As a fresh bunch of undergraduates get their first taste of architecture studies, Make Architects Sydney partners James Chase and Michelle Evans reflect on their own university days and share some wisdom for those starting out in the profession.
Make Architect’s Sydney was established in 2016 and is located in the heart of the CBD, with a design team delivering projects on the ground, such as the precinct-transforming Brookfield Place Sydney and flagship hotel The Education Building, as well luxury interiors for One Sydney Park and Opera Residences.
Evans is currently project lead on the restoration of The Education Building, while Chase oversees the design of retail projects in Australia including The Link in Melbourne and the design of Chatswood Chase.
What advice do you have for first-year architecture students?
Evans: Be creative! Now’s the time to really explore. Use these early months to be inventive — don’t be constrained by whether or not your idea could be built. Prioritise stretching your imagination. This should be a period of exciting experimentation.
Chase: Go outside of your comfort zone. When you transition to university, you may be tempted to gravitate towards the subjects and activities you feel you’ll excel at academically. But it would be great to explore how much more you are capable of — try subjects that may feel a bit unconventional. This approach will allow you to discover new things about yourself.
Evans: Your studies can become all-consuming and quite stressful. Be sure to pursue some interests outside of university. I worked in retail one day a week and that gave me the opportunity for a regular reset.
Chase: Whilst travel can be challenging during the pandemic, whenever possible you should frequent new places. The more you move around, the more you’ll understand that bricks and mortar come together in a myriad of ways. Exploring different cultures and visual arts — even through digital mediums — are great ways to become more considerate about how you approach people and places.
What were your apprehensions during the first year of university?
Chase: For me, it felt like an extension of my schooling — there was lots of theory and examinations to tackle. I was concerned that my professional life may feel like that too. Truth is, there’s a vast difference between practising architecture and studying it. Whilst I did value that academic foundation — and still do — it can be challenging in the early years when you’re seeking validation that you’ve made the right career choice.
Evans: From the outset, I was very concerned about not being instantly adept at all the architecture software. But, in hindsight, I had ample time to learn those tools of the trade. First year should be a time to embrace any and all of the ways students naturally enjoy expressing themselves. Sketching and painting are great places to start!
What can students do to ensure they make the most of their first year?
Evans: Choose collaboration over competition. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to achieve high grades. Learning how to collaborate is equally important. When you start practising architecture, those collaborative skills will be crucial to your success. Inevitably, your colleagues and collaborators may have alternative points of view. I encourage you to start learning how to navigate differences of opinion — ideally, through clear and respectful communication.
Chase: Spend some time in a busy architecture practice. Campus life and studio life are very different. Stepping into a studio environment, even for a handful of days, will help you determine whether what you are enjoying or enduring is truly the profession you wish to pursue in the long term.
Lead image of the Education Building, Sydney by Make Architects.
Last year, ADR checked out Make Architects with Architectus overhaul of Sydney’s busiest transit hub Wynyard Station.