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Opinion: My role as a mentor

Chris Williamson

When Chris was asked to work with Andrew Weston for group projects at Leicester School of Architecture (for no other reason than they were next to each other alphabetically) he discovered that their skills dovetailed perfectly. Their shared ambition made for a perfect business partnership.

In my role as a mentor for both the RIBA and the Company of Architects I found myself looking through the list of AJ100 Architects over the weekend in order to assist one of my mentees. It was interesting to see just how many were represented by the Architects Company. The Worshipful Company of Chartered Architects (to give it it’s full name) is a modern Livery Company.

The Company promotes quality architecture in the City of London and the architectural profession globally; it supports education through awards and prizes as well as a range of charities related to the City. It was granted Livery status in 1988, received the Royal Charter in 2019 and will move into its new home of Temple Bar in Paternoster Square in 2021. This will see an increase in activities - lectures, events, breakfast and lunch meetings including vital CPD in essential topics such as climate change, sustainability, insurance, ethics, social mobility and diversity.

About half of the AJ100 are represented by the Company of Architects and over half of the top ten. Representatives from these practices range from apprentices and students to Partners and Founders and include the following;- AHMM, Allies & Morrison, Farrells, Foster & Partners, Gensler, Grimshaw, Hopkins, KPF, Make, RSHP and Zaha Hadid Architects. It is also important to note that the Company is representative of the whole range of the profession including sole trader architects, teachers, academics, researchers, writers, managers and associated professionals.

The key activities of the Company of Architects are built on the Foundations of the original Livery Companies dating back to the Fishmongers' who were granted their charter in 1272. It is a testament to the Companies and their Masters to remain relevant for over 700 years. Anyone who has watched the Netflix series “The Crown” will understand the tensions of retaining historic traditions whilst modernising to represent a rapidly changing society.

In the modern world the Company of Architects has a key role in the global architecture community because the concerns of UK architects mirror those world wide. Issues of urbanisation, sustainability, ethics, climate change and the importance of architectural thinking in planning are universal issues in which architects can play a leading role. We aim therefore to assist the Lord Mayor’s aim to ensure the City of London enhances its reputation as a global hub. During his Mayoral year, Alderman Russell is promoting his initiative ‘Global UK – Trade, Innovation & Culture’ agenda which builds on the current Lord Mayor’s theme of ‘Shaping Tomorrow’s City Today’, focusing on connecting communities through trade, innovation and culture. The programme has three key aspects: growing global trade and investment, championing innovation, and promoting a rich and vibrant cultural and creative economy of which Architecture plays an important role. I know from experience how valued UK Architects and Engineers are valued all over the world from the heritage of Paxton and Brunel to the modern day brilliance of Fosters and Rogers and the current crop of innovators.

Last year WestonWilliamson+ Partners won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for International Trade as a result of being able to export our expertise gained on UK infrastructure projects to work in Singapore, Australia and Canada. London in particular has shown the world what investment in well designed safe and efficient public transport can achieve. Whilst also reducing car use through the congestion charge and improving the environment for pedestrians and cyclists. Cities throughout the world are embarking on city shaping projects similar to the Jubilee Line, London Overground and Crossrail, often enlisting the help of British Architects and Engineers. Many of the designers involved in these projects are represented in the Company of Architects.

It is a published ambition of the RIBA to become a global membership body to be a leading voice for the Architectural community tackling difficult issues of urbanisation, sustainability, ethics, and diversity. I have long advocated that the RIBA suffix should be seen as a qualification rather than belonging to a membership club and should set the highest standards of life long learning where a number of specific modules would need to be completed each year in order to retain membership. Then the letters RIBA will be seen by our clients, politicians and industry as evidence that a member is better qualified and more up to date than a non member. If this can be achieved I believe Architects from Australia to Zimbabwe will want to join in a like minded community. The lifelong learning events organised by the Company of Architects and the Temple Bar Trust made available on line will be a vital component of this global influence. If there is one thing that this pandemic has taught us it is that the world is a small and fragile place and we need to act together.

These global aims are incredibly important but so is the Company’s work close to home. The Guilds were established to share best practice and new ideas, to help train and educate and to help charitable giving amongst their colleagues. As a passionate enthusiast of social mobility and sharing of knowledge I am pleased that the Company of Architects is taking a lead on these concerns within the profession. The current Master Valerie Owen Le Vaillant has made the promotion of social mobility through Apprenticeships the major focus of her leadership and has established a Future Minds group led by Nicholas Naidu. One of the greatest opportunities for students or young architects becoming involved in the Company is the opportunity for mentoring. You never know who you might sit next to at an event or dinner and invariably they are ready and willing to help and advise. I myself have had very informative informal discussions from several architects I have respected throughout my career including Richard Saxon and Ian Ritchie. There is always much to learn and in my experience Company members are keen to share knowledge and help mentor.

A key component of the Company’s work is the Student Prizes. There are 6 Annual Awards including the Assael Architecture Award for Students recognising talent and tenacity in adverse circumstances. These Awards can make a welcomed contribution to Student finances as well as prestige and recognition. The company also has links to schools offering career advise and information. Another example of exactly the sort of activity which the Livery Companies were established to promote over 700 years ago.

My own route to Architecture is explained in a ten minute video on the Company of Architects youtube channel and there are other videos showing the diverse backgrounds of some other members and more will be available shortly. For more information on the Company of Architects visit the website or contact me at chris.williamson@westonwilliamson.com.

Thank you.

Chris Williamson

When Chris was asked to work with Andrew Weston for group projects at Leicester School of Architecture (for no other reason than they were next to each other alphabetically) he discovered that their skills dovetailed perfectly. Their shared ambition made for a perfect business partnership.

Related Thoughts

How can we help?

Please get in touch if you’d like to know more about us and how we work with our clients, consultants and colleagues.