For those of you expecting an update on this year’s talent show, I am sorry to disappoint you but seeing it advertised and, of course, never having been found to watch it… I am reminded of the architectural equivalent… the selection of Part I students looking for their in-practice training.
In the world of talent shows, and where fame is found online and through social media channels, the value of presenting yourself and your capabilities has never been greater. As the tools that are available for people to showcase their talent become ever more sophisticated, so the standards are pushed higher, which is particularly true with architecture students when they come to interview for year out placements.
We try to take at least one Part I student each year, and each time we advertise we get a vast range of students and select the best candidates on the basis of their portfolio and their interview. One of the pleasures of getting older is that you have the benefit of seeing each candidate within the context of those that have come before. There are those that come with bucket loads of confidence, usually the boys, and those lacking in confidence, more often than not the girls.
At this point I would make a case for girls and our education system generally. Why is it that girls consistently seem to underestimate their abilities and skills? In a Harvard Business School study, females were found to only apply for a job if they were 100% qualified for the role, whereas male candidates would apply if they were 60% qualified. Although in my experience there is no identifiable difference between genders when it comes to architectural education, there is often a difference in the way candidates present at interview. I am not suggesting that architecture schools are the problem, in fact I suspect they are generally doing a good job to ensure that the playing field is level. Instead, I think the issue is far more societal. Becoming, and being, an architect should have nothing to do with gender, but have everything to do with talent and opportunity. It is an issue that, as a profession, we need to ensure we do not perpetuate or we’ll reinforce gender stereotyping in practice.
In recent years I have been struck by the quality of Part I candidates portfolios. On more than one occasion I have looked at images or bound documents that could, with the addition of an ISBN code on their covers, go straight to the shelves of any good art book store. I realise that, with the arrival of sophisticated software, images which would have been impossible to achieve a few years ago, are now within the grasp of skilled student users. That said, they are also clearly the result of immense hard work, late nights and not-a-little skill.
If the standards of Part I candidates’ portfolios I have seen in recent years is the new norm, then it could be argued that we as a profession are in safe hands for the future. However, being a good architect is not just about being able to create great design, it is also about being able to communicate your great design to others. Being a good communicator starts at that first year-out interview when you need to sell not only what you have done but also what you are capable of.
Apart from a good degree one of my reference points is also good A level and even GCSE results. This is not because I have any particular preference for a long subject roll but, having had two children go through the demanding process, I know how much sheer hard work goes into achieving good results. It is this ability to get stuck-in, coupled with a breadth of intellect that I am looking for.
The rest is down to us in the practice and the architecture schools. All that said, I still can’t get away from the fact that if a candidate, male or female, sits in front of me who is clearly smart, hardworking and a good communicator, I can’t help but go for the candidate who, “Doesn’t know how good they are”.