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Why architecture? Arnika Blount

Arnika Blount is an architecture graduate at Jasmax in Auckland. She explains what first got her interested in the profession, where and why she chose to study and what the day-to-day reality of practising architecture is like.

Arnika, would you mind giving us a little background to your architectural career? When did you first hear about architecture and when did you first think it might be something you’d like to do professionally? 

Construction has always been a part of my life – my extended family was continually in the process of building or renovating houses (D.I.Y. enthusiasts to the core), so I was either going to choose a completely unrelated career path or become part of the industry. I remember as a teenager going to visit a practice in Christchurch during Architecture Week and being struck by the genuine passion and enthusiasm the architects that I talked to had for their work. Shortly after that I decided that architecture was what I wanted to do. 

Were you into making or drawing things when you were younger? 

Both. That being said, I always gained a great deal of satisfaction out of the act of physically creating things, so I was perhaps more of a maker. 

When you were at secondary school, what subjects did you enjoy the most?  Were they subjects that subsequently proved relevant to a career in architecture?

I really enjoyed art, maths, history and the sciences, so I guess you could say the generalist nature of architecture suited me well. 

What characteristics do you think a good architect should have? And what subjects do they need to be strong in? 

The biggest strength any architect can have is to listen – to their clients, their consultants and those around them within the practice. In terms of subjects to be strong in, anything that requires both creativity and logic would be very useful. 

Did you receive guidance at secondary school about studying architecture at university? There are three schools of architecture in New Zealand – how did you decide which one to go to?

Most of my guidance came from self-directed research. I contacted architects to discuss their experiences and opinions on career paths, and visited the faculties of architecture at Unitec and the University of Auckland. 

Unitec’s reputation for practical learning was certainly an attraction. I was taken on a tour around the faculty by one of the lecturers and I liked what I saw and the people I met.  

The architects I talked to had good things to say about Unitec’s graduates, and I was able to use cross credits from my previous diploma towards the degree.

What was the environment like at Unitec once you got started? Was architecture school how you imagined it would be?

It is difficult for me to compare the environment at Unitec with the other architecture schools in New Zealand as I only experienced one of them. But I certainly found the environment to be supportive, offering plenty of opportunities to learn and experiment. Was architecture school how I imagined it would be? I am not entirely sure I had a firm image in my head before I started. It’s certainly not like the movies. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. 

Was it a competitive environment, or collegial? 

Collegial, but with a competitive edge.

With the benefit of hindsight, are there any things you wish someone had mentioned before you started studying architecture? 

I don’t believe the experience of studying architecture held any significant surprises for me  I had done my research in advance and so was somewhat prepared for studio culture. This however in no way implies that I did not have a huge amount to learn.

My advice to any prospective students of architecture would be to take every opportunity to expand your education.

Go on exchange at an overseas university; get involved in volunteer work and real world projects when you can. Your coursework is a starting point.

Did your fellow architecture students go on into practice, or did some veer off into other fields?

I believe the majority of the students who graduated with me went on to practice, but there certainly were some who changed career paths. One, for example, has spent the last few of years helping to found an ethical leather goods workshop in Kolkata – The Loyal Workshop. 

You work at Jasmax now, which is a large practice. Do you specialise in one type of work, or do you work across a number of projects simultaneously?

Jasmax is a large practice, so they divide teams up into smaller studios, which work with a particular Principal. This means we effectively have a number of smaller ‘businesses’, ranging in size from 15-30 people, who work specifically in a particular sector. I am part of the Health Studio, which means most of the projects I am involved with have a healthcare aspect. That being said, they range in size and complexity from university buildings and hospitals through to residential scale work.

What are some of the more interesting projects you’ve worked on recently? 

I have particularly enjoyed the University of Otago Dental School Redevelopment Project, which I have been involved with from its inception. It is a complex education/healthcare project, with an interesting blend of heritage work and new construction.

What’s a typical day or week in the office like for you. How’s it broken down?

As an architectural graduate my role is to support senior architects and work as part of a project team. I help to produce presentations, visualisations, reports and feasibility studies, manage BIM models, carry out documentation, liaise with clients and consultants and generally find ways to achieve whatever is required at the time. A typical day in the office for me will depend on the stage at which the projects I am working on are at. Currently my project is in the Detailed Design phase so I am spending most of my time documenting the building (producing drawings in Revit), but my day can range from conceptual work in InDesign and Photoshop through to consultant meetings and Excel spreadsheets.

What do you like most about what you do? Is the career you have now kind of like how you imagined it to be when you were younger?

I was attracted to this career by its diversity, and I have certainly enjoyed the journey thus far – architecture is a unique mix of design, art and science that requires both practical and conceptual thinking. It also offers the opportunity to make a real difference by supporting initiatives for change within the wider community.