Saying "No" to Norman Foster (+ partners)

Big Bucks Capitalism?

Big Bucks Capitalism?


Thank you, but no thank you.

It's the summer. University is finally over, not just any university, but Architecture. Architecture School is OVER! It's a surreal happy time, of guilt-free Tuesday naps, cake eating and day drinking. London is glorious as ever and I'm not even bored thinking that all of my normal non-architecture friends wont be off work till six.

I come home after having a coffee at my favourite cafe ever, to my sunny flat to see a letter addressed to me. Top right hand corner, all shiny and silver - 'Foster + Partners' .. For me? What could it be?! Excited and delighted, I open the letter. It's an offer for an interview after one of the partners saw my work at the Bartlett end of year show. Yay for me! Right? 

I go away on my summer holidays and don't think about it. I have a jam-packed summer ahead of me in what I feel like will be the last summer until I retire. I reply, eventually, to the letter while eating breakfast in Rome with my parents (who think of course, it's fabulous to be offered a job at one of the only architects they know). I tell the nice receptionist lady that I only have a three day window at the end of July to interview. She makes an appointment for me. 

Its also worth mentioning, before I left for Italy, that I had an interview with another practice.. I loved my interview, and I loved them. I knew I wanted to work in Hong Kong, and I knew they had an office there so I applied. My interview went swimmingly and I left that office loving life. 

Anyway, I come back from Portugal and have my interview at Fosters. It starts terribly. I'm sitting in the swanky bar area (where there are waiters - real waiters in an architecture office). The partner interviewing me over my delivered tea, was cottoning on that I didn't want to work at the London office.

He says "you are aware, this interview is for the London office?"

I gulp my tea. "Erm, yes, but I, all of a sudden, have this burning desire to live and work in Hong Kong.. I mean it's such an exciting city, and I know you have an office there, and I just really want to experience something different after so many years in London.." He looks at me blankly, so naturally I carry on "I don't mean to waste your time, I just thought I might as well tell you the truth and be honest about what I want." OH LORD. What have I done. You stupid girl Anahita, you should have been quiet, you should have been cool, why are you here anyway? My armpits start burning.

He looks at me with his head tilted to one side and says: "My son wants to move away, he's about your age." Errrr.... Is this going badly? I can't tell. My armpits are still burning and I do a stupid closed mouth smile. He carries on to say "if this is really what you want, I think you'll be a great asset to any part of the Fosters corporation." I don't like that word. Oh no what am I doi.. "Let me see what I can do. Stay here, I'll be back in a minute."

OMG. He's going somewhere! Where is he going?! At this exact moment I see nothing short of a young heard come up the enormous swanky stairs. In this heard I see a familiar face, in fact, 3 - all from the Bartlett. One of them is my good friend Jude from Unit 20. "Jude!" I run over to her, she's on an induction week with 14 other people of the same level. I love Jude, she's beautiful and hilarious. I tell her what happened and she's like 'Omg'. Naturally. The partner is coming back, I freak out and run back to my stool. 

"Someone else will take over the interview, he has a good connection with the partner in charge in the Hong Kong office. He'll be out of his meeting in about 40 minutes. Can you wait?" 

I wait. I have my in-promptu interview. It goes really well. He said that they'll be in touch. They are in touch. They offer me a job in the Hong Kong office while I'm in Peru. At this point, I haven't accepted the three offers I have. I'm so confused. I love the idea of working at Fosters. I love the name you know? The prestige, the allure, the shiny-ness. Something is still telling me no. I talk to my brother (who lives in Peru). He says I already know what I want. He's right.

I email Fosters and 'respectfully decline' and excitedly accept the job at the other practice. 

I said no because I wanted to be a creative fish in a hands-on pond, and not a tired fish in a corporate ocean. Not to say that the friends I have at Fosters aren't doing amazingly in the London office, but I felt and heard that the HK office was much more - factory floor like. I wanted to show my creativity, and was worried I might be ignored in Hong Kong. I wanted to enjoy my weekends, leave the office while restaurants are still serving and experience good quality of life while I'm here. I'm under no disillusion that architects work hard all of the time, but I know that some companies will allow you to have time to be human. 

Fosters do make some truly wonderful buildings, great buildings with integrity and flair, but the other practice might actually let me design wonderful buildings. I had to say yes to the company where I could see myself growing, expanding my knowledge, building actual buildings! Designing real things, real parts, real rooms, real details (whee I'm a fantasy architect that doesn't actually exist).

I still feel a bit silly sometimes for saying no. My ego is all like "you're so dumb Anahita, everyone and their dog knows Norman Foster" and then my heart is like "you'll have a fabulous time and get the best experience for your Part 3, working for a happy, 'The Times top 100 places to work' firm. Well done you."

So there you have it. I said no to Norman Foster, and yes to life.

What do you think? What would you would have done? x