So far, I have tried three different routes to architectural household name fame. I’m sure there are lots of starting points, but here are my three – in chronological order.
Route 1: Just start when you have nothing else to do.
I had recently moved back to London after working in Germany and I decided that instead of looking for a job I would do a competition and see what might happen. This felt good at the time but I see now why my view of the Millennium Dome Site competition was not as popular Richard Rogers’ – but my “put it all on ships as sail the party out of our living room so we don’t have to clean up the mess on New Year’s day scheme” did help to define my thoughts at the time. I had a go at one more competition and started looking for a job soon after. It was a happy and productive time, but it didn’t covert into a bustling architects practice.
Route 2: Leave a big office and hope that they give you a bit of a leg up.
A few years after testing out Route 1, I was working happily at RMJM when the urge to set up my own office started up again. I discussed this with the associates and directors around me and they were really good to me when I went about setting up practice number 2. Practice number 2 was set up together with a partner. This was a good idea and we went on to run Douglas & King Architects for some time after we set up. RMJM gave us confidence and a lot of encouragement. We didn’t take any clients with us but the goodwill and encouragement went a long way. Some people do manage to walk out of a big office with a massive job under their arm and I guess that is a good way to get started – although this might not always be that good for the mother company.
Route 3: Leave the office that you set up during Route 2 and start again from scratch.
Route 3 sounds a lot like Route 1 but there are a few key differences: During my Route 1 phase I had this idea that working on an architectural competition might just spark something off that would magically develop into an architectural practice. Looking back I can say that there may have been a whiff of naivety about this venture. By the time I had got to Route 3 I had given up on architectural competitions and I happily went down the more familiar and well-trodden path of using your contacts. This is less thrilling as a way to start up, but a lot more secure. I have been on Route 3 now for three years now and it seems to be working.
Competitions are often held up as a way of starting a practice and I have done quite a few in my time – famously sticking the trees on the model for the winning scheme for the German parliamentary buildings in Berlin back in the mid-nineties. Perhaps the most successful competition for me was one of a number of swings I took at the beast that is Europan. I teamed up with a partner for that and while we didn’t win we had a great time and learned a lot. That particular competition adventure is the one that eventually turned into the architectural practice that was formed as part of Route 2.
I should say that although Routes 1 and 2 came to an end I think that they were good paths to go down and I learnt a lot from them. I think that the message here is that setting up a practice takes a lot of time and effort and maybe it’s something that you kind of never stop doing.
© Douglas Architects Limited 2016