Aimee Desert

"Think broadly and consider gaining experience outside of the immediate field of architecture"


CompanyBuroHappoldLocationLondonSizeExtra LargeCourseMEng Structural Engineering & ArchitecturePositionEntry Level Engineer

About BuroHappold

BuroHappold is a multidisciplinary engineering consultancy with offices across the globe, with London being one of the larger offices. The practice has a strong ethos of taking on the most complex projects and developing innovative engineering solutions. The façade engineering team forms one of the specialist disciplines within the practice with a team of engineers and architects working on every aspect of the building envelope. Facade engineering forms a vital role, enabling the architectural visions to be realised, whilst maintaining the highest levels of building performance.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The aspect of my job I enjoy most is the opportunity to work across disciplines as a designer rather than an architect or an engineer. Whilst the façade is such an architectural element, their sheer complexity requires a high level of technical detail for realisation. The opportunity to collaborate with leading architects and engineers on such a range of projects has given me an invaluable introduction to the industry and pushed me to build upon the skills learnt during my studies.

What are the best things about working in this type of practice?

I have had the opportunity to work alongside a diverse range of architectural practices, including Zaha Hadid Architects, Populous and SimpsonHaugh, which has given me an insight into the breadth of the role of the architect. These opportunities have really shown me the blending of roles which exist in the built environment and the opportunities that are available for interdisciplinary work and specialisation. Throughout my studies, I was always under the impression that I had to choose between engineering and architecture upon graduation but I have found that in reality there are plenty of roles which work across the two disciplines. It has been particularly fascinating to see how some of the best architecture practices operate on a day to day basis.

What type and stage of projects have you been working on and what are your main roles and responsibilities?

I have worked on a whole range of projects from community buildings to residential towers and scientific research buildings to Premiership Football stadia. Similarly, the projects have spanned right through from competition to construction stage, giving me the opportunity to gain a varied experience in a short space of time. My primary role during the design stage is to support the architect to realise their design, with our scope covering technical aspects such as structural and thermal performance as well as materiality and buildability. In addition to covering the typical components of each project there is also the opportunity to focus on specific aspects of a design whether that be complex geometry or interface details, for me this is what makes me most excited about my role as the challenges are never the same for each project. Following the design stage, we will review contractor proposals and advise the client and design team throughout the tender stage. Once the project moves towards construction we will review the design work of the specialist subcontractor as well as attending performance testing and conducting site visits.

What knowledge, skills or values developed at SSoA have you brought into practice?

My time at SSoA has given me an appreciation of the aspirations and process of the architect, which has been invaluable when developing their designs alongside them. I think my ability to see elements from their perspective is invaluable as the façade is ultimately the primary expression of a building’s architecture. Whilst at SSoA I also developed a keen interest in sustainability, particularly passive approaches which has given me a strong background to build upon, looking to design façades which achieve modern requirements with ambitious architecture and in challenging contexts.

What knowledge, skills or values have you acquired or developed during your time in practice?

Whilst in practice I have developed my design and technical skills, but on a higher level, it has given me an insight into the wider design of the built environment. Collaborating with engineers, architects and contractors from across the industry has shown me the role each have to play in the design of complex projects. My undergraduate course was isolated from the context of the design team, client and contractors so it has been intriguing to see the effects that these have and how every member of the project team has their own goals and drivers in addition to those of the project itself.

Is practice what you expected? Describe any surprises or challenges that you’ve encountered.

Having worked as a placement student in the structures team at BuroHappold, I was quite well prepared for joining when I graduated. However, the variety of projects and diversity of my role is far greater than I expected. As a specialist consultant, I have definitely been given more responsibility than I expected and learnt far more than I could have anticipated in such a short space of time.

Where do you see yourself in future?

I am keen to continue to use, and develop, my technical and architectural skills in parallel, furthering my understanding of sustainability and its application in both fields. I aim to pursue chartership in both engineering and architecture and continue an interdisciplinary career.

What top tips would you offer architecture students who are applying for Year in Practice placements?

I would encourage prospective year in practice students to think broadly and consider gaining experience outside of the immediate field of architecture. However, I think the most important thing is to look at what you can offer that is unique and what interests you most.

What top tips would you offer architecture students who are about to begin a Year in Practice placement?

Look for opportunities which are available around the office even if they are not immediately related to your project and keep in touch with every aspect of architecture through lectures, articles and visiting buildings.