November 11th, 2015


Alcohol changed my life

This is not a claim that many will make when explaining how they become an architect but at 18 years post University and the co owner of a successful London practice I often reflect on the good fortune that came from an unfortunate circumstance some 25 years ago. Whilst I played the obligatory Lego at a young age, often trying to use only one colour of block, my introduction to the architectural profession is unusual and demonstrates the twists and turns that life has to offer.

I cannot proclaim to always wanting to be an architect, it certainly does not run in the family and indeed I am the first in the family to go to university. At the tender of 16 (going 17) and in my final year of school and struggling to work out what I would do in the big bad world it was my English teacher who suggested I meet the partner of a local architectural practice as she couldn’t ‘see me in working in blue oily overalls in the oil industry’. This was the beginning of my journey into architecture.

At the interview the partner bought three of my final year art pieces (at a useful £200 per piece) and offered me a job as a trainee architectural technician; whatever that was. I quickly grasped the role of architectural technician and in my second year of practice the partner asked me to join his weekly trips to a series of projects that were in construction around North East Scotland. As it transpired that he had lost his driving licence for drink driving and that my role was to chauffeur him around. Not what I had in mind when I joined but it turned out to be a wonderful learning opportunity for me (and a chance to drive a very fast sports car!).

Whilst I don’t condone drink driving it afforded me the opportunity to experience the construction of buildings at a very young age and I caught the architectural bug. I joined site meetings, site walk rounds and taught the art of snagging. This one on one time with the partner in hindsight was very special as he was very analytical, had a sharp eye for detail and exacting standards. All of which are essential characteristics for a good architect.

After two informative years at the practice and an ONC in architectural technology under my belt the same partner unknown to me had decided that I would ‘peak too quickly and get bored’ in my technician role and arranged an appointment for me at the local university to enrol on the architecture course. I was offered a position at the interview and the rest as they say is history.

During my part I in London we met up and toured a number of recently completed buildings includingRichard Rogers Channel 4 building. I always remember discussing the design, how decisions were or sly arrived at and wait I thought made good design. This helped me understand the process of architecture and what really matters.

Whilst I have two people to thank for my introduction into architecture it is the partner of the local practice in Aberdeen that has had the most significant impact on my career. I am sure he is now drinking more responsibly and I hope reflecting, as I do, on the positive outcome of his misdemeanour.

John McRae

BSc (Hons) Dip Arch RIBA



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