A day in the life of an architect
14 May 2019
Kirsty Pesticcio, Senior Architect at Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin group, has been in the architecture and design industry for more than 10 years, working on everything from master planning to design concept development across both public and private sectors. All the while, she has been building an expansive education portfolio and expertise, recognised as a Future Leader in the industry, participates nationally within resourcing, marketing and design research objectives for Atkins and is now Chair of the local RIBA Bristol & Bath branch.
Kirsty took the time to describe a day in the life of her role, explain her beginnings in architecture and provide useful advice to those looking to enter the field.
The road to becoming an architect
“It was through my art teacher that I found out about architecture as a career. He spoke highly of a previous student who was an architect working in the hustle and bustle of New York City – this kick started my fascination with both the city and the profession. I didn’t really know what an architect was before then.”
Kirsty remembers fondly on her humble beginnings into architecture and what triggered her passion for it. She recalls learning more of architecture through her art teacher’s library, where she discovered the work of Frank Lloyd-Wright. From then on, with newfound knowledge of architecture and inspired by organic forms and space making, Kirsty set in stone her dream of becoming an architect, much to the shock of her parents.
Kirsty’s introduction to Atkins was through having spent years watching rugby within the Atkins designed Millennium Stadium in South Wales. This was complimented by her parents also having won a trip of a lifetime to the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, another Atkins designed building. The joy her parents got from this trip, coupled with years attending the stadium meant Kirsty knew she was resolved to work for Atkins in the future; no negotiation.
Kirsty chose to study a four-year Architecture and Planning UG course at the University of West of England (UWE) in Bristol, graduating in 2008. As part of her course, Kirsty was required to do an agency project at a planning practice for two months. Knowing she wanted to work at Atkins, she approached Atkins in Cardiff to complete her placement there. After she graduated, Kirsty was accepted to work in Atkins’ Bristol office and was called to work on Dubai Exhibition City. This was a staggering 1,270,000 m² mixed use project within the UAE, with a large team who would be working internationally - everything she had dreamt of. During this time, she also took part in an international design competition for Zhuhai, China, assisted the design of the contentious amalgamation of two secondary schools in Carmarthenshire, Wales, led the strategic appraisal of sites for pupil referral units in Portsmouth and developed the concept design for her first special education needs school.
Concept Design for Dubai Exhibition City, Dubai, UAE - 2009
Zhuhai, China – International Design Competition
After taking two years out to work, Kirsty returned to UWE to complete her Part two Diploma in Architecture. She felt more confident with her studies because of the experience Atkins afforded her and completed her course with Distinction, alongside a University nomination for the prestigious RIBA Presidents Medal. After further work experience and completing her Part three interview, Kirsty finally became the chartered architect she’d worked so hard for.
“I chartered as an architect at the end of a two- and half-year secondment to Hampshire County Council Architects. I quickly came back to Bristol and was almost immediately given my very first job to run – a three storey extension to a primary school in South Wales, otherwise known as the sugar cube.”
Greenwood Education Centre - Hampshire County Council.
The Sugar Cube’ – Primary school extension, Wales.
Her increasing specialism in education was unintentional but she found it extremely rewarding and satisfying building relationships with the people who were going to use the building as opposed to leasing it. She appreciates the flexibility Atkins provides its architects to explore different niches and practise all kinds of architectural work. Kirsty has not only worked within the education sector, she has also turned her hand to the design of care homes, office buildings and even a private VIP aeroplane terminal for a client in Sharjah, UAE.
A day in the life of an architect
When asked what the best parts of her job are, Kirsty cited the feeling of seeing a concept design come alive.
"Being able to build something and make your mark — that’s an architect’s dream. It’s even more sweet after all the hard work, perseverance and the years it takes to undertake the process of inception to completion.”
Kirsty also says that nothing can prepare you for the wonderful feeling you get when you receive positive reviews from the people who occupy the buildings you took a part in designing and/or delivering. She says that this is what keeps her motivated to do her best work.
Kirsty appreciates the aspects of her role that aren’t exclusive to being an architect, such as business development and mentoring. This year alone she has mentored final year UWE architecture students and aligned herself with a small national team with ambitions to shape a learning and development programme for architectural graduates at Atkins. She is also developing a national social media strategy as well as a regional role within the national Design & Research team.
“It’s not all ‘colouring in’, sketching with tracing paper, being picky about pens and building models like people envisage, sometimes it’s about the seemingly mundane. An essential part of our role is to problem solve the real challenges that our clients face. If we don’t do this, then we don’t have a project!”
Kirsty expresses that being an architect can at times be all-consuming, because you can’t help but become personally invested in the outcome of projects and the impact they will have on people. Furthermore, the responsibility of orchestrating the process from inception to completion can be an onerous one, involving the co-ordination of multi-disciplinary design teams, the client and all the project stakeholders. She does stress however that this can be the most thrilling bit, because the project is gaining momentum and coming to life.
“I’m lucky to be surrounded by talented, experienced and influential people who are generous with their time and help me to navigate my career.”
In what can be a very busy job, it is important to set clear boundaries to protect your work-life balance. Kirsty commends her mentor, Technical Director and Architect Helen Groves for always being there for support and direction. Kirsty places great value in seeking out support networks, of which there are many within Atkins.
When Kirsty gets to work, she explains how important it is to do so with a positive mindset. She explains that each day can have its challenges and successes and advocates a positive attitude to ensure the best possible mindset to tackle a day. The balance of pressure, workload and expectation can vary day to day, and Kirsty’s tonic is to make sure you have time to have a bit of fun – there is always time for fun she says.
“My days are so varied. I could have a day or week where I’m working solely on one thing at a micro level, such as a timber panelling detail or I could be working on a variety of tasks such as a large-scale vision or concept.”
Alongside her national roles, the backbone of Kirsty’s day is centred around two new build faculty buildings she is delivering for Bournemouth University. One of these is on site, and the other is in the process of design. She explains the tasks of the day can range from the nitty gritty of site queries to workshopping academic aspirations for their new building.
Above - Poole Gateway Building, Bournemouth University
Other elements of her day can also include bidding for jobs, being supported in her RIBA role, strategising architectural recruitment and pulling together project content regionally to support Atkins external profile. In addition to this, alongside having won awards for projects and for her own leadership skills, Kirsty’s role now reaches beyond the bounds of the office. This year she is now a judge for Constructing Excellence and the inaugural Bristol Property Awards where she was featured in Bristol Life. She even finds the time to write articles , attend evening talks at the local Architecture Centre and network in search of future collaborative ventures and professional friendships.
Above - University South Wales, Sports Park – RICS Award Winning Infrastructure Project of the Year 2019
Generation For Change (G4C): Future Leader Winner SPACES: Young Visionary Runner Up 2018
“It’s incredibly eclectic — you’re never doing the same thing. You’re part of a community that is shaping the world we live in. You’re undertaking an important role which affords you the responsibility to thoughtfully design buildings, communities and cities that ultimately impact our lives, and most importantly, our health and wellbeing.”
Advice for those considering architecture
Kirsty recommends completing internships in architecture even before beginning an undergraduate course. She says this is not essential, but it would certainly open your eyes to the profession before choosing that all important University course. You will also be able to experience and get a feel for the work and how architects interact with their surroundings and their output. She recommends you seek out an RIBA Chartered Practice, through the RIBA Find An Architect page. In turn, you can also directly contact a local RIBA branch such as Bristol & Bath. Furthermore, she also recommends you use social media platforms such as Instagram to follow architectural practices, as a means to get a real flavour of the kind of work they do and what matters to them as a practice.
She advises you to research your architectural course options carefully as they can vary quite significantly between Universities. Utilise University open days and talk to other students to give you an idea of the work you’ll be doing, because undergraduate courses can vary somewhat in their focus on the conceptual to the technical. In addition, Kirsty emphasises that taking on an architecture degree doesn’t mean you have to become an architect – the degree sets you up for many different job types and careers and can be a great foundation for different creative industries.
Kirsty thoroughly enjoys her job at Atkins and recommends the company as an employer due to their global outreach, and the unrivalled expertise at her fingertips. Atkins also provide opportunities for travel and work abroad. In addition, Atkins places an emphasis on innovation to create better and more efficient designs that sell the vision as well as aid the design process. Kirsty says despite being a large company, Atkins gave her direct exposure and responsibility on projects from day one, and that there are many career options within the company to pursue, such as project management, business operations, design research and much more.
“The doors are there, you just need to open them.”
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