My dual course allows me to work across both disciplines

Michael Durkin design project
Michael Durkin
Undergraduate student
MEng Structural Engineering and Architecture
Michael, MEng Structural Engineering and Architecture, gives his expert advice on studying a dual Engineering and Architecture course at Sheffield.

Why did you decide to study this course at Sheffield?

Firstly, this course is the only one in the country accredited by the Institute of Structural Engineering (IStructE) while also fulfilling the requirements for the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) part 1 exemption. It's essentially two degrees in one, and graduates are better qualified to go in either direction. Sheffield is also a friendly city, it has all the cultural benefits of other cities (the arts, the music scene, shops etc) but without too much hustle and bustle. The peak district is right on the doorstep, so you can always take some time out.

The course is more artistic than mathematical, and it's about the process of designing for and with communities by first coming to understand them.

Michael Durkin

BA Architecture and Landscape

What have you enjoyed about the course?

I've found the course hugely rewarding - it's very challenging, but seeing my understanding of the two disciplines (which initially felt very detached) slowly come together has been really great. The staff are incredibly helpful and, despite being a small course (there are around 20 in my year), they are always willing to go the extra mile to make sure we are taken care of - be it moving our deadlines so they don't clash with one from the other department, or repeating lectures at a time we can all make.

What skills have you gained while studying in Sheffield?

I'd say the biggest skill learnt on a dual honours degree is time management. You're constantly balancing competing workloads and I've found that employers really value this skill when you go to interviews.

How do you think your degree experience will help you in your career?

Having a dual degree really helps to find employment in the first place, whether you're applying for architecture or structural engineering jobs. Career-wise, I think it gives me the opportunity to work across both disciplines, making me a lot more flexible. Lots of firms seem to recognise the need to have team members with different specialisms - if you go into architecture, you'll already be an engineering expert and vice versa.

How has studying at Sheffield informed the way you think about the subject?

Before applying, I didn't really understand the differences between architecture schools across the country. If I had to describe Sheffield, I'd say that it has a focus on environmental and social sustainability. The course is more artistic than mathematical, and it's about the process of designing for and with communities by first coming to understand them.

What career aspirations do you currently have for after you graduate?

I applied for two engineering jobs in January - and I'm starting work for a great little engineering practice in Nottingham next year. There are about 12 people in the office, and they're well known for working really closely with architects. I think because of this degree I could afford to be quite picky when applying for jobs, which is such a luxury these days. If they'd both turned me down, I was planning to start applying for architecture jobs in the summer (which is when most of the practices start advertising for part one graduates). The department offers lots of support in finding jobs, and there are always students who have come back to do their MArch who you can ask for advice. I suppose this degree basically doubles the number of places you can apply to as well.

What advice would you give to a new Sheffield student?

Firstly, time management. If you have an engineering assignment and an architecture assignment with the same deadline, do the engineering one first as usually it will take a set amount of time and has a definitive answer. Architecture, on the other hand, is completely open-ended and will fill whatever time you have left - there's rarely an obvious point to stop working!

Secondly, soak up as much knowledge as you possibly can. It's only as I come to leave university that I realise how grateful I am for all the extra evening lectures put on by both departments and by the architecture society. These are often presented by practising architects and engineers, and give you an insight away from academia, and into the real world. On a similar note, make the most of all the societies and sports in your first year - time becomes more precious throughout the degree, but there's always time for a break!

Finally, there are no shortcuts in either discipline. Learn skills early, even if it means spending less time perfecting the outcome of projects because those skills will pay dividends later. Learn how to use Photoshop, Illustrator, a reference manager and, most importantly, some kind of BIM (be it Vectorworks or Revit). Then you can 3D print sectional building models in a flash, laser-cut your site, alter plans in minutes and take sections in a couple of mouse-clicks. Learn how to build models and sketch as much as you can - buildings, cities, details, whatever. As your architectural designs or engineering projects become increasingly complex throughout your degree this will save you buckets of time!

What is your favourite thing about Sheffield?

If I had to pick one thing, I think it would be the Peak District. I love to get away from it all, so to find yourself in the middle of nowhere after 20 minutes on the bus is great! If you're into walking, climbing, cycling, kayaking, rowing, or anything else outdoorsy, there'll always be others here who will want to join you!

Example of Michael's work: 

Michael Durkin design project

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