Nora Fossum shows us how to build a career in architecture – without mastering maths

Nora Fossum shows us how to build a career in architecture – without mastering maths

There are challenges to merging art and science, but you don’t need to score a 5** on your DSE maths to enjoy a career in architecture

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Architect Nora Fossum gave the students one-on-one guidance.
Photo: Sam McDaid

Architecture is often thought of as the mix of two completely opposite disciplines: art and maths. However, architect Nora Fossum tells Young Post that you don’t actually need to be strong at both to succeed in the field.

Being good with numbers and drawing is an advantage, but not entirely necessary, as architects use computer programs to help turn concepts into complex diagrams. The way you incorporate your ideas into the big picture is far more important.

“You have the arty, creative side, but you also have all these briefs from clients that make it a big puzzle that you need to solve,” she says.

“Art is quite loose – you can draw a line anywhere on a page. But in architecture, there are so many different factors that will decide how your building will look. It’s a really interesting challenge.”

Three students experienced the challenge for themselves this month at the Young Architects Programme 2016 at MakerHive. Adriana Chan, 16; Nathaniel Wu, 14; and Jack Lam, 16, spent the one-week course learning how to gather inspiration for structural design.

With guidance from Fossum, the students were given the task of drawing a pavilion for the Cadogan Street temporary garden in Kennedy Town. Their instructions said it should be inspired by fruit and able to hold around 100 people.

“It was a  fun assignment,” said Fossum. “I wouldn’t mind doing it myself!”

The students let their imaginations run wild and worked hard to come up with a plan that was creative yet feasible. At the end, each of them turned in a portfolio showing how their ideas developed through the week.

Jack Lam sketches his design of the pavilion.
Photo: Sam McDaid

“They used pineapple, grapefruit, and melon, and each of them actually managed to find something interesting to work with,” she said. “My favourite was the pineapple. It’s such a complex fruit and has so many patterns and parts, and the outside is different from the inside.”

Fossum was impressed by the students’ hard work and creative thinking. “It’s incredibly difficult – even as an educated architect – to draw something so substantial in just a week, but they did very well,” she says. “I think young people are incredibly inspiring because they’re so fresh and they have all these ideas with no constraints.”

Like Fossum at their age, the students didn’t have their hearts set on architecture. So she told them all about her career, and how she got to where she is now, as a project manager at a firm in Hong Kong.

Fossum said that at secondary school in Norway she felt “blown away” by the possibilities of art and design, but never considered a career in architecture. Despite being the girl who would hide from her friends to do pottery at lunch, she ended up following in her father and brother’s footsteps by studying business in Switzerland. She gave it a year before deciding that numbers were too abstract for her; she wanted the satisfaction of producing something physical.


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She settled on architecture, reasoning that it would give her the most options if she decided to try out another career. It’s easier to move into areas like product or interior design from architecture than it is moving the opposite way.

Having found her true calling in architecture, she now wants to inspire young people who might be in the same position she was.

“When I got into architecture, I was so happy to find something that I really, truly enjoyed,” she says. “I’ve never had a day when I don’t want to go to work. I’m very lucky to have that, so I want to share that pleasure.”

While some might view architecture as a very competitive field, Fossum says this really isn’t the case. “It is competitive if your company is competing with another for a client,” she admits. “But internally, you work together as a team. It’s actually very social because you’re so dependent on other people to make a good project. You can never draw it alone, unless you’re working on something very small.”

From left: Nathaniel Wu, Adrianna Chan, and Jack got a crash course in architecture. Photo: Sam McDaid

But it’s not all fun and games. Architects – especially recent graduates – can expect a lot of hard work, long hours for low, sometimes non-existent pay.

“After university, a lot of people end up working for free for a while,” Fossum says. “That can be tough. But, for me, doing what you want to do is so much more important.”

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
So you wanna be an architect?

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