Student Story: Laura Mark, architecture graduate

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Laura Mark studied BA (hons) Architecture at the Leicester School of Architecture, De Montfort University, before completing the Professional Diploma in Architecture with Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies at CAT. She is an architectural assistant at Pick Everard Architects in Leicester and sits on the council of the Leicestershire and Rutland Society of Architects. Below she writes about how studying for a diploma at CAT has opened doors, and helped her to believe in her own abilities.

When I enrolled on the professional diploma at CAT, I was looking for something different. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted. Like many others on the course, I hadn’t had the best experience of architectural education in the past and I was hoping that CAT would be different. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised.

From the start of the course our views on architecture were challenged. We often asked the question, ‘should we really be building at all?’ – not a question architects would generally ask. Through the lectures we gained an understanding of the theory and science which was then implemented in our designs.

My tutors recognized the potential in me, even though I struggled to see it. They encouraged me to explore my ideas and designs. They knew how to push me and how to get the most out of me. I am sure without the support they gave me I wouldn’t be where I am now.

Urban Food Belt, final diploma project

I finished the professional diploma in January. After such an intense period of working it was a relief to be finished but I also felt somewhat lost. I knew that was the end of my monthly trips to CAT. It was almost like I was going to have to survive on my own now and this in itself was a scary prospect.

In March I was offered a place as the sustainability intern at the Architects’ Journal. This was a position I never expected to get. It was probably a good thing that I didn’t start for another three months; it gave time for it to sink in.

Starting at the AJ in June, I didn’t really know what to expect; I’d been told I would be attending lots of events and meeting architects, but other than that I had no idea what it would involve. Maybe I was naive or maybe just slightly overwhelmed by the whole experience, but for some reason I hadn’t really thought about what I would have to do; I just knew it was an amazing opportunity and one to make the most of.

The Angel Building by AHMM or Disability Essex by Simmonds Mills Architects

Throughout my four months as the sustainability intern I attended various talks on topics relating to sustainable design and architecture, visited buildings including bere:architect’s Camden Passivhaus, Simmonds Mills Architect’s Disability Essex Centre, Zumthor’s Serpentine Pavilion, AHMM’s Stirling nominated Angel Building and many more. I attended exhibition openings, book launches and even a trip to Austria with Internorm, looking at the manufacture of their highly efficient timber and u-PVC windows. I wrote about all this on the AJ’s sustainability blog –, and even got the chance to write for the magazine. I threw myself in to what I was doing, and actively searched out projects that I wanted to see and be involved in. Working at the AJ made this a lot easier, it was like a VIP pass to the architectural world.

GOAL! By Koebberling and Kaltwasser

One of the highlights of my time at the AJ, was working with the previous winners of the AJ Small Projects Awards; Koebberling and Kaltwasser. It was a rather rainy day, and I had heard that they were to be building an installation on the Greenway, by the Olympic Park. I decided to go along and see if they needed help. The diploma at CAT gave us the chance to gain hands on experience with materials and construction, and since leaving I haven’t often had the opportunity, so I leapt at the chance to get a drill in my hands and start working. Read my article on this experience, here.

I also had the opportunity to join this year’s professional diploma students during their summer school in August. Joining them for the practical part of the summer school, whilst they were building a bird hide and a pavilion for Shambala Festival in the woods at Coed Gwern. It was great to see how the course was progressing, and indeed how its students had progressed. Last year my group created the frames for a classroom on the spot which the bird hide now inhabits, so it was particularly poignant that I would be returning as part of my role at the AJ. My article on the professional diploma student’s summer school can be read, here.

Through the internship I developed my ability to critically analyse architecture; a vital skill in the field of sustainability for sifting through the greenwash and looking at whether something really is as green as it claims. This ability to critically analyse the merits of sustainable architecture was deeply founded in the knowledge given to me by the initial lectures at CAT. They really helped to add a depth of understanding to the subjects I was required to write about. The experience at the AJ took what I had learnt at CAT and developed it in relation to mainstream architecture. I realised the challenges facing sustainable building in the construction industry and it helped to put into context what I had learnt. If you’d have asked me before I started at CAT whether I could imagine myself working at the AJ, I’d have thought you were joking, but through my experience on the diploma and the internship, I have learnt to believe in my own abilities. I realise what a privilege it was to have this experience and I am really grateful to have had the opportunity.