Travis Alan Mills

"As a Part 1 placement student, do not underestimate the impact you can have"


CompanyBDPLocationManchesterSizeExtra LargeCourse BA ArchitecturePositionPart 1 Architectural Assistant

About BDP

BDP is a multidisciplinary practice. BDP stands for Building Design Partnership. Emphasis is placed upon the strong relationship we have with the in-house engineers, acousticians and lighting specialists to name a few. The practice has built work within a variety of sectors, allowing us to enhance schemes with diverse typography. I work in the Manchester Studio, this gives me the full BDP experience. I am located on the second floor of the studio overlooking the canal into the Northern Quarter. I particularly enjoy the location due to its proximity to the industrial mills and warehouses. The studio itself was designed by BDP, hence, it is designed to be adaptable. We work on an open plan floor, which is divided by small storage units. The arrangement allows a conversation between any two sectors to happen by walking a few metres.

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

BDP has allowed me to express my strengths and develop my weaknesses through responsibilities I have been entrusted by my colleagues. The ability to have a heard voice within a large practice was something I was concerned about which I should not have had. I am placed within the Education team at BDP, and due to the scale of the practice I am typically working on university projects or city wide masterplanning. Another benefit of working on the Education team is the range of projects currently in office, at a variety of work stages.

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

I typically work on stages 0-3 which has allowed me to develop a plethora of knowledge regarding the procurement of projects leading up to detailed design. I have held a variety of responsibilities during my time at BDP. This includes, Stage 3 delivery of loaded rooms for Keele University, concept design for multiple competitions based in the United Kingdom, Oman and Singapore and other counties. During my first few months, a colleague and I were working full time on a project based within the UK. This project allowed me to gain insight into the procurement process, client discussion and concept design.

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

From studying at Sheffield, I have been able to develop a response to architecture which differs too many other schools. Sheffield graduates can form opinion not merely based on an aesthetic, but rather a developed response considering, social, contextual and sustainable resourcing. Not to mention our ability to draw! Throughout my degree I found the use of CAD to be very advantageous, and when used correctly can be a very powerful tool, one which is used throughout practice. BDP is BIM compliant meaning we follow a series of measures to make sure we are utilising BIM in a constructive and efficient manner.

My ability to consider environmental reasoning behind decisions has been beneficial to people in practice. My most recent project is a bid located in Asia. The environmental challenges which face this are very different to any the team have worked on before. However, I have been able to advise on the key principles we can apply to the project to further develop this. The bid is located one degree north, hence the suns path goes in a straight line over the top. This is a very dynamic climate to respond to, a challenge I have very much enjoyed.

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

I am glad to say that I have been able to continue to develop my hand drawing whilst in practice which is a vital skill I was too precious about during university. I am more confident in my ability to sketch an idea; to communicate it clearly to colleagues and clients. This isn’t limited to hand drawing as I have been able to develop my technical drawing capabilities through study at BDP. During Stage 3 delivery of Keele University I was leading the delivery of typical rooms, this includes the design and fitting details to bulkheads, soffits, lighting, etc. During this period I was also responsible for the delivery of coordinated FFE and M&E plans. In terms of skills gained, I have been able to develop my CAD skills at an accelerated pace due to the hands-on approach undertaken at BDP. This means I am not discounted from doing any job, allowing me to improve whilst undertaking the activity which has been extremely beneficial in the development of my CAD skills.

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

I have already had previous practice experience, hence, was not going in completely blind. However, this was at a very small firm, of 5 people, compared to where I am currently. The change from university to practice was not too much of a leap for me. However, I have very good friends from university who found the change harder to adapt to. There is no real way to predict – all I would suggest is you enter the placement with the mentality of continuing your study. Part 1 is about asking the silly questions and trying a few things and experimenting to find your perfect balance.

One challenge I did face was the use of CAD software Revit – this is a very popular program to use in practice and I completely understand why! However, as previously discussed the hands on approach quickly makes you develop and to begin to feel comfortable using the software. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of hand drawing I have been able to undertake whilst utilising Revit as an aid. This allows the process of design to be rapidly sped up, something which is crucial in the practice environment.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The variety. Every day is a new opportunity to improve on the previous day’s work and push the project forward. This was especially apparent when I first started at BDP, being on a project for three months was a very rewarding process, highlighting the importance of always reviewing produced work. Practice is a very social place, in which you are able to completely be yourself. There is no need to feel competitive with your colleagues as you all work together. This feeling of being fully involved, valued and trusted is one of the most enjoyable aspects of working at BDP.

Where do you see yourself in future?

Even through this short time at BDP, I know I wish to follow in their footsteps of integrated and involved design. I wish to start my own practice one day, focusing on the ability to offer a varied, yet complete package of work. I always admired those on the dual courses and their ability to integrate two discipline. I wish to emulate this in my own practice. In terms of work sectors, I can see myself continuing to explore the area of education. However, I also wish to explore the culture of fashion and architecture, and their roles both individually and combined.

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

The process of applying for placement begins at your first third year interim review. Personal development during undergraduate study is most apparent during these review periods. This can be turned in favour of the student who is prepared to engage in an active conversation with the architects present. Thanks to the active conversation myself and Sue Emms were able to have, I was offered a formal interview, which, thankfully led to my job. Speaking from friend’s experiences, it is never too early to get your foot in the door to practice, take applications seriously and really showcase your talents, do not be afraid to talk about areas you wish to improve on. This willingness to talk about develop is a good way to progress conversation, it shows a readiness to progress yourself personally, this is key to thrive within practice.

Prepare an interview portfolio, it’s a crucial part to the interview, be extremely selective on the work you choose to place within this. It needs to show breadth and depth – not an easy task! However, it can be as simple as making sure, all development work is neatly presented, leading up to the final crescendo, which, is your killer images. This shows your ability to make mistakes and develop. The depth comes from you, and your understanding of your project, within its context.

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

Throw yourself into the role, do not be afraid to ask for help, or raise a question on a topic you do not understand. When I first started I felt like a bit of nuisance, asking so many questions, however, it is all a part of the process. Now I have people asking me how to do things on software, it’s a continual learning process even for qualified architects. As a Part 1 placement student, do not underestimate the impact you can have. A colleague and I have been lucky enough to run two bid projects with the supervision of a director – of course! However, this has come about from taking the iniative to ask for such opportunities on my part.