RIBA Office-based Examination

Candidate profiles

Darren Pickens - Part 1 RIBA Office-based Examination graduate, 2013



Darren Pickens Part 1 RIBA Office-based Examination graduate © RIBA

Having been employed as an architectural technician at Campbell Driver Partnership for four years, I took the decision to begin the alternative route to qualification offered by the RIBA Office Based Examination whilst remaining in practice.

After committing to the examination in March 2009, I attained the RIBA Part 1 award with overall Merit and with Distinction in design in March 2013. For my work during this time period I was also awarded the RIBA 2013 Student Prize for exceptional performance at Part 1.

During the past four years I have found that engaging in practice work and academic studies simultaneously has allowed me to improve in both areas, with each informing the other. Undertaking the Examination has given me the opportunity to improve skills in design, organisation, time management, critical analysis and perhaps most importantly heighten confidence in my own abilities. This has in turn allowed me to improve my own standing within professional practice by increasing the skills and attitude I now have to offer to my employer. In turn, remaining in the office has allowed me to observe practising architects; providing an insight into design, contracts and administration and practice management all in the context of a successful business. Practice work has also provided the opportunity to continue the development of my technical abilities which have been utilised to influence examination design work.

The Examination has put me back in touch with personal interests which had previously been neglected such as sketching, craft and materials and history. Importantly, the process has increased my awareness of the deeper meaning of architecture beyond the visual, spatial and technical necessities. This has allowed me to develop my own way of thinking which will influence my future work and aspirations.

Two particular challenges were apparent when undertaking the examination. Firstly, having worked in practice for so long it was difficult to free myself from the inevitable limitations often faced in practice and the ability to think freely and progressively was a difficult obstacle to overcome. Taking time to read up on theory, view conceptual design work and speaking with your tutor and other architects and artists for inspiration is key.

Secondly, and perhaps the biggest challenge, is learning to cope with the demands of the programme. Juggling study and full-time work with the responsibilities of family life can at times be stressful and a social life hard to maintain. But as the programme developed so did my ability to cope with it, and I feel that have learnt a lot about priorities and time management which I can apply to both the upcoming Part 2 examination, and practice work. Allowing time for family and other social activities provided me with respite but also time to reflect on examination work which helped me to go back to it with a clearer mind.

The most important people in the process outside of yourself and family are the tutors, mentors and office colleagues. I enjoyed a good relationship with my tutor, meeting every four or five weeks to review project work and to discuss further reading or building visits, concepts and direction. Similar reviews were held with office architects who provided differing views and alternative suggestions in direction for me to explore. Other professionals in the office were also utilised for advice in 3D work, technical construction matters, sustainability etc.

Ayaka Takaki - Part 2 RIBA Office-based Examination graduate, 2012


Ayaka Takaki - Part 2 RIBA Office-based Examination graduate© RIBA

I graduated in March 2012 with the RIBA Part 2 Diploma in Architecture. I am currently working for a practice in London which specialises in historic building conservation.

In order for me to complete this Examination, sheer determination was the most important factor. When undertaking this route to become a fully qualified architect, there is very little time to spare and it can feel that Part 2 deadlines are being chased constantly. This can be a difficult balance when you have work deadlines as well, and time management is shown to be a definite and key skill.

With my office mentor and tutor's support, I managed to stay focused and organised, and I believe I gained confidence by completing the course, as it demonstrated what I can achieve when I really put my mind to it.

Through undertaking the Examination, I gained a number of valuable architectural skills from the coursework elements. For example, I learned how to use Revit without any previous knowledge, and I am now more fluent in using software such as Photoshop and InDesign. Together with improved skills in my hand drawing, I believe my report writing is speedier and I am generally better organised overall than I was previously. My awareness of the wider context of the role of architect has been enhanced, as I have learned more about, amongst other things, the role of sustainability in architecture.

I developed an excellent relationship with my tutor whom I saw every month or more for tutorials, and we also exchanged ideas frequently via email and telephone. She supported me at all times with real encouragement and helped to improve my ability and broaden the way I think about architecture. I read many books, and carried out lots of sketching under her guidance.

My office mentor and colleagues were very supportive too, providing me with advice and moral support, which I greatly appreciated. It was particularly helpful to have tutorials with the Structural Engineer and the Mechanical & Electrical Engineer for my design project. They gave me a lot of information which was extremely useful, and I would recommend that other candidates use available resources in this way too.

The balancing of work in a busy office, studying for my Part 2, and maintaining an enjoyable social life has proven to be a great challenge, but I feel I have managed to achieve this. Support from my tutor and friends, plus my strong determination, have allowed me overcome all challenges to date to continue my education and experience to become a fully qualified architect.


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