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John Wood (1998-2003)

Occupation: Architect at Ellis Williams Architects

What were your favourite subjects and who were your favourite teachers at School?

I quite enjoyed the sciences when I was at school, particularly physics and maths.  But I also took an interest in music, art and geography.  Having said this, the lessons I remember standing out when I look back now were my history lessons with Mr Whitten.  He was a great teacher and had a really good relationship with the class.  And that's coming from someone who was terrible at his subject!  I also got on well with Mr Hiepko.  He's a really engaging teacher in lessons and great on the pastoral side of things too.

What further study have you undertaken since leaving School?

I went on to study for my A-levels at Winstanley College near Wigan and then I studied architecture at university.  This is a seven-year course in three parts – undergraduate, postgraduate and professional qualifications.

How did you progress to your current role and what does it involve?

I qualified as an architect last year, but, having done the postgraduate part of my training part-time while working, I qualified with six years of experience at my current company.  Because of this I get treated with a lot of respect and am currently responsible for leading the design on six large multi-million pound projects and two smaller ones.

What / who influenced your career choice?

Looking back now I suppose I was inspired by the late 1990s boom in big building in London.  Although as I've progressed through my career, I've taken more of an interest in mid-twentieth century architecture – recent heritage, if you like.  And now I love working with the kinds of buildings and campus' which are considered really mundane and ordinary, but the work we do there has a really profound impact on the people who use them.  Now I take inspiration from social commentators and philosophers like Jane Jacobs and Jeremy Till who see beauty in the everyday.

What skills are essential for your role?

You have to be a good all-rounder to become an architect, but the thing I feel is most important is the communication aspect of our role.  We are essentially social interpreters – we analyse what we see and generate ideas to improve it, we pitch those ideas to others and then have to translate the ideas into designs and explain to others how these designs go together.

What are the biggest challenges?

The work we do is incredibly reliant on collaboration – on a basic level with clients and builders, but most of my projects also involve complex stakeholder networks which have to be managed.  The challenge is channelling all of these different sources of ideas, criticism and differing viewpoints to come to a rational output that fulfils all of the required criteria.

What/who has been your biggest inspiration?

Over fairly recent years, our profession has rediscovered the social side of our discipline.  There are two architects in particular who have led this field: Irena Bauman and Jan Gehl.  I find both their bodies of work fascinating because they champion a much more human approach to understanding architecture as opposed to analysing architecture at a conceptual level which is the more established norm.

What do you consider to be your greatest career achievement?

When I was straight out of university and I began work at Ellis Williams Architects I worked on a really great project in the West Midlands called Q3 Academy.  The project was one of the most impressive I've worked on yet and I learnt a huge amount being part of such a talented team.  Of course, not knowing any different, I didn't really appreciate at the time how lucky I was!

How did Bolton School help you to be successful in your chosen career?

The thing I always think sets Bolton School Alumni apart is the confidence we take away with us.  Even now I receive comments from colleagues and associates complementing me on my ability to engage with people from the biggest, most important clients down to end user consultees on my projects.  Without my Bolton School education, I don't think I ever would have been capable of this.

 

John

John at work