By Yiannis Proestos
As an Architect I seem to spend a fair amount of my working day doing architecture related activities. (Shocking, I know). So it might seem strange that I am willing to spend my spare time doing more. Working at John Robertson Architects since completing my Part 2 in 2014, I spend my days working on 33 Central, a £75m speculative office for developer HB Reavis. It is a prestigious project that was recently sold to American investment bank Wells Fargo and as it is my first project on site I revel in seeing it rise out of the ground. For many this is more than enough to think about – both during the working day and after – but in a large practice like JRA there are many other challenges and opportunities that can present themselves for those willing to get involved.
Over the last two years, I have got involved in doing competitions, presenting ideas at the NLA’s NextGen forum, lecturing at a local University and attending networking events on behalf of the practice – the list goes on. So looking back, were these “extra curricular” activities worth doing? After all, on any given day I had waterproofing details to develop, staircases to design and a personal life to fit in as well! So why did I make the juggling act of life more complicated?
Let me look in detail at one event I got involved with at this year’s London Festival of Architecture. JRA held a Pecha Kucha event entitled Victorian Industrialist vs Millennial Entrepreneur and I jumped at the chance to take part.
On the night itself I was tasked as assistant video and sound technician – a world away from my workday duties. This was definitely out of my comfort zone and something I had never done before but it was also an opportunity to learn a new skill. I helped set up the sound equipment, organized the microphones of those presenting and performed sound checks with them to ensure guests could hear every word of the fast paced talks. As a result I met all the speakers, was able to o engage with them, see their nerves before their talks and watch their reactions after they had finished. It was basically an ‘in’ to get to talk to six people that 100 had come to see.
Volunteering for the event involved more than just the night itself however. An idea for it had to first be conceived, then planned, and organized before anyone could get anywhere near an influential speaker!
For me, conceiving ideas for this event was an opportunity to think about our practice in a holistic way. What are we really about? and what is our effect on the world after our design is built and the owners have moved in?
This kind of macro, strategic thinking was championed at University (at least at mine!) and this was a chance to apply it to real practice.
I also contributed to the marketing images, reviving my hand sketching skills to illustrate the theme of the evening. My drawing represented the event, was featured on the LFA website and then picked up by Wallpaper magazine. There was a great sense of pride in seeing my work on the public stage, reinforcing the idea that getting involved can lead to unexpected and exciting places.
Finally, it also gave me a chance to spend time with colleagues outside my immediate team. In a practice of 130 or so, spread over several locations it is sometimes difficult to bring everyone together, not just to have a drink and chat, but also to share experiences and exchange ideas. This activity encouraged employee engagement – good for the practice – but, from a selfish point of view, it was also a chance to expand my social circle while enjoying an office beer!
So to answer my question – yes, it is worth getting involved.
From this one event I was able to temporarily change up my office life. I learnt new skills, contributed ideas and saw my work appear in the public domain. I even developed my personal relationships with my colleagues.
Each activity I have done in my spare time has been different but running through them is always a similar motivation. They each provide an opportunity for professional escapism, and like any good form of escapism, they are rooted in experiences just outside the familiar. This makes each event interesting, but more importantly fun – even if it does mean a bit of juggling…