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Experiencing architecture practice through Oakwrights

‘After earlier this year achieving a BA (Hons) in Architecture from Northumbria University in Newcastle, I decided to return to the hills of home and begin my architectural career with Oakwrights in Hereford as an RIBA Part 1 Architectural Assistant.” Abi Catchpole, RIBA Part 1 Architectural Assistant. 

Abigail Catchpole Photo credit: Oakwrights

Having recently graduated I started work within the in-house architectural department as an RIBA Part 1 Architectural Assistant, under the guidance of department manager Helen Needham, RIBA ARB Architect, and my mentor Mariyana Hartland, Architectural Assistant. In my first weeks I spent time getting to know the various departments and how they all collaborate at various stages of a project whilst beginning to understand the fundamental concepts of Oak frame construction.


Unlike a conventional Architect’s practice, at Oakwrights the in-house architectural designers work alongside in-house teams of project managers, salesmen, frame designers and marketing personnel. Typically these specialties would be employed externally. Additionally, at the core of the company, are the Oak frames; these are designed, cut and hand finished in the on-site workshops. It is rare for an architectural team to have the opportunity to directly see the production of a project without a formal site visit. To be able to visit the workshops and see projects progress is hugely beneficial not only to the frame designers but for us too. For planning purposes often the exterior of a proposal becomes the key focus and driving force, however when designing with an Oak frame the frame takes precedence. How does the frame sit within a room? How do bays interact with one another? How will a room be furnished to give focus to particular features within the frame? These are all questions which we have to ask ourselves when developing a concept design; how can we make the most out of the frame.  


Good relationships and effective communication enables the team to deliver designs which are functional whilst ticking the boxes on a client’s ‘wish list’. Regular correspondence, site visits and the opportunity to give feedback on draft drawings all help clients discover what they are looking for within their new home; this may include elements they had not previously considered but are instinctive suggestions by a designer.


Within the department there are registered Architects, Architectural Technicians, a Passivhaus specialist and building regulations specialist. We all work closely with each other creating a vast pool of knowledge for all to tap into; this often aids the department’s efficiency as alternatively this advice would be sourced externally. Department meetings ensure an equally distributed workload and allow time for each designer to update the team on the progress of projects, expected dates for planning outcomes, any challenges which have been overcome or ask for additional advice and accounts updates.