Mark Wilson MCIAT on Architectural Technology

  • Building Design Expert
  • 6 years ago

I recently underwent a digital distance interview with Philadelphia University College of Architecture and the Built Environment, the results of which they have allowed me to publish below. They gave me the opportunity to talk about my career in the construction industry, and make some important references to my passion for my profession Architectural Technology.

What’s one of the biggest challenges facing architecture professionals today? According to chartered architectural technologist, Mark Wilson, who got his start in the industry using a Rotring pen and a T-square, it’s melding old-school design values with current design technology. “Technology sets incredible targets, but creates incredible problems in attaining them, much of which is allied to training and understanding,” he says. “Many building design professionals are trained, but not all of them understand, and that is a huge challenge.”

On his blog, Building Design Expert, Mark follows industry news, trends and challenges in posts, videos and a podcast. Here, he talks more about his experience and what inspires him, and offers advice to those just getting started in the field.

What’s your professional background?

My first job was with an interior design company that taught me how to draw with Rotring pens using a board and T-square, although I was pretty good with a B&T from school. I really learned about construction working at a small local firm of architects near Leeds, West Yorkshire, and they were good enough to let me attend Building College on a part-time basis to get my formal base qualifications.

From there, I have worked across a large range of the industry spectrum including small general builders, a timber frame manufacturer and house builder, international property developer and small- and medium-sized architectural practices—always in an architectural design capacity.

For the past 15 years, I have operated my own one-man architectural design practice as a chartered architectural technologist. Due to my varied previous backgrounds, I am able to offer a full range of architectural services across a range of building uses and architectural styles, and that keeps the interest going and passion levels high.

What is an Architectural Technologist?

All architectural technologists get asked this question probably most days of every week. We work on the basis that our profession will be the de rigueur for the technical and high-performance design in the built environment. But anyone can call themselves an architectural technologist; it is when we achieve “Chartered” status that a person becomes recognized as a building design professional who has proved that he/she is worthy of the title to his or her peers, who are the sole judges.

By definition a chartered AT is an experience-based qualification, and not a scroll handed out after successfully completing an exam or three.

But seriously, I have no truck with our allied professions. We do a job that has very many overlaps, but we CATs do things slightly differently in that we will not design a building, or a part of a building, without a very good idea of how it will be built. Our training provides and develops an innate understanding of materials—how they can go together and how they interact with various structures, constructions—and how they are affected within differing environments.

Architectural Technology is not just a profession, it is an all-consuming passion, even a lifestyle where I find myself taking buildings apart with my eyes to determine how they have been put together.

When did you become passionate about architecture, design and construction?

My interest was aroused a month after my 10th birthday when I went to help my two uncles who were building their own homes. My passion developed in my 20s when I realized what an incredible industry I had broken into and how I had the ability to decide how a building would work and look.

Can you tell us the story behind Building Design Expert? When and why did you start your site?

The site initially got off to a false start when I tried to combine it with a website for my own architectural design practice. I soon realized that combing the “how to” with a design pitch was not really a complementary combination.

The name for Building Design Expert came from a “light bulb” moment having asked myself to honestly and succinctly describe what I did, or what I was, but in general terms. I concluded that after 33 years of designing buildings that I, along with thousands of others, was an expert in building design and had accrued much knowledge and understanding of the construction that it was important to share as widely as possible.

A website was the perfect medium for this, and my son designed and built the first one for me, which I decided wasn’t working, so I commissioned a more experienced specialist to build in 2011, and we have grown from there.

I have always had a passion—certainly a thing for writing, but writing in my own way and in my own style. Blogging became an easy and natural outlet for this. My wife used to proofread my blogs, but she is a teacher and could not handle the unconventional style that I like to use. I enjoy having the freedom and the facility to comment on the construction industry.

From there the plan was to try and create a one-stop-shop facility for construction professionals, providing direct and, importantly, free access to information, guidance and best practice that was freely available on the web—the exception being that it was all in one place on one website. It’s a simple concept, but hard to keep up; such is the relentless pace of changing styles, trends, fashions and technology. But I love technology and want everyone else to as well.

The site underwent its first rebuild last year and now incorporates a home page, which we did without for a long time, and a large injection of information-rich videos.

Oh, and don’t forget the Building Design Expert Podcast. That was something I launched into headfirst a couple of years ago, with no experience and almost no equipment. “How hard can it be?” I said. As it turned out, it wasn’t that hard, but then it wasn’t that easy either. It has taught me much about the construction industry, people and myself. I never realized how hard it would be to get people to agree to be interviewed, but when they finally cave in, they love it.

What are some of the most interesting architecture or building trends or headlines you’re following these days? 

I love the ethos and hi-tech/lo-tech associated with Passivhaus. The simplicity of the concept is overwhelming, and I am convinced it provides the key to the future of building design in an energy-poor world.

What are some real-world lessons in design and construction you wish you’d learned back in school? 

Just after I qualified as a full member of my professional institute I worked for a timber frame house builder who was pioneering the manufacture of modular housing units for a housing development company. Timber frame was having bad press at the time, so I was dismissive of the modular aspect, despite working for the manufacturer. “Off-site” now most definitely has a big and bright future (if only someone had told me!).

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Without a doubt I take my inspiration from reading industry journals, magazines and trawling the web for stuff that just takes my eye. I don’t make notes and I don’t do sketches for a reference file. I think it is a subliminal infusion of ideas that I just call upon when I am faced with a design problem. I think a lot of designers work in this way, and I think it works well as it limits the opportunities for a straight copy and facilitates design progression and development.

In your opinion, who’s doing the most innovative or interesting work in your field today?

Passivhaus designers are carrying out some of the most technically advanced and ecologically sustainable projects, but not always to a rigid formula. I am not a Passivhaus designer, but intend to be. The flexibility it offers in design solutions to the same end is huge, and will not be a minority for too much longer.

If you were delivering a commencement address to a graduating class of architecture students, what’s the lasting message you’d want to share with them about their careers? 

Your life and career will be a hybrid of planning coupled with blowing with the wind. So, in your planning, include a contingency that allows the wind to blow. In other words, more than ever technology allows you so many options to specialize, which is good, but be sure you accrue enough knowledge first that will allow your specialty to flex when required.

If you’re ready for a deeper understanding in the technologies and advancements that will shape the future of the built environment, learn about the graduate programs we offer at PhilaU. For more from Mark, reach out to him via TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.