Al Houghton discusses the cultural and architectural differences between his newly adopted home in Newcastle and native Australia.
I can’t believe it’s been a year since I left the UK for my secondment to Australia. When the email popped up in my inbox, I read the words ‘Opportunity in Australia’ and quickly made my mind up that it wasn’t for me
Firstly, I was very happy in my workflow having only just moved to Newcastle. Secondly, after years of trying to figure out how my partner and I could live the same city, it seemed absurd to immediately go halfway around the world. Plus Brexit was happening with the risk of invalidating my UK citizenship application.
I kept thinking it could be fantastic to try something different, so I stopped overthinking it and put my name down. I was over the moon to be selected. I packed my bags and off I went.
The experience opened an entirely new world of opportunities.
We all strive to offer our clients a quality service and help our organisations deliver on their commitments. There is value in growing and developing in a specific role over years, in fact, this is necessary in any career. It is equally important to seek opportunities where you challenge your abilities, strengthening and honing your skills, and Ryder encourages these explorations.
i2C is an innovative practice with a broad portfolio and an expertise in retail. The retail field is about demographic studies, how we live and what our lifestyles might look like in the future. There is a lot of strategic thinking, good masterplanning and thought around the user experience. My skills were put to use for the redevelopment of Ashfield Town Centre in West Sydney. Coming from a background of public funded buildings, the engagement with the developers made me appreciate the commercial viability of privately funded projects in a different light. The project was secured not only by demonstrating urban sensitivity but commercial viability.
Challenges and renewed confidence
Adaptation is essential in order to survive and move ahead in the world. By committing to change as the world around you changes, allows you to discover hidden parts of yourself. Things rarely go entirely to plan, and Ryder’s approach is that new experiences are the best environments to further develop negotiation, client relationship and above all, leadership skills
The change of environment made me gain a better understanding of myself professionally and personally. It was a sound springboard to network, take on more responsibility and understand how other businesses operate. It helped me explore projects of cultural complexities and varying scales: from the local council politics of city planning to how one dines in hip redevelopments of factory sites.
One personal win was the first pitch with the new team. Public speaking is one of the most challenging things for me, as I worry people may not understand my accent. Thankfully we did a practice run. To my surprise, I was sweating and my voice was a whisper. My Sydney team leader, who would normally crack a joke or two, pushed us through a serious cold run so we could hear ourselves. The process was gruelling but by the time we had finished there was no energy left for nervousness. Later that afternoon, I found myself marvelling at Harry Seidler’s circulation core with globe lift indicator lights at the top of Australia Square, dying of excitement to present. I’ve learned since how valuable a dry practice run is.
You can have a wallet bursting with business cards and more LinkedIn contacts than you can shake a stick at, however, when it comes to developing your professional network there really is no substitute for working alongside people and getting to know them on a personal level.
The secondment has certainly left me feeling a lot more connected to the Alliance; and I aim to continue this. i2C made me feel part of their family, especially Sydney and Melbourne where I spent most of my time. I’ve had the chance to engage with the i2C national design team discussing the latest design concepts. We’ve obsessed over fired chicken, schnitzel and Tim-Tams together, not to mention the fortnightly pub quizzes, Melbourne shuffles, office lunch time BBQs, boat days out, design session, the Tangalooma team trip and swimming with wild dolphins.
I’ve made new friends and we’ve met up a dozen times since. Coffee is world class. Brunch is an institution. You are bound to make new friendships in Sydney. There are well over 100 amazing beaches in New South Wales with the whitest sands and freshly farmed oysters awaiting. I’ve travelled the outback in the deserts of the Northern Territories humbled by the local Aboriginals’ culture. The 1,000km worth of road trip camping under the countless stars in the summer nights made this an incredible experience.
The Australian architectural industry is young and vibrant, by contrast, having been back I’ve appreciated the strong heritage we have at Ryder. There are advantages in being a well established practice with years of experience backing our conversations. This is evident in the quality of our commissions, our confidence, ability to get to the answer quickly, our client base and our relative stability in an unstable world. The UK is at the centre of global politics and culture and, at Ryder, we have the privilege of addressing these opportunities and issues across housing, education, workplace and healthcare. Few places have such a wide offering, and even fewer encourage you to explore as much as you can chew.
The exchange brought me awareness around the world economy and architectural tastes. This makes it easier to be critical about how I design, work with people and be more relaxed by noticing similar problems. It gave me a global outlook on our work.
Secondments are an exciting point in your career and you should embrace them.