Sarah Lebner shares her favourite resources for students and grads, including books to read, videos to watch, and podcasts to listen to.
Hi, I’m Sarah. I’m the Principal Architect at Light House Architecture and Science, the author of 101 Things I Didn’t Learn in Architecture School, and the 2020 AIA National Emerging Architect Prize Winner.
When I think back to my university and early employment years, I was thirsty for guidance, eager to feel valuable, and desperately wanted to understand our industry and find my people within it.
While I’ll be forever learning, I have (for the most part) achieved the things above.
So, if I could step back in time and hand my younger self a little parcel of things to read, watch and listen to, in order to kick-start my journey into the industry, what would it include?
5 Things to Read
Why Architects Matter: Evidencing and Communicating the Value of Architects
Flora Samuel (Routledge, 2018)
We spend a lot of time at university exploring how to be an architect and what an architect might do, and we get really good at talking to other architects about those things. As soon as we step foot in the industry, we’re expected to talk to the public, who don’t speak our language, and who want to understand why we matter at all, before investing in a conversation about the ‘what’ or the ‘how’.
Why Architects Matter is a research-based look at the value architects have to offer, and how we can use evidence of that value. Samuels outlines three main types of architect and architectural service, and offers detailed discourse on how they should engage better with the public.
I recommend this book for emerging architects to help them work out what type of architect they might like to be, and how they can better talk to the public about what they have to offer.
Don’t Get a Job, Make a Job
Gem Barton (Laurence King, 2016)
In terms of workplaces and employment models, the architecture industry can be slow to innovate, especially compared to many of its creative counterparts. With some intimidating challenges facing emerging architects, such as climate change, recessions and technological advances, I feel strongly that students and graduates have a lot to learn from entrepreneurial thinking.
Don’t Get a Job, Make a Job, looks at ingenious ways to create opportunity, whether this be for your own employment purposes, or for new models of practice and engaging with the public.
Surrounded by Idiots
Thomas Erikson (Penguin, 2019)
Every leader has their ‘go-to’ self-development book that they always rave about, and this is mine. This book isn’t just mind-blowingly insightful and entertaining, but it’s also incredibly practical. After reading this book I felt like a veil was lifted on the behaviour and actions of everyone around me; and I also had to swallow some reflection on what others probably thought of me!
Surrounded by Idiots will help you become a workplace or social ninja. Written in a way that is digestible and memorable, you are left with very practical insights on dealing with conflict, motivating others, handling bad news, when to be pushy or when to back down, and even when to speak up or be quiet!
Building Your Own Home: A Comprehensive Guide for Owner-builders
George Wilkie (New Holland Publishers, revised edition 2011)
I believe nearly every architect in Australia has this book on their shelf, and for good reason.
Building Your Own Home is, in some ways, the bible of the residential construction industry in Australia. It illustrates and explains industry standard construction of the most common residential construction types, materials and details in Australia. Why it was never mentioned in a reading list while I was at university, I will never understand.
And something of my own!
Sarah Lebner (2019)
I’d definitely have to recommend my own book, as I wrote it in response to helping emerging architects quickly and efficiently cover the information they need to learn as they start out in their first job. This book helps students and graduates of architecture kick-start their career and shave months off their professional development, specifically by helping readers:
- Understand construction basics so they can avoid embarrassing situations and quickly understand instructions;
- Grasp an overview of the industry and business of architecture so that they don’t feel kept in the dark; and
- Gain personal tips and helpful resources for an enjoyable and successful work life.
Looking for more? I recently published an essential booklist for emerging architects.
5 Things to Watch
‘Framing the View’, on Richard LePlastrier
Directed by Anna Cater (2020)
Richard Leplastrier is, in my opinion, the GOAT (greatest of all time). He is the trifecta; an intelligent designer, a thoughtful philosopher on life and living, and a generally wonderful human being. Plus, he’s Australian and his work captures a quintessential essence of Australian culture, landscape and tectonics.
Unless you’ve studied in Newcastle, you could be forgiven for not knowing about him. While he was awarded the Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal (the highest honour in Australian architecture) in 1999, he largely avoids media and the spotlight. Unlike his good friend and counterpart, Glenn Murcutt, it’s hard to find much about Leplastrier and his work. That is, until this documentary by Anna Carter, aired on the ABC in association with Screen Australia, in 2020.
This documentary is not currently available online, but keep an eye out for it as I’m sure it will be aired again soon, and it really is essential viewing for all students and graduates of architecture in Australia.
‘The Human Scale’, on Jan Gehl
Directed by Andreas M Dalsgaard (2012)
Another landmark documentary in my growth as an architect was The Human Scale, which focuses on the work of Jan Gehl and his team. Gehl is a world-renowned expert on modern cities and human interaction and this documentary turns much of what is taken for granted in city planning on its head.
As the title suggests, this film takes us on a revealing journey around the world, dissecting the faults of city planning that is driven by the motor-vehicle and short-sighted economics, and showing us all what can be gained by designing with human behaviour and human scale in mind. For architects interested in both small scale residential design through to multi-storey developments and master-planning, there are some critical lessons to be learned from this documentary.
A Choice to Make, 30 x 40 Design Workshop
Eric Rineholdt, YouTube
Eric Rineholdt is arguably leading the charge when it comes to innovating small practice around the globe. He has experimented with numerous forms of passive income for architects, and has succeeded in finding an incredible balance as a sole-practitioner who works part time on architecture commissions, and part time on an entrepreneurial passive-income business model. Through this model, he is able to serve immeasurably more people, from homeowners seeking guidance, to architecture students seeking insight, and also to other practising architects seeking a change from the status quo.
The other thing I love about Eric is that he is living proof of building value and finding success through a model of sharing often, and sharing generously – something that the architecture industry has been slow to catch on to over the last decade.
His Architect + Entrepreneur books were the inspiration for writing my own book and founding The Architect Project. His hugely popular YouTube channel features beautifully produced and insightful content. The video above is simply a good introduction to the ideas that Eric has to offer and to inspire you to dig deeper depending on your interest.
Kevin Hui and Andrew Maynard, YouTube
Closer to home, I’d be surprised if you hadn’t heard of Archimarathon. With the tagline “learn to see architecture and see to learn architecture”, well-known architects Andrew Maynard and Keven Hui produce entertaining short videos that feel like they are personally sharing with you lessons on architecture design, practice and education.
Their channel is an excellent supplement to any architecture education; you can watch videos like the one above that help you with everything from job-seeking, study skills and behind-the-scenes practice insight, or you can learn about Australian architecture through clips like this one, on ‘Heidi II’, which Maynard provocatively claims could be the ‘best house in Australia’.
And something of my own! (in two parts)
When I won the 2020 Emerging Architect Prize last year, I took the opportunity to speak to students and graduates very seriously. For some time I considered what I would want to say to them, and so as well as being a presentation about my origin story and work, I tried to compile my story in a way that would both inspire and provoke action from emerging architects.
I’ve recorded my presentation for those who missed out on it, and you can watch the (two-part) replay above (part 1 is my origin story, and part 2 is my recorded presentation.)
5 Things to Listen to
Kate Fitzgerald, Warwick Mihaly and Mick Moloney
If you want to hear three respected Australian architects casually chatting about their fee proposals, grilling each other on how they started their firms, or comically stereotyping villain-clients and brainstorming how to avoid them, then buckle in and turn on In Detail.
Launched this year, the first season required a little forgiveness when it comes to audio quality and dare-I-say non-existent editing, but I would urge you persist as the content and insight is gold, and you will come to feel like you are listening in on the candid conversations of reputable friends.
In Detail is the raw insight on architecture practice that I craved as a young architect, and I highly recommend it for other students and graduates interested in the business and management side of architecture. Best of all, it’s Australian, which makes it much more relevant than other business of architecture podcasts that exist internationally.
Where to start? I suggest starting In Detail at the beginning – Season 1, Episode 1
EmAGN (Australian Institute of Architects)
Produced by the graduate arm of the Australian Institute of Architects, primarily for Australian students and graduates of architecture, you’d be neglecting yourself to not have this podcast saved in your favourites. Each episode covers a clear theme, so you can seek out what interests you and tune in to conversations with architects and allied professionals relevant to each subject.
Topics explored have included design for bushfire, regional architecture, environmentally sustainable design, architecture education, aged care, technology… the list goes on.
Where to start? You can start anywhere in this podcast, depending on what interests you. One of my favourites is this episode with emerging architects Erin Crowden, Monique Woodward and Warren Haasnoot.
Undercover Architect is a podcast aimed at the general public, but has also garnered a serious following from architecture students and fresh graduates who are seeking technical product knowledge and basic industry insight.
Australian architect Amelia Lee provides insightful episodes on various materials, stages of construction, what each consultant does, and an introduction to building contracts. With a whopping 13 seasons now produced, you can pick and choose what to learn about depending on your knowledge gaps.
Where to start? Again, you can jump in anywhere in this podcast. You might like to start here, in this episode about affordable energy efficient homes with me and my building-scientist-Director as guests.
Less walls, more life – design in the tropics (TedX JCUCairns)
Dr Shaneen Fantin, P.O.D.
Yes, technically this is a video, but if you’re like me and only have time to consume TED talks in audio format while multi-tasking away at life, then let’s agree to still count this as a ‘listen’.
The Least House Necessary is one of the very-few TED talks given by Australian architects, and it is highly pertinent to several issues we face as architects today. In true TED-talk form, Fantin inspires the audience with all that can be gained from architecture and design as a tool for unlocking the ‘least house necessary’.
And something of my own!
Emerging Architects Forum
Inspired by the disappointment of not being able to physically partake on my own National Emerging Architects Prize Tour (due to COVID and having a five-week-old baby), I sought to create an inaugural online event that I plan to continue in future years.
The 2020 Emerging Architect’s Forum is a 90-minute discussion between each of the state finalists of the Emerging Architect’s Prize: Sandy Anghie (WA), Erin Crowden (SA), Pippa Jensen (Tas), Thom McKenzie (Vic), Matthias Hollenstein (NSW) and Ellen Buttrose (Qld). The conversation was rich, inspiring and insightful, and I highly recommend other students and graduates of architecture in Australia give it a listen to hear about the diverse experiences and work of those whose footsteps they may follow.
Thank you to Parlour for inviting me to share my favourite resources. Parlour, in itself, is something I wish I’d had as a student and fresh graduate.
My career has only been enriched by sharing generously, and I welcome students, graduates and architects to continue to follow My First Architecture Job on Instagram and to sign up to our occasional newsletter.