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How to build the best practice-university collaborations

Emily Pallot

As flexible qualification routes become more common, Emily Pallot, ‘industry link’ at the University of Reading’s School of Architecture and an associate at Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt, suggests how practices can collaborate more productively with universities

Architecture model photography with Andy Matthews at ACG.
Architecture model photography with Andy Matthews at ACG. Credit: Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt

The ideas below are taken from interviews with university representatives and practitioners.

1  Start early

Early engagement is key. At Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt, we have found that volunteering at university open days is a useful way to build connections and provide genuine advice to future students. Getting involved in developing university course content means that we can influence the skills range of future graduates (and potential team members!). Practices need to think about where the market is going and what they will require in their teams to influence how university courses are tailored.

‘It’s about understanding each other’s needs as it’s easy to lose touch with practices,’ says Louise Humphreys, lecturer in architecture at University of Reading. ‘Multiple practices at different scales will require different things. How practices work and run is constantly changing.’

Hearing the shared vision of the Industry and Practice module at Reading’s new school of architecture was an important part of aligning our collaboration from the beginning. The module prepares students for working and includes site and practice visits, workshops, mock interviews and a Q+A panel. Engaging in continued dialogue with the teaching team through informal chats and meetings has also been important.

2  Think wide

Rather than just relying on one person to drive the collaboration, at ACG we encourage all departments and levels to get involved. One session we ran included students interviewing a panel of people from the practice. This gave them the chance to engage with the younger members of the team who could provide first-hand experience of the transition between university and practice. It also gave them an insight into practice management, business development and marketing.

 ‘Practices need to think beyond just one person tutoring to include being involved in running a unit, lecturing and design reviewing where many individuals within a practice can contribute,’ says Matthew Chamberlain, director at ACG.

Practices should be open to finding new areas to collaborate on and develop. This could be sharing CPD sessions, organising mentoring events or academic research to name a few. Alongside this, both sides should bring enthusiasm, high levels of engagement and energy to drive the relationship.

  • Q&A session with ACG team.
    Q&A session with ACG team. Credit: Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt
  • Emily Pallot leading a site visit for University of Reading students.
    Emily Pallot leading a site visit for University of Reading students. Credit: Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt

3  Invest time in talent

Practices should be generous their time investment, through developing student apprenticeships, internships and workshops. This introduces a wider talent pool of future graduate employees to the practice, who will be able to make an immediate contribution when starting their year in industry. With Gen-Z being so entrepreneurial and technologically sophisticated, practices should be prepared to ask themselves the question: does our internal and physical structure allow internships to have a place in our company?

We ensure our interns’ experience includes responding to briefs that encourage autonomy and exposure to different ways of working, such as 3D printing, working on BIM software and hand sketching.   

‘Allow for flexible opportunities for both parties so students and practice can adjust terms and conditions on all aspects of the internship position including timings, working hours, salaries and duties,’ says Darren Bray, lecturer in architecture at University of Reading.

Offering a financial bursary to students as an incentive to return to the practice after they complete their Part 2 is one way ACG has retained talent. Practices could also consider the benefits of introducing part-time flexible work opportunities for students (in term time) and mentoring schemes.

4  Focus on feedback

Practices should actively seek and provide this. This may be through casual conversation or a more formal process. At ACG we developed questionnaires to gather feedback from the students on a practice visit we led. This was a useful way to establish why the session had been so successful and how we could improve on it for the following year.

Being involved in the university’s assessment process has also been a great way to see student outputs and provide direct comments on their work alongside the teaching team.

5  Centre on the student

Unfortunately, the focus of some university/practice relationships seems to have become a PR exercise in building up one’s own position within the industry. Practices and universities need to keep the focus on the student and have a genuine approach to working together. This is the only way we can successfully support and enhance architectural education and nurture the architects of the future.

I would encourage practices to think beyond instant economic benefits and see other value in developing these connections, such as access to academic knowledge and future talent.

Emily Pallot is an associate at Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt and a member of the RIBA Journal’s Rising Star cohort 2018.

RIBAJ Rising Stars in association with Origin is a scheme to recognise and reward up and coming construction professionals. The 2019 edition of Rising Stars is now open for entries; you can nominate yourself or someone you know.


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