Why the Year Out in Architecture is a good thing

     A ‘Year Out’ in Architecture is effectively a gap year during which most architecture students get the experience of work in the construction industry. Seen as part of the course, this experience is recorded, approved by the Professional Studies Advisor back at School, and is necessary in order to qualify as an Architect in Britain. The first (Part 1) Year Out is normally taken after three years of university; the students then return for two more years of studies; followed by another (Part 2) Year Out – so a total minimum of 7 years (5 university + 2 in practice) before one can take the final ARB/Royal Institute of British Architects (Part 3) Exam. That’s the short and ‘official’ story.

Currently on my Part 1 Year Out, I am starting to gain a better perspective of why this system is really great, and how to get the most out of it – an experience I plan to share in a series of posts that will hopefully help current Third Year students, and give detailed answers to some of the questions I have already been asked.

The first, and probably most important aspect of the Year Out is being able to test the skills acquired at School in the professional world – halfway through this demanding degree. This is quite different from most other systems around the world, where a lot of people do their Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in a row and only then experience what it’s like working in the profession - without any ‘university time’ left to make some changes. It seems better to take the plunge early, with perhaps less skills and experience – but some time to improve – than spend five years in university and only then discover that one does not really want to do architecture, or is missing some skills, or has an interest in another area within the field and should have specialised in something different. It’s also a harsh, but important reality-check as one is faced with the challenge of finding a job within this competitive field early on:  if one succeeds, it gives some confidence; if not – there’s still a second chance two years later, after some hard Diploma work; students in other systems are under much more pressure as they have to find a job after Master’s without the same job-hunting experience, and no ‘second chance’ that the return to Part 2 studies presents. Strategically, the Year Out is a great idea. 

As one gets a break from School and enters the professional world, their thinking about architecture is inevitably challenged. The Year Out is a good way to take a new look at one’s work, develop some ideas and reflect on their interests in architecture. There’s a bit more time to read – something I wish I could do more in Architecture School. Working on large and more complex projects is a good way to prepare for what awaits in the Diploma program – this way, the jump in scale comes naturally. One’s skills also improve to keep up with the fast-paced office environment – as a Part 1, I would always envy Part 2 students for being so quick at CAD – and so getting bigger projects done faster (not that speed is always a good thing, but it does mean more time is left to think). Better model-making, laser-cutting and 3D-printing skills will be very useful when it comes to building those large urban models. Most importantly, working with Steven Holl, in a studio that pushes the boundaries of Architecture, has already given me a whole series of ideas that I would love to develop during Part 2 – and that’s just after 3 months. By the end of the internship, the two years of Diploma experimentation will become a necessity.

Finally, the Year Out is an amazing opportunity to try living anywhere in the world – there is hardly a better chance to change one’s environment for a short period of time, and living/working somewhere gives the best insight into the real culture of the place – an invaluable experience, especially for architects preparing to work globally. Meeting with all the coursemates a year later, sharing the stories and different impressions from our Years Out should be great; it's also a unique way to learn about how architecture is practiced all over the world. In the meantime, I have tried to track most of my fellow students to see where the Year Out has taken them  - if I forgot anyone in the map below, please let me know!

the geography of our Years Out - bigger dots mean more than one person in each place

updated 20 March 2013