With the property market only recently beginning to claw its way out of a long slump, architecture might not sound like a promising profession. Architecture graduates face fewer entry-level job opportunities, lower salaries and an unpredictable future. But award-winning young architect Brian Chan Yuk-shing believes young people in the profession can follow a different path and pursue an interesting career despite the negative marketplace. After graduating from the Chinese University of Hong Kong with a master's degree in architecture, Mr Chan joined Hong Kong-based Oval Partnership as an architectural assistant. 'That was a fun and rewarding experience,' he said. Rather than seeking mainstream business such as private housing estates, Oval Partnership is dedicated to community projects, heritage buildings and academic institutions. Projects Mr Chan worked on included school developments, integrated youth centres, homes for the elderly and police stations. 'In certain projects, we had to organise and host workshops and meetings with the users to understand their needs and requirements,' he said. 'By doing this, I gained a wider exposure and a deeper understanding of users' expectations, which was beneficial for my professional development.' Mr Chan accumulated good credentials working on more than 20 projects across a wide spectrum. 'Making a straight comparison, I had a wider variety of experience than someone who works in large firms dealing with a single MTR station project,' he said. Also, thanks to Oval Partnership's small team, its architects are required to manage the projects single-handedly. 'They cannot expect to have a senior manager take care of clients while they focus on the design work. This definitely provided me with a fast track and comprehensive training to pick up everything.' With only four years' professional experience, Mr Chan quit the job six months ago and started his own practice, @Zero Design. The business offers him more flexibility and time to pursue his own interests and dreams. One of these was achieved when he won the Young Architect's Award 2003. Mr Chan's main motivations for starting his own practice were flexibility and freedom. 'I am able to manage my time better - enrolling in different contests and teaching. All the time I want to try different things, though it is a bit risky. I think I just need to work harder to make it pay off,' he said. The people he met and the network he built while he worked for Oval Partnership also gave him the confidence to go it alone. 'I met a lot of people, from contractors and historians to social workers and designers. The interpersonal skills and relationships gained were the biggest motivator.' His major source of income now is from China. He has teamed up with mainland partners to work on interior contracts, private residential complexes and hotel projects. The mainland market provides a volume of assignments and space for creativity. 'China clients are more open to new ideas and firms, a contrast to Hong Kong developers, who stick with their preferred firms. Though the project fees are not on a par with Hong Kong's, we can still manage by hiring a local support team.' Although the financial rewards are not substantial, Mr Chan has no regrets about entering architecture. 'It is a combination of art and science and it fits people who are rational or artistic. It really depends on how you position yourself, as you can lead a very different life.'