I arrive at Kingston to pick up my March RIBA Part 2 after a period away from the industry. It’s 3 years since I completed my part 1 and I feel like the world wants me to say that I’d gained my bachelors full of enthusiasm for the discipline, bounded into the industry full of the naivety and joys of the world ready to complete the next steps of becoming an Architect. Unfortunately I can’t – I wasn’t and I didn’t.
In order to help explain who I am as an architect I will briefly set the scene. I herald from a family deeply rooted in design. My Grandad was an architect – completing his training and architectural examinations at the RIBA either side of serving in North Africa during WW2. My father followed in his footsteps, maintaining that he always had a passion for design and never set out on any other path than to become an architect. In fact he trained at Kingston in the 1970’s, working for Dry Hallas Dixon in Richmond before moving to the Dorset County Council’s Architect department and eventually setting up in practice with his Father, forming Chapman Partnership in early 1980’s. My brother, 13 years older than me, was the coolest guy in the world as he set off to study Industrial design and Brunel going on to work for Aston Martin and Jaguar in the Automtoive industry before transferring to super yachts and most recently setting up his own practice in Singapore.
It’s safe to say that not only have I always been close to design and architecture, but I have also more often than not felt inferior. Nevertheless I was exceptionally proud and excited to havce gained a place to study Architecture at Kingston University on completing my a levels in 2008. I deferred a year to take a pre university trainee position in Arup’s Facade Engineering department. As a pretty green 18 year old I moved to London and started working for, arguably, the worlds most successful engineering firm. I didn’t realise it at the time but it was a huge step and one that would inform my transition from a teenager to adulthood immensely. I had a wonderful, confusing and fairly stressful time during my 9 month placement at Arup. I was 18, living in London and being paid. The world collapsed economically and I witnessed people loose positions they had held for decades. I survived and impressed AFE enough that I was taken on part time a year later when I began my degree.
In the background my other major passion was motorsport. I had began racing karts aged 8, progressing to a World Championship level and had made the step to racing Sportscars whilst finishing at School.
My first year at Kingston was my most pleasurable. I arrived with a relatively high degree of technical ability thanks to experience at Arup and full of enthusiasm. I was blown away by the diversity of people on the course. I had Christoph Leuder and Lara as tutors. I remember coming up with a suitably naiave first year project that I still smile fondly about when recalling the concept.
Second year started strongly. I had just clinched my first British Sportscar championship and we were set a facade brief for the first semester by Timothy Smith and Jonathon Taylor – right up my street. I had a lot of fun, creating a double skin facade with the activities on the inside expressed through the exterior detailing. I remember the external crit at Christmas eulogising about it’s strengths as a project. Architecture was easy, or so I thought. Heading into the second semester maybe I got complacent, or maybe I had too much on. I was working at Arup on a weekly basis, trying to learn Spanish and, of course, getting ready for an important racing season that would build on the success of the previous year. As a result I ended up never taking a step back and self assessing my work. I more often than not went to tutorials with work I had done hours before them. The first time I really looked back at my work was final crit, I remember not being particularly confident about it and Tim, correctly, said my nicest piece of work was a small cast model on nails. I still feel slightly embarrassed when I think to the culmination of my second year. However I passed and I spent the summer in Fitzrovia working for AFE and racing. Returning for 3rd year I joined the late Jonathon Woolf’s studio. He was undoubatedly a very interesting architect and great guy – upon our study trip to Berlin he focused my mind to a love for the city – in particular David Chipperfields Nueues Museum, which I hadn’t given much thought about before then. Unfortunately though, most likely due to his illness of which we as students knew nothing, we saw very little of him, 3 tutorials between Christmas and the summer crit. Frankly I struggled with a lack of guidance and internal enthusiasm. As things became too busy and changes were afoot within the company I stopped working for Arup. My final project was too big, and cumbersome to really get involved with and I wasn’t happy with the brief for large, urban block buildings with highly repetitive facades. Nevertheless I passed. With an upper second class degree and I was winning a very high profile British championship simultaneously.
It’s probably obvious, then, disillusioned with Architecture and storming through my racing career that whilst my peers largely applied for jobs to gain the necessary experience before part 2 I put my racing career as my sole emphasis, for the first time in my life. I started working a Thruxton motor racing school, instructing on circuit and quickly gained ad hoc employment for Jaguar, Ferrari and Maserati to name a few. I set up a business, ran my accounts and chased sponsorship relentlessly to enable me to pursue the next steps of racing. Unfortunately it never materialised, and as much fun as I had travelling around Europe and America driving exotic cars, it wasn’t what I wanted to do for a prolonged period. I’ve always been ambitious about achieving things – and there wasn’t people applauding my return to the pits having managed to keep the nutter I’d just met alive.
So In the summer of 2015 after three years of constant attempts to raise budgets with limited success I went to Singapore to see my brother. I didn’t know that I’d make big decisions, I just waned to see my him and get a change of scenery. He later told me that he fully expected me to stay in Singapore. I helped him out with some 3D CAD work for a yacht, enjoyed the sun and turned 25. Then I travelled to Burma, on my own for 10 days. I flew from city to city, exploring an absolutely fascinating country still untouched by any mainstream tourist trade. The people were incredible and for 3 days I didn’t see any westerners. It was stunning. My first thoughts of returning to Architecture really hit home whilst I sat and read my book as the sun set on a day of exploring the Temples of Bagan in sweltering heat. They weren’t especially beautiful examples of Architecture (Many had been badly restored after an earthquake) but they were mightily impressive. I remember thinking that the time was right to do my masters degree.
I knew my brother was keen on me working with him but I decided I’d be of much more benefit If I had my part II. So upon returning to Singapore I sent Timothy an email and thankfully he promptly replied.
So here I am. Genuinely excited and invigorated to get involved. I just hope the course allows more scope to follow individual interests – as much as I respect David Chipperfields Nueues musem, I’m not interested in producing new buildings in his repetitive style. I also have the opportunity to join AKT Envelopes with one of my contacts from Arup. It’s going to be an exciting Chapter…