Built By Us Case Study | Liam Bonnar | Architect

I was at a very working class high school just outside Edinburgh where there wasn’t much in the way of direction when it came to applying to universities. 


My skill set pointed to a career in engineering or architecture but there was very little support to help me get to university. My dad had been an architect back in the day and had gone on to become a project manager.

I applied to do architecture purely because that’s the only career I knew anything about I had to apply to Scottish universities because tuition was free and there wasn’t really any money available for me to go anywhere else. It had to be somewhere I could travel to from the family home.  I applied to four universities in Scotland. I got an offer from Edinburgh and I stumbled through the first years of the course.

I had no idea what to expect and ended up stressed and anxious because on day one, instead of drawing up some plans, which is what I was expecting to be doing, the course was very conceptual and theory based. The first four years were a struggle and I found it difficult to balance focusing on my education with supporting myself financially – I had two part-times jobs and was living at home through most of university.

When I came to London for my Part 1 work experience I received no guidance and ended up working in a furniture store doing drawing work for them because it was the first job I could get. This was a missed opportunity because a lot of my peers were gaining exciting and relevant experience in practices.

I had saved enough over the first four years of the degree to move into Edinburgh for the Masters, also going down to one part-time job with the intention of giving me more time to focus on architecture. I took the opportunity to better immerse myself in architectural education and the culture of the studio, to understand and to discuss what the tutors and their brief were asking of us, instead of just producing what I thought was right. 

For Part 2 I spent nine months in a small practice in Scotland. It was a very hierarchical; I did a lot of work and was seen to be very ambitious, but I was never asked to attend the meetings I’d done all the work for as the directors didn’t think the client would want a young person in the room!

I looked to London and found a job which was much more what I’d imagined the profession to be like; there was a noticeable studio atmosphere, an array of projects on display, and everyone seemed to be working collaboratively, which didn’t reflect my previous experience at all. 

After 2 years in London, I completed my Part 3 with Distinction and after a year of intensive learning and practice development I thought I’d be carrying this momentum forward into a new roll. My experience didn’t reflect this aspiration, and I found myself disappointed in returning to the same role as before, without the distraction of part 3 to take my mind off this. 

Katy, a director at Make and Fluid ambassador, presented the mentoring scheme to the office and some of my colleagues - who had previously been mentees and were aware of my frustrations in my position - suggested I attend one of the Fluid presentations. I was a little sceptical of my suitability but after a chat with Danna I applied and was paired with Adam Jones at EPR. He’s been absolutely amazing. We’ve met once a month for the last six months and I can already see a change in my position in the office. Part of that is circumstantial but I think a lot is owed to my conversations with Adam, which have encouraged me to reflect on my experience often and change my approach to things which I’m not happy with. I’ve been able to take steps to align myself with the career I want to have and ask myself questions I wouldn’t have asked before. 

Discussion with Adam has given me some more confidence in my role and has provided me with a more senior figure’s perspective pointing out that some boundaries are just perceived and not such an issue in practice. He’s got me talking about what I want to be doing in one year and in the future and made sure that I’m setting this up for myself.

I don’t wait for work appraisals anymore. I’m being honest and speaking to my colleagues and peers about where I want to be and talking about it in an open way. Adam has been really supportive about getting me to the place I need to go with this.

One of the biggest changes Adam has advised on is how I manoeuvre away from the Revit ‘support’ role I found myself in; given I had the most experience in the office when I started, I found I was spending a lot of my time assisting colleagues and doing Revit-intensive roles on projects as I was best-placed to do so. My approach is now to use my experience to input at a practice level, allowing our more experienced BIM team to distribute their practice standards in a more efficient way and giving me more time to learn how to manage projects and people; I can focus on my career development and my goals more effectively.

Having open dialogue with Adam has made me audit my work one month at a time, which I highly recommend. I’m now able to talk confidently about what I’m achieving because it’s fresh in my mind and I have a focus, a long-term goal to continually check my progress against.

Another thing that Adam has encouraged me to do is work on my professional CV. I hadn’t updated my CV since my Part 2 as I’ve been in the same job for four years. My first attempt wasn’t great, but I discussed it with Adam – what elements stand out, what I’m trying to portray, what my key involvement in a project actually was - and I worked on it and improved it based on his advice and it turned into something I was really happy with and I felt showcased my strengths in an effective way.  I did this just before my appraisal meeting so it was really useful because it outlined what I’d done over the last five years of my professional career and I was able to talk about where I want to go next. 

Fluid has altogether been a very positive experience.