practices like Architectus is rewarding, but other avenues can help make you a more well-rounded architect. You might even be surprised by how much you could learn in construction administration or in hands-on positions such as a trade assistant or labourer on site.
These positions might not be glamorous, but they will give you valuable, real-world experience, exposing you to construction processes and giving you a first-hand glimpse into how construction details come to life.