Ella Wright is an architect at Coffey Architects who joined the practice in 2014 and was supported as she completed her RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Advanced Diploma in Professional Practice in Architecture. Her design interests include exploring light, threshold and geometry to create extraordinary, yet liveable spaces. Ella’s experience focusses mainly on private residential houses and smaller scale developments, and she was project architect on the RIBA award winning Hidden House, which recently appeared on a Channel 4 programme, shortlisted for House of Year Awards 2017.
“…Encouragingly, the arts are being added into many STEM curricula, so architecture and other roles within the built environment, such as structural engineering or service engineering are good examples of fields which will undoubtedly benefit…”
I decided I wanted to have career related to the built environment in my first year of secondary school when I was asked to make a model of my dream bedroom from an Argos catalogue and a shoe box. I stayed up all night drawing, cutting, pasting and creating. It was by far my favourite assignment of the year, and I credit it for my choice to study Art, Design and Technology, Maths and IT at A-Level. This led me to a Foundation course in art and design at Kingston University, where I eventually chose to study architecture.
After completing my undergraduate degree, I was lucky enough to have exceptional introductory experience at a practice called Brooks Murray Architecture. I worked here for two years under the supportive guidance of Stephanie Brooks and Gavin Murray before I went back to University to complete my postgraduate studies. Having a talented and influential female boss in a male-dominated industry was a wonderful way to start out my career and to this day her success motivates me.
By the time I joined Coffey Architects in 2014 (I starting work on Hidden House this same year), I was six years into my studies. I still had two more to go before officially becoming an architect, and I’m grateful to have found another supportive practice.
Needless to say, it is a long road to qualify as an architect. I recommend anyone considering it to do their research before signing up. It is important to look into different university courses and at the varying approaches to the subject and teaching styles.
Using creativity and ingenuity to resolve built projects in beautiful yet functional ways
I also suggest exploring multidisciplinary programmes. Encouragingly, the arts are being added into many STEM curricula, so architecture and other roles within the built environment, such as structural engineering or service engineering are good examples of fields which will undoubtedly benefit. They blur the line between art and science, requiring both creativity and ingenuity to resolve built projects in beautiful yet functional ways. A holistic approach will benefit you as a student and eventually as a professional.
The way in which the RIBA structures the route to becoming qualified is helpful, after the first degree (usually three years) you are required to work for one year in an architecture office. This experience working in the industry helps you to make the decision whether to carry on with the rest of the course.
It is always helpful to talk with people already in the field, there are many mentoring schemes out there to assist prospective students. I am a mentor with the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, which offers support to both school and university students, other useful organisations include the RIBA or the WCCA (Workshipful Company of Chartered Architects).
My role as an architect
The day-to-day role of an architect varies depending on the stage of the project. If a project is in the early stages, we work closely with the clients to develop the brief and understand what they are trying to achieve. We then translate this into a series of spatial experiences and options for built form. This is usually done through sketching, computer modelling, 3D physical modelling and drawings.
Once a client has agreed to an option, we work closely with a team of external consultants who provide input on things such as structure, services and cost enabling us to prepare a detailed set of drawings which can be costed and subsequently built from. Once a project is on site, we typically visit site once every two weeks to monitor the progress of the build, working with the contractors to answer any questions or resolve any issues to ensure the scheme is built to the client’s specification and budget.
I personally enjoy the challenge of working with different clients to understand their needs and requirements, the way they live and / or want to live, and then transposing this into spatial representations and eventually into physical spaces. There is scientific evidence which tells us that badly designed spaces affect people’s physical and mental health, therefore I feel we have a responsibility as architects to make a difference where we can. Above all, it’s great fun! I enjoy going to work every day and tackling new challenges.
Collaboration and progress
Hidden House was the first project I completed the detailed drawings for, as well as my first project onsite, completed, and eventually, award-winning. It was also the project I used as my case study to obtain my final architectural qualification, so the project itself is very special to me and will be a tough act to follow. For it to have been recognised with a regional award and shortlisted as House of the Year by the RIBA is a huge honour and very encouraging. It makes me enthusiastic about the future and the industry I work in.
It’s important to emphasise that I was part of a wider team working on Hidden House, both within Coffey Architects and the team of external consultants and great clients. I am fortunate and extremely grateful to work for a practice that is exceptionally supportive of all their staff and fosters a great environment for learning.
I am personally working on various private residential projects at the moment within the office, all of varying scales and at varying stages – they all have their own unique and exciting challenges to overcome. In such uncertain times politically and economically, internationally and nationally, it is hard to be sure what the future will hold, but I am grateful and optimistic about my position in the industry and I am looking forward to the future.
As an office it looks like we will have a very busy 2018, working across a range of scales and building types, from private houses up to master-planning projects and public buildings. 2018 is looking to be an exciting time to be at Coffey Architects.