Where are you currently working and what is your current role?

I work for Farrells London as a Part 1 Architectural Assistant. Working in an architectural practice that specialises in urban design has enabled me to gain insight into the wider principles that govern good public realm design and how this feeds into a built form which is responsive to its surroundings.

Why motivated you to pursue a career as an Architect?

Growing up in Hong Kong, architecture has always been impossible to ignore. Hong Kong is a city known for its glamorous skyscrapers, but it should be no secret that a great percentage of its people suffer from a housing issue - particularly in the case of cage homes. Having seen these spaces first-hand, I was and still am determined to find a design solution that provides good quality, flexible and affordable housing for those in need.

What does a typical day as an Architectural Assistant look like?

I work on both architectural and urban design projects through all RIBA stages; from producing bids and pre-application documents to detailed tender issue drawings and lease plans, it has been a pleasure to see some of my projects reach the construction stage in such a short span of time! I have always been keen on graphic design, my skills in this area have given me a degree of autonomy in developing the graphic style for several illustrative masterplans - an invaluable opportunity for a Part 1.

What skills did you develop as a Generation UK intern that align with your current role?

My experience working in Chengdu has not only equipped me with the technical skills to work effectively in an office environment, but more importantly it has granted me a unique perspective on working cultures between the UK and China. I use much of the same software as I did in Chengdu (AutoCAD, Sketchup, and Adobe Photoshop, to name a few) and though I was speaking a different language, being able to present a clear concept to a group of senior designers can be a daunting task. Now, it is one that I can approach with confidence.

How has your Generation UK experience contributed towards where you are now in your career?

Before starting at Farrells, I had the privilege of working with Caukin Studio to design and build a new community hall for a Fijian village that had been damaged by Cyclone Winston in 2016. Thanks to my experience in Chengdu, I had an understanding of how Fiji’s different climate and geographic position would impact the design. It was the studio’s goal to design the hall with a secondary function as an emergency cyclone shelter so understanding the strength of Fiji’s cyclones was crucial. During my interview with Farrells, this hands-on experience working on-site to solve technical problems made for an interesting discussion. Architects at Farrells design for every aspect of each building, including the construction strategy, so I feel that demonstrating my deeper understanding in this area made me a stronger candidate for the job.

Additionally, being able to shift interchangeably between Mandarin and English has given me such confidence in building positive relationships with my coworkers and clients. If I’m able to make friends with strangers in a Chinese food court or enjoy a tea ceremony with the owners of Chengdu’s best vegan hotpot restaurant, all while speaking a foreign language, it really feels like the sky’s the limit when it comes to building meaningful connections!

Based on your experiences, what are the differences and similarities between the architecture industry in China and the UK?

While in Chengdu, my work was focused on aesthetic appeal. I developed visual concepts taking inspiration from local contexts, and broader Chinese traditions that I had grown up with in Hong Kong. By comparison, I have worked on the more technical side of design in the UK, developing my understanding of construction strategies and London borough council policies. 

In my experience, the UK’s designing process feels thoroughly integrated between engineering consultants and the design team. We work hand in hand to develop one considered design. In Chengdu, my work rarely intersected with the project engineers and so the designer’s role felt liberated from technical constraints that would be resolved by a separate team. 

I would love the chance to work overseas once more during my architectural career to explore how other cultures differ and discover if Chengdu’s approach explains the rapid pace at which the city has been able to develop.

What are your career aspirations over the next 5-10 years?

I would love the chance to continue exploring how other cultures approach architectural design once I complete my Part 2 and 3 RIBA qualification in the UK and am excited to apply the skills I have picked up in both China and the UK. I will continue striving towards my ambitions of innovating for a variety of social causes, be that by continuing to volunteer in disaster-relief projects such as my work in Fiji, or by designing solutions for the housing crisis in cities like Hong Kong.

How would you sum up your experience in China?

I am so glad I was able to share this experience with likeminded InternChina alumni; helping each other embrace a new culture and stepping outside my comfort zone to take every opportunity to learn from the locals made it an unforgettable experience.

Madeleine participated in the Generation UK internship programme in 2017 working at Non-A Studio & Difang Construction. Since completing her internship, she worked at Farrells as a Part 1 Architectural Assistant in London from October 2019 to June 2021. Madeleine will be embarking on an MArch at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in September 2021.