Contrasts

I have been at HLM for nearly five months now, and the contrast with East is huge – they are enormously different practices in most ways.  East are a 15-person practice focussed on bespoke urban and landscape design, mostly in London.  The office has a strong creative and academic focus.  They value clarity and elegance in their drawings, models and documents.  Most of their design work is for the public realm, often for public-sector clients, and is very much driven by the needs and perceptions of the public – those who will occupy the spaces.  Most of the interventions they develop are small and specific.  There are typically two or three people working on any one project.  Everyone in the office is an architect or an architect-in-training.

HLM now have around 200 employees.  It’s a large commercial practice working on multi-million pound projects for major contractors.  They span everything from primary schools to huge defence projects and residential developments.  The work is almost exclusively done in BIM – there are only a handful of computers in the office with Photoshop or InDesign installed. Because of the nature of the projects the scope of the architectural design input is often limited (at least in my experience so far), constrained by contractors’ requirements, clients’ budgets and the degree of contact with the end user.  HLM has six UK offices, one in Abu Dhabi and one in Johannesburg, and it’s not unusual for project teams to be spread across different offices.  There a whole range of different roles and specialities within the company: not only architects but technologists, landscape architects, interior designers, environmental specialists, in-house IT and HR support…

I appreciated the creative freedom that came from working at East, the intellectual engagement and the emphasis on working closely with clients and for the public.  It was a great place to explore new ideas, carry out extensive exploratory research, and refine my drawing and model-making skills.  HLM, meanwhile, is a good place to learn about design development, get used to the complexity of large projects, and learn about the commercial and profit-orientated side of architecture.  I enjoy being part of a larger team and having access to the extensive resources within the company. The practical, logistical nature of the work I’m doing here is refreshing, too.  In many ways it has been important to see the two roles as fundamentally different, and to critically consider how to draw on the skills I gained at East now I’m at HLM.  The ability to work independently is always important, but I have had to recognise that decisions I make as I’m working now impact on a wider team and need to be considered and communicated as such.  Being used to drawing up ideas quickly is useful, but sometimes it needs to be adjusted to the pace and depth of complex, large-scale projects.  Learning to recognise these differences and to adjust my approach accordingly has been an important part of the transition, and I think it is helping me to become a more adaptable and better-rounded employee.