Month: August 2018

Part III Architectural Assistants discuss life at Gaunt Francis

Gaunt Francis is a fantastic place to work for obvious reasons – the amazing office views from the 13th floor in the Capital Tower, the friendliness of the staff, the flexible working hours, staff socials…the list goes on! But what is really great and unique about our practice is the incredible support our Architectural Assistants studying their Part III receive from the team here.

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For those who aren’t too familiar with the stages – in order to become a registered architect, you must earn three qualifications, commonly known as ‘parts’. It’s a very long process and involves an incredible amount of hard work. The Part I is usually fulfilled by a Bachelor’s degree from an ARB prescribed institution. The Part II usually consists of a year working in practice, followed by a two-year Masters program at an ARB prescribed institution. The Part III is then undertaken whilst working in practice and comes in a range of types from intensive 6-week courses to extended 2-year programmes, again at an ARB prescribed institution. The exam process includes: completing PEDR’s over 24 months, a case study of a project you have lead, a careers evaluation, an interview and a written exam. Whilst Part’s I and II are very design focused, Part III is is much more geared to preparing new architects to run a business, including all the legal and management ramifications that entails.

Some of our Architectural Assistant’s here at Gaunt Francis are currently completing, or have recently completed their Part III – an incredible achievement! They decided to share their experience about how supportive Gaunt Francis has been during their journey. Recently qualified Architect, Miranda Dettwyler, studied her part III at the Welsh School of Architecture at Cardiff University – one of the best ranked Architect Schools in the UK. Cardiff offer this programme as a 1-year full time course, or 2-year part time course – Miranda opted for the latter. Here is what she had to say:

“Gaunt Francis were incredibly supportive during my part III studies. We are required to write these reports called PEDR’s, which we write every 3 months; we write about what we’ve been doing for the last 3 months and what projects we’re working on and what kind of experience we are having. This is shown and discussed with our Practice Advisers, who will give us feedback. One of our Directors, Toby Adam, was my Practice Adviser – he was completely happy to do that and spent a lot of his time giving me as much advice as possible. It didn’t seem like a burden for him at all.


As a Part III you have to write a case study about a particular project and you need to have experience of all the RIBA stages, from 0-7. Some people I know from other firms really aren’t given the chance to do all these stages, or to go on site – they’ve usually only been given the earlier stages or the end stages. But here at GFA, they gave me a project which allowed me the opportunity to experience stages 3-7.  They then gave me another project in order for me to experience stages 0-2. I experienced every stage and got plenty of site time! I’d say my usefulness on site was a lot less than someone like one of our senior architects because I had only just finished my Part II, but they paid for me to go to these sites, paid for my train fare there and back; not only that but it’s also more of the senior architects time because it took more time to work with someone who had less experience. But again, they were happy to give me the time.

It was really difficult balancing all the work on top of my personal life – looking after 2 children and having a husband who travels a lot for work, it can be hard. But everyone here is just really willing to put energy and effort into me, which makes me want to stay here and continue to work for them. They spent so much time helping me with my case study to make it better, they even gave me paid study leave, and if I ever needed an hour here or there to talk about contract law, they would take the time to do that – and that’s their working time, they were more than happy to help and that makes me feel so appreciated here.”


Bianca, our Architectural Assistant is in her 2nd year of her Part III studies. Bianca is also studying it at the Welsh School of Architecture at Cardiff University. She expressed: ” The support I have received from Gaunt Francis has been really amazing. For my PEDR’s they have arranged for meetings and discussions whenever I have needed them and allowed me site visits when possible. Giving me paid study leave was something I really appreciated – many companies out there would make you take it as a holiday or unpaid so I feel very lucky that they did this.  The course at WSA is generally structured in such a way that enables logical and rigorous understanding of what is being learnt, as well as  where and why to go for supplementary information. The support provided by GFA is key as it further augments this with real, practical examples. You get the best of both worlds: rigorous and comprehensive theory through the academic environment fused with the exciting and unpredictable theory through practice.

It hasn’t so much been difficult but rather it has required constant focus, attention, energy, patience and perseverance – the fact that often, if not daily, time needs to be dedicated after work, including weekends, public holidays etc. for Part III study. But it’s all worth it.”

David, Architectural Assistant, is studying for his Part III at RIBA North. This is what David had to say: “RIBA North is based in Liverpool where I studied Part I and II and so I have a close relationship with the university. What I find great is that this course is predominantly distance learning which makes it more flexible in terms of studying – compared to WSA which is a lot more intense as you have either 1 or 2 years to complete it. The RIBA North offers candidates to take the final exam (which takes place over 3 days) in either the Spring or Autumn each year, which allows a lot of flexibility with writing the case study and gaining the right amount of experience. This year I have attended 8 days of seminar held at Chester University.


What I found really useful when attending the seminar sessions was realising what I had already been exposed to here at Gaunt Francis as I have been working on a complex project with many parties involved. This projects forms the basis of my case study and provides a wealth of experiencing the complexities of contracts, the various different stakeholders involved, attending site, attending design team meetings etc. Often it is not necessary for myself to attend these but Gaunt Francis encourage my participation to broaden my knowledge and see how various situations are negotiated. However, the work load is significant. Especially with the sunny weather, finding the motivation to study after a long day or week has been challenging!

In addition to all of this, lunchtime discussions with GFA Director, Toby, about various legal issues have been extremely helpful, as well as discussing things with other Part III students. Everyone is happy to take some time our of their busy day to answer any questions you may have and are willing to share their knowledge with you and we all learn from each other – even people who have been here for many years and have lots of experience are still learning from others. I feel a valued member of the GFA team.”

GFA Staff Social – a night at the Alchemist!

Last Friday, some of the team at Gaunt Francis decided it was time for another work social, and so we thought we’d check out the new restaurant that had recently opened in Cardiff – The Alchemist. It was an easy decision as the majority of us are real foodies and were keen to try their very theatrical cocktails!

We had a lot of fun – we received a warm welcome by the staff and were seated to our tables where we enjoyed an array of tasty food – with plenty of options to cater for all sorts of dietary requirements. The cocktails were weird and wonderful – like nothing we’d ever seen before! Some contained dry ice, jelly, white chocolate cream foam, and one was even topped with a giant kale leaf!

It’s great to really get to know one another in a relaxed and fun environment – but most importantly it is also a really good chance for the newest members of the team to get to know some of the others at Gaunt Francis over food and drink. There will certainly be more fun work socials later this year!

Gaunt Francis I.T manager – the next Bruce Lee?

At Gaunt Francis we take a great interest in our staff’s extracurricular activities; it’s a great way to connect with each other and let them know we appreciate and support them. Our I.T Manager, Simon Dodd, has been training in Shotokan Karate for an incredible 22 years!

Simon is currently black belt 4th Dan (Yondan), or in simple terms – he’s pretty damn talented –  and has been a club instructor in St. Athan for the last 11 years. His interest in the martial arts developed at the age of 8 when Simon and his friend were bullied in school, and so he wanted to learn self defence and gain confidence – not to mention his role model was the legend that is Bruce Lee! After trying out all sorts of martial arts such as Muay Thai, Tae Kwon Do, Kick Boxing, Judo and Jujtsu, Simon soon realised that Karate was the one for him and he has been fortunate to train with many famous instructors over the years, including Dave Hazard and Wayne Otto.

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The Welsh Karate Organisation is run by Paul Watson along with other instructors – all of whom are volunteers. Simon first volunteered and coached as a teenager and got his coaching certificate at 18 years of age; he has been running classes for the past 11 years in St. Athan. In fact, this club is the first club in the Vale of Glamorgan and first martial arts club in Wales to receive a Silver insport Disability Award – a major achievement!

Although not the most important thing for Simon, he was a great competitor and competed at a national level – he even made it onto the Welsh Squad. He soon left and retired from competition around 7 years ago, however is now slowly moving back into competition to support some of his students who have recently shown an interest.

simon all

Over the last few years, Simon had hoped to pursue an academic career using martial arts as the focal point, to get a PhD scholarship and to try to bring martial arts to a greater recognition in the UK – but sadly being unsuccessful with the funding has meant that Simon hasn’t been able to pursue his ultimate goal.

Despite this, Simon has had some great success; his undergraduate thesis was published at Cardiff Met University which won an award, and his Masters thesis was published in an international journal, which was translated into several European languages. This soon led to an invitation to an international martial arts conference in Portugal where Simon presented his work. Simon has also written the foreword to a martial arts book and hopes to be writing a chapter in an academic publication later this year.

Here is Simon in action:

The GFA monthly CRIT Meeting


Samples and Booklets laid out ready for the CRIT meeting

Once a month in the Gaunt Francis office, a CRIT meeting is held for all of our staff to attend, which sees a member of staff present to the rest of the team about one of the current projects they are working on. It is a great chance for everyone to see what others are involved in, as well as to provide some useful feedback. This week’s CRIT meeting was slightly different, but just as interesting!

This week, our Part III Architectural Assistant, Bianca Dumea, gave a presentation on luxury Italian glass items fashioned by J&J, an Italian company and brand of beautiful, high class and bespoke collections. During her trip to Italy earlier this summer, Bianca visited the factories of J&J, which she found incredibly fascinating and decided to share this interesting topic with the rest of the GFA team.


Samples of the stunning glass collection by J&J

Her presentation began with a short history of glass, going on to explain how glass was discovered in 2500 BC, and is one of the oldest forms of sculpture in the world. Man-made glass is made out of ordinary materials, sand being the main ingredient. The use of glass was first developed in the Middle East to decorate beads and small vessels, and was later used in Egypt and Asia to make decorative valuables. Today, Italy -among other countries – is considered most famous for its glass craftsmanship and design. These techniques even migrated to America where they further customised their design and process – such as global brand Tiffany & Co. Needless to say, glass today is used everywhere.


Beautiful gold glass

Bianca went on to talk about J&J and their approach – “We refine and create high-value models through our craftsmanship and Italian design”. J&J was founded in 1985 and specialises in the production of stained glass and products that are characterised by the exclusivity and originality of their features. From mirrors and vases to living and bathroom furniture – just about anything can be made from glass. With the growth in production volume, J&J has become an affirmed leader in the production of Murano glass. Today, the J&J brand is synonymous with quality, elegance and traditions.


Individual Swarovski crystals are delicately placed onto the glass

The presentation also covered interesting facts about the process of producing the items, in which they use the ‘Muranese’ technique – a hybrid between Artigianale & Industrial  manufacturing and machinery; this involves high pressure water-jet cuts and washing, manual smoothing, fusion in 800°C ovens, using a spray room, and drying and assembling. The production time is around 10 days for orders out of their catalogue and 25 days for customised orders – this alone tells you how complex and intricate the process is in creating these incredible pieces.

Bianca was kind enough to bring in and display some beautiful samples of different types of textures and designs of glass for the team to see in the flesh. It was like nothing we’d ever seen before! Here are just some of the beautiful creations J&J have produced:

The J&J brand is signature of high class collections that give each home an allure of sophistication and luxury. Take a look at some of their work here: