Interview with Elliot Dickson: Becoming a Chartered Architectural Technologist 

  1. What is an Architectural Technologist?

This is a question that, at the start of my career, was always asked. An Architectural Technologist is a qualified professional that offers a full architectural design service, that leads and manages projects from conception to completion and all with an understanding of building science, engineering and technology. 

Architectural Technologists take their knowledge of the sciences, technology and building regulations and applies them to design competent buildings that meet client’s briefs, whilst complying with Planning or Building Control standards. 

A Technologist can work on a project as the project lead or assist to the greater design team in a multidisciplinary capacity. 

A Chartered Architectural Technologist is competent to design and manage all types of projects at all levels, from small scale domestic alterations or extension to large scale commercial buildings as a sole practitioner or in a multidisciplinary practice, up to Director level. 

The title Chartered Architectural Technologist is a protected, valued, and respected as a regulated professional qualification and designation, which, can be transferred and recognised across borders. This title can only be awarded by the Charted Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT). 

(CIAT, 2019)

2. Why did I become an AT and how did I do it? 

During my time at school, I always had been drawn to the graphics and woodwork department with an interest in physics and maths. So, my first thought was ‘I’ll become an Architect’! Not even knowing that the Architectural Technology was a career option! But after looking into the different courses on offer at universities and what modules were covered, I was more drawn to Architectural Technology. I was then fortunate to gain a place at Robert Gordon University (RGU). Selecting RGU was almost a no brainer for me, as it was an accredited course with a high post-graduation employment stats. 

The course itself appealed more to me due to the building sciences, technology aspects whilst getting to use my eagerness to design. I didn’t finish school with particularly astounding grades, but enough to land myself a university spot. I always found the way we were graded in High School to be more of a memory test, rather than an ability test; which was something that didn’t work for me too well. 

During my time at university, we were led by Dr Jonathan Scott, Course Leader. Dr Scott was a great mentor in my early career, always pushing the boundaries of what I thought was possible in my ability and understanding of construction.

Whilst at RGU I learned how to navigate the crazy design choice you make as a bright eyed student and how to make it technically feasible. One example of this was a supermarket project I designed to have a farmable roof and to be sunk into the existing ground. Somehow think your high street supermarket didn’t have the budget I was working to…but never say never and aim for gold!

After my four years at RGU I graduated with a First Class Honours in BSc Architectural Technology, far exceeding my own expectations coming into the course, but I think that’s more on me doubting my ability to obtain a high grade, given my history with High School. 

3. How did I break into the construction industry? 

I obtained my first job straight out of university through sending ‘cold-call’ emails with a covering letter and portfolio to every architectural firm I could think of and find through google searches. I must have applied to about 10-20 firms in one week for about 2 months in hope of getting a call for an interview. However, it was long after that I was offered a job at a small to medium sized firm in Edinburgh, where I worked for 5 years on a national refurbishment scheme for one of the major UK based banks. I’d worked on a few small domestic extensions and houses during my time but felt it was the right time in my career to move on. To where I am now, Sanderson Borland Architects. 

Since I have joined Sanderson Borland I have been a Project Lead Architectural Technologist and Contract Administrator for numerous projects, one of which being Lochford Gardens, Halllhill Dunbar. 

4. Why did I want to become chartered?

From my first year at University, Dr Scott was always informing us of the importance of CIAT and why it is important for us to be involved at such an early point in our careers. During my 4th year at RGU I was made a Committee Member of aspiration, which is CIAT’s initiative aimed at future Architectural Technology professionals and specifically designed to target students and recent graduates and encourage Institute engagement in their formative years within the discipline. 

From this role, I had the opportunities to speak with practitioners, lecturers, recent graduates and learn more about the profession outside of university and what to expect. It was a vital part in showing me why the Institute is a great help to members and why I should be aiming for Chartership status. 

The other side of this, is that, I wanted to prove to myself, my employer, colleagues and clients that I have the ability to provide them with a full, robust service and professionalism to meet their needs. 

5. What did it involve?

When it came to starting my application to become Chartered, it always seemed such a daunting task. How was I going to pull together all the evidence? How would I find the time to write the application form? All the things that went through my head before I’d even opened the information package up. 

The process is broken into two stages, Stage 01 Application Form (PA or POP), and upon a successful application you are then progressed Stage 02 a Professional Interview. 

When it came down to it, it was a much easier task that I’d originally thought, the hard part was trying to collate all the evidence in a cohesive manor. 

The first thing I did was read the MCIAT Professional Assessment framework, examples of previously successful applications and the questions then being asked of me in the application. After that, I’d made notes on what projects I felt I could talk about for each section. From here, I wrote as much information as possible for each question and then edited it down to meet the required word count. Whilst writing it making notes to each item to what the referencing evidence would be and created a simple folder structure with a contents sheet. I had my colleague and MCIAT mentor Matthew Gibson check over my application to ensure it was as he would expect before submitting for panel approval. 

Upon receiving approval by the CIAT judge, I was invited to attend my Professional Interview via Zoom, this was a 45min conversation with two members of the CIAT panel, which is a causal chat to ensure you are who you say you are in your application, and you have the professionalism and ability. That being said, this was the most nervous i’ve been attending any interview, knees weak, arms heavy…After the 45mins of questions/ chatting is over, the panel break away to deliberate to whether or not you have been success in passing the interview, which in my case, was a success. From here you are informed you have passed and will receive form confirmation in the post with your certificate. 

Weight of the shoulders lifted!

6. What are your aspirations for the future? 

Now that I can now call myself a Chartered Architectural Technologist, I’d like to look more into business development and how the business can grow. I am also Sanderson Borland’s ‘Social Media Manager’ and I’m interested how increasing our engagement can grow the company more. Then one day being a director of a successful practice. 

My other area of development I’d like to invest in would be BIM and how it could improve the productivity of both my output but the company’s. Further training to obtain the likes of BIM Level 2 and BIM Management. Think BIM can be a great tool to create more for companies so that more time can be spent on design more suitable, CO2 friendly buildings, as with BIM the more you put in the more you get out of it, so why can’t we have it help us design better buildings? I think the one thing stopping from most practices getting into BIM is one, a lack of demand by clients to push firms the direction, but why should that stop us? Secondly, is the cost. The investment most practices will need to make to take the plunge can be sizable, when you look at it from a direct cash involvement and a time loss on fee earning work. 

7. What advice would you give to ‘up and coming’ graduates? 

Get as much experience as you can in differing sectors. If you can get a practice that will expose you to all areas such as client meetings, planning, building control, site experience, great the earlier you start getting these experiences the better it will build your confidence and your understanding of the whole picture. The best of the list is getting site experience and talking to the people reading your drawings, finding out what works and what doesn’t, create a rapport with the site team, this way, if they have a question, they will come to you straight away and not think ‘I don’t want to speak with them, they will get annoyed’. 

I had a great mentor in my first role, Ian Christie, who afforded me a lot of time and experience very quickly. He trusted me to do the job and if I didn’t know the answer or got stuck, he was always approachable. 

My final piece of advice is not to worry,  you will make mistakes, no one expects you to know everything. If you make a mistake own up to it and learn from it, and ask the question, even if you think it may sound silly.