Joanna Slowik joined BSBG as an architect directly having finished her university studies in Poland and Copenhagen. She attended the West Pomeranian University of Technology in Szczecin, studying an Engineer’s Degree in Architecture, before going to Denmark to Københavns Erhvervsakademi, where she completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Architectural Technology. She then made the move to Dubai as a fresh graduate and joined up with BSBG in 2014.
Here, she shares with us her experiences of working on some hugely significant projects straight after finishing her studies, and how BSBG helped her to grow and acclimatise to the ’real world of architecture…’
You’re currently working on ICD Brookfield Place, a 53-storey tower in DIFC. This is one of the high profile projects happening in Dubai right now with lots of pressure, so how are you enjoying it?
“It’s a really challenging project. It’s the first project where I have actually been full-time on site and witnessed the process of construction of that scale and I really enjoy it. It’s so empowering to see how things are actually built. When you’re in your office working on drawings I don’t think you really get an idea of what it takes to actually bring the concept to reality. But when you see elements that you’ve actually worked on come together on the development it’s really amazing. When we were pouring the raft last weekend I was walking through and I saw a couple of elements that I recognised from the drawings I had been looking at for the last two years! It’s a really cool feeling.”
What has been your involvement on the project?
“I have been working on it from the very beginning two years ago. My site duties primarily involve coordination, studying documentation, attending meetings and going through RFI’s. This is still during the concrete raft pour stage for the basement levels. Once we go over ground the project will really kick on and my involvement will become even more.”
What is it like coming straight from university to working on a project like this?
“I had experience while studying, but this was more on residential houses and interiors. I then worked for a time on the preservation of historically important buildings, but when it comes to scale, nothing can prepare you for how significant the projects are here in Dubai.”
How do you apply the knowledge and experiences from university into your projects with BSBG?
“University is of course really important, but I feel you really start to learn when you are out in the field working on projects the like of which I have been fortunate to be involved in – such as ICD Brookfield and Bluewaters Island Residential district. The real experience and the real knowledge you get from working on projects is incomparable to the knowledge you learn at university.
“I considered doing my Masters immediately having graduated, but I believe it puts you in a far stronger position for your future if you are able to gain real experience before committing to a further two year’s study.”
Would you recommend that architecture students follow your path and come to Dubai straight as a fresh graduate?
“There’s no question that I would recommend Dubai to any students looking to forge a career in architecture. You have unlimited opportunities here to advance and develop – and to work on projects the scale and complexity of which are comparable with only a few other cities in the world.
“In London, the architectural projects are very cool, but I think they are also quite specific in terms of planning and design. But the types of projects you are exposed to here, if you join a company like BSBG, they are so varied and exciting, and you also get to work in a really unique environment. In Europe, things are done a certain way, which works for the territory, but if you’re keen to be an international architect and work in different countries, Dubai will give you a very broad, multi-cultural experience.”
How much support were you given by BSBG when you came?
“When I was fresh out of university and set to join BSBG I was concerned that maybe they would expect so much from me that perhaps I didn’t yet know, but it wasn’t like that at all. I was lucky enough to start with some design jobs alongside one of the lead designers, Justin. It was really conceptual at that point, and we were designing a retail walk next to The Dubai Mall. It was really a great project to start with so as I could get my bearings and learn how the company works. I then worked on a hotel project called Aloft Deira City Centre from concept until project delivery. It was a Design & Build project so it was a little bit different, but it wasn’t super technical – I still worked on some details but it was a lot less pressure than the large scale projects I have worked on since.
“I then started to get given more responsibilities, and it makes you realise just what goes in to becoming a top architect. I began attending meetings regularly, and this really exposes you to how things work – not only within BSBG, but with all the other consultants. You begin to realise how much architect work goes into a project. There’s coordination, constantly making phone calls, attending meetings, responding to endless emails, establishing relationships – these are not aspects that you consider when you’re sat at a computer at university.”
You have now covered every aspect of the elements it takes to be a successful modern architect. What’s your next step?
“I want to continue with working on site at ICD Brookfield Place until the project is delivered, so I will have a full site experience. After that, I hope to go back into more concept design work. I have done the technical side, I’ve done the drawings and I’m now on site doing the coordination, so I’d like to go back into pure design at some stage, because I think now I have experience in all the aspects of the job it will really enhance my design work.”
How important is it to experience all the different areas of architecture?
“I can’t see how you can be a good architect without understanding all the facets of the process, or you don’t know how buildings are built or detailed. At uni you are designing buildings that probably wouldn’t be built the way you’ve designed them.
From the concept, the project will usually undergo several changes during all design stages. If the design is not thought-through from the start, the concept might change quite significantly by project’s delivery. So why wouldn’t you want to approach design with the objective to create something that’s actually buildable? You know for a fact it can be built because you have the experience and knowledge of what it takes.”
Is BSBG a good place for a graduate to come and work at?
“Definitely. Because you get exposed to a variety of projects, you work in a large team with a lot of talented people, so you can learn directly from top architects. And although it’s a big company, it’s not one of the enormous firms where you’re perhaps not noticed or you can’t approach or have access to the top management figures. Here, you can always speak to the management, and even though they may be quite busy, they are always supportive and will make time for you if you have a question or are struggling with something. They know all the names of all their staff and they make you feel valued. I think this is really important.”