Place Skills | The moment they knew

Throughout August Place North West will be exploring the issue of skills and access routes into the regeneration sector. Asking professionals to remember “the moment they knew” the industry was for them reveals ways we can tap into and inspire a new generation to make a move into property.

In the first piece in the series, Sue Emms, principal at BDP and education sector head looks at when she knew architecture was for her.  

There have been a few memorable occasions which cemented my passion for architecture. As a child I was always making and building things with Lego and Meccano, and at the age of 15 I realised what architecture could mean when my winning sculpture for a national Cadbury’s art prize was displayed at the Barbican.

The scale and intensity of that development was so memorable and powerful, and just down the road was Richard Rogers’ Lloyds building – two seminal yet contrasting pieces of architecture, that made me recognise the impact architecture could have and what buildings could mean in a city.

I was very lucky to get my first job at Stirling Wilford in London where I worked directly alongside Michael Wilford – designing and building his new family home and being mentored one-to-one by such an inspirational architect. The level of design aspiration in that practice, building on the legacy of the late James Stirling, was incredibly influential and motivating for me.

Most people probably ask themselves at various points in their career, “have I made the right choice?” The day I knew I had, was after the completion of my first building, the RIBA award-winning Devonshire Road Primary School, in a deprived area of Blackpool.

You spend three to four years on any building and there are good and bad times in the process. But the day it opened the headteacher and I stood there watching the kids at closing time and there were 20 of them who didn’t want to go home. The head said to me: “You’ve created something which shows someone has had belief in them, which they haven’t had before.” It was emotional! We had created this amazing building and learning environment which inspires others to realise their potential.

That moment really brought home how socially-responsible architecture can make a difference to people’s lives. And it made me realise that we must continually challenge ourselves, inspire others and learn from the buildings and places we create. I’m passionate about mentoring talent in our studio and teach at schools of architecture activities that repeatedly reaffirm that I made the right choice of career.

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