HOW I CAME TO WORK AT ARCHDAILY
Niall Patrick Walsh
Queen's University Belfast
Today's article is slightly different from the norm, we sit down with ArchDaily Journalist Niall Patrick Walsh to talk through his journey into Architectural Journalism, and provide advice on how you could do the same!
Throughout the piece you will also see a number of images from his most recent project You Are What You Eat.
Niall to start could you give us a brief introduction as to who you are, where have you studied, what stage are you in your architectural career?
As my name implies, I’m Irish. I grew up in Limerick, a city in the South West of the country. In 2012, at the age of 18, I moved to Belfast where I would gain my Undergraduate and Masters architecture degrees at Queen’s University. Between my two degrees, I worked as an architectural assistant at Architecture Initiative in London, and took time to travel and volunteer across Latin America, the United States, and Australia. Alongside my ArchDaily duties, I currently work as an architectural assistant at BDP (Building Design Partnership), in their Dublin office.
Why did you decide to study architecture?
As a child I always had a passion for Lego, and in time discovered I enjoyed designing my Lego structures more than building them. In school, I excelled in architectural graphics classes, and gradually became excited by the prospect of changing people’s lives through shaping their built environment. Having never studied art, and entering university during the depths of a recession, I was advised by many not to study architecture, but the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney summed it up when he said that the secret to success is to “walk on air against your better judgement.”
Where do you think that your passion for journalism arisen from, and why did you decide to venture into architectural journalism?
It was a similar journey to my architectural trajectory. As a child, my parents always instilled the importance of reading. I learned to write well from them, my sister, and from reading the work of writers such as Fintan O’Toole, a great columnist for The Irish Times. I was fortunate in school to have a brilliant History teacher, and a succession of excellent Engish teachers. When it came to choosing university courses, I had a difficult time deciding between architecture and journalism. Ultimately, I decided that it would be easier to work journalism and writing into an architectural career than vice versa.
How did you approach becoming an employee with ArchDaily?
While I was working as an architectural assistant after graduating from my undergraduate degree, I become aware that ArchDaily had an internship program, which opened every three months. I recognised how tough the competition would be for a global site such as theirs, so I set up a blog to use as evidence of my writing skills. My first piece was a protest article against the planned demolition of the Queen’s University Belfast Student’s Union building. I applied to the ArchDaily internship program three times over 12 months, and was unsuccessful. On the forth attempt, I finally got it. I worked as an intern alongside my job as an architectural assistant for five months, before leaving to embark on some pre-university travels. In March 2018, when I was midway through my first year of a two-year Masters, I was invited back to become the News Editor in a part-time capacity, and that is still where I find myself today.
Could you give our readers an insight into what it is like working for an International News Outlet like ArchDaily?
It’s hard to put it into words, ironically. I work in a team brimming with youth and energy, based all over the world, from Chile to China. It has opened my eyes to how the internet has changed the world of work, and facilitated the growth not just of ArchDaily the database, or ArchDaily the tool, but ArchDaily the workplace. My specific role has also given me the opportunity to immerse myself in the trends shaping the profession. Writing two news articles per day can sometimes be demanding, but there is an endless buzz from knowing that the words you write are being read around the world, and that you play some role, no matter how small, in shaping the conversation.
What have you learnt from working within the field of Architectural Journalism?
I have learned that architecture goes far beyond the design of a medium-size building. ArchDaily is a global network for a global industry, and being a global industry gives architects the ability to create real change. Whether it be climate change, climate migration, or automation, ArchDaily has made me aware of the great innovations and ideas being generated by architects across the world in designing for challenges that go far beyond our typical brief. We need more of that.
Has there been on stand out moment so far from your time working at ArchDaily?
Two days before this interview was conducted, I interviewed the founder of TED, Richard Saul Wurman. We spoke for over an hour, in what felt like a minute. That experience is hard to put into words, so I will just say it was an immense privilege in my life, and leave it at that. I have also always had a passion for travel, so unsurprisingly, my stand out moments are times when I embark on trips for ArchDaily. Though I have represented them in Nantes, Venice, and Dublin, my stand out moment was travelling to Santiago de Chile for ArchDaily’s annual retreat, where the entire team met up to discuss the year ahead, and what issues were important for us cover and represent.
You are the only U.K based editor for ArchDaily how would you suggest others looking to follow in your footsteps approach the process?
I would encourage anybody who has a passion for writing to apply to our internship program. Both myself and many of my colleagues began as interns, and our trajectories unfolded from there. As with any job application, the key is to demonstrate passion, talent, and commitment. If at first you don’t succeed, do not be discouraged. I know that is easier said than done: I applied to the internship three times before being successful, such is the reality of competing on a global scale. To U.K students, I would also point out that there is a vibrant scene here for you to engage with. Never be afraid to pitch your ideas to newspapers, journals, and websites. The worst they will say is no.
You are working as a Part 2 assistant whilst also reporting for ArchDaily how are you finding the work life balance of this?
Working as an architectural assistant, especially somewhere as busy as BDP, required me to alter my role at ArchDaily: I now write one or two in-depth pieces per week, allowing more room to research, reflect, and investigate my pieces. I am very fortunate that both BDP and ArchDaily are exciting places to work, with engaging projects and great colleagues, and when you love that you do, you will always find the energy for it. Having said that, it is not healthy to be wired into work for 24 hours per day. As cliché as this sounds, it is true that eating well, exercising, and taking time to relax in a café or a bar is important for our wellbeing. There is nothing heroic or healthy about denying yourself the opportunity to relax, have fun, or sleep.
What is the one thing you would love to report on that you have yet to have the chance?
I believe that climate change is the defining issue of our time, and this will likely be reflected in my content going forward. Issues such as providing adequate social housing, accessibility and diversity in the profession, and technology are also key issues for me. Finally, I would love to do more interviews with architects about their own views and perspectives on the future of the profession, and the future of the built environment.
Where do you see your future within the field of architecture? More toward working in practice of focusing on journalism? Or perhaps both?
I have always been clear that I want to primarily be a practicing architect. My core work hours are fully devoted to BDP, with my writing and other endeavours occupying the space around that. I have always been excited by having a diverse career, having used my time in university to teach and lecture younger students, and to organise and launch an international design competition. If I were to sum up my ideal career, it would be practicing, writing, teaching, and enterprising, in that order. It is a lot to juggle, but there is something fulfilling about waking up the morning, knowing there is a bounty of different avenues and engagements for you to tackle, all of which align with your passions. You don’t have enough years in life to be able to live solely within your comfort zone.
If you could offer one piece of advice to those architecture students reading this interview what would it be?
Being a student, you have an unparalleled opportunity to explore your passions. I know how busy and stressful an architectural education is, but in my time in university I have met so many talented colleagues, all with skills to offer the world that go beyond the traditional architecture brief, whether that is poster design, fashion, drone photography, or indeed writing. Use the freedom of university to set up a website or blog, pitch your talent to clients or publications, and turn your passions and enthusiasm into a source of income. It becomes much harder to lay the foundations for this after university.
Where can people read more of your work?
Aside from my ArchDaily author page, I occasionally publish my work on my Issuu account. My Instagram handle is @niallpatrickwalsh and my Twitter is @niallpwalsh.
Finally, if you could go back in time and tell young Niall who was just starting out in his architectural studies, what would it be?
If I could go back to a younger Niall, I am not sure there is much I would have told him to do differently. I would remind him to read, write, talk, draw, and crucially, travel. I would tell him to be confident and speak with conviction. I would tell him that all-nighters might have felt necessary at the time, but ultimately achieve very little. I would also remind him not to measure success through awards, praise, or recognition, but through the ambition of challenging yourself to something, and having the strength to actually do it. This can be difficult to remember: the reward for dedication and commitment can often be delayed by months, or even years, but I do believe that eventually, it pays off.