8 things I learned from Architecture School

8 things I learned from Architecture School

Architecture school is definitely an experience like no other. I ended up going to 3 schools, in London, Glasgow and Vienna. A mix of traditional universities and arts schools, each with it’s own approach. Architecture students were the same everywhere working all day and sometimes night, the studio’s buzzing with chat and creativity. I ended up making some life long friends and learning a lot not only about design but about an approach to life. Here are some great things I learned from architecture school.

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1. Presentation is important

Not only how you talk about your work but also how you visually depict it. We live in a highly visual age and if you can explain your idea visually it makes a huge impact. I also found that how you talk about your work makes a difference to how it’s perceived. It’s about having confidence in your ideas and work.

2. There is no correct answer

There are of course some things that you see that make no sense but good design is highly subjective, it takes for every to realise this but with creative courses like architecture there is no right answer. We all bring our own perspective that is formed by our experiences. This can be hard to see sometimes because each school has their own way of thinking about design, be it contextual, theoretical, narrative based or technical.

3. Choose your heroes carefully

every school has the people or offices they reference constantly and you absorb them by osmosis. The internet also make it easy to spend time swiping through beautiful photographs of buildings but a photograph cannot tell you as much as actually visiting the building can do.

4. Failure is part of learning

I failed second year and at the time it felt like the worst thing, however it ended up being a fantastic opportunity to take time away from intense study, explore what I wanted to do and even earn some money. I ended up learning so much in that time.

5. Fear is stifling

Some architecture schools seem to think they need to put the fear of God in students. Separate the wheat from the chaff, e.t.c e.tc, but I truly believe that fear is the biggest killer of creativity. It causes people to play it safe it afraid to take risks in case they “fail.” But failing is a step to succeeding.

6. How to do late nights

This is definitely one of the first things you learn at architecture, how to stay up all working all night. Especially around final deadlines and reviews. You end up sleeping in the studio and drinking a lot of energy drinks. It’s almost a badge of honour for architecture students and even working architects.

7. To have a life outside of the studio

I found that doing things outside of the studio gave me so much balance and perspective. I took salsa classes, joined the fashion society and took classes in other departments when I could. It was a tough one because architecture students like medical students often stick with people from their course and the intense hours make it almost impossible to do anything outside the course.

8. Don’t wait for permission

It took me till my final year, when I decided to do my final project on a slum in Lagos, Nigeria. I was on exchange in Vienna and the thesis tutor asked us to say the first project that came to our head when we thought about what we wanted to do. It was so refreshing to learn to just go for it, trust my instincts and not worry about how it’d end up. It was amazing.

Here’s a great post on Archi-ninja of the 10 things they don’t teach you in architecture school.

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Learnings in community arts practice

Learnings in community arts practice

I came to the end of my course in community arts practise, with Impact Arts last week and it seems like a perfect opportunity to reflect on my learnings over the last 6 months.

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Everything I’ve learned  comes under the umbrella of “be flexible.” We each got a mentor on the course and her biggest tip was, make a plan, see how things go but have a plan B. For my individual project I wanted to get young people to come and engage with Orkidstudio’s EMPOWERMENT exhibition at the Lighthouse Glasgow. I did everything I could think of to get them along, promoting it to youth groups and local schools. But for a mix of reasons, I didn’t get a single teenager along. I was however able to engage with visitors to the exhibition, asking them to participate in building the collaborative cardboard city. This ended up being a wonderful way to do it. Although I didn’t get many teenagers I did get a mix of age groups from children to adults.

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With this also comes the need to think about the final result and the impact of the project. Sometimes the client wants a particular thing to display but other times they are more focused on the participation. This was the case with our group project at Darnley Primary School, we let the children decide what they wanted for the project at the start. Starting with a sound and drawing workshop encouraged them to get some ideas going and some themes started to emerge. We realised that a lot of the sounds reminded them of animals and this led to coming up with the idea of making a totem pole.

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One of the most interesting things about participation is learning to work with a mix of people. From the organisation, to the client group to working with other practitioners. You never know what people will ask you or what mood they will be in that day. I did my placement withe Creative Pathways, Paisley. It was a fascinating opportunity to see the group of young people from the interview stage to the middle of the project. They started as a lovely group of young people willing to engage with but new additions created more disruptive group dynamics and it was a learning experience to see how the facilitator dealt with it.

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Engaging with people is a mixed bag. You never know how they will react to your proposal. I found this at the cardboard city workshops. The people who would join in would often be the ones I wasn’t expecting to take part.  It is about creating relationships and one of the simplest ways I’ve discovered is to learn names.

Additionally everyone comes with their own abilities, interests and perspectives. Abilities vary so trying to keep a level playing field whilst making it stimulating for as many as possible is important. With Darnley Primary, the sound and painting workshop worked brilliantly but it was more difficult when we used mud rock. Surprisingly when we got feedback from the kids they loved that it was challenging.

Be prepared to wear a lot of hats. Successful participation involves pre planning, monitoring the finances, communication, e.t.c not just working with people. You might even end up working in things you know nothing about. You have to shake your fears of failure or the unknown, especially if your asking others to do so too.

Finally record the process, this is one of the hardest bits especially if you are working alone, but photographs tell the story so much more. They are a great way to build your reputation and show others what you’ve done. Additionally give people something to take with them. It makes them feel so much more connected and is something I learned from the kids feedback at Darnley. I then used it in the cardboard city so each participant got a Polaroid photo to take with them.

For me the best part is seeing people grow more confident in their creative skills own creativity. From the teachers at Darnley Primary who by the end of the workshops were making things in their own spare time, to seeing people who said they were bad at art building a cardboard building and being proud of what they’d made.  I realised that even if you can get only one person to engage it can be incredibly rewarding.!

5 things I wish someone had told me before I graduated

5 things I wish someone had told me before I graduated

Inspired by Stephanie Rice’s Medium post 10 things I wish someone had told me about freelancing. I’m writing the 5 things I wish someone had told me before I graduated last year (you actually graduate in Architecture 3 times in Britain and this was my second and was scary).

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1. Don’t panic- you don’t need the best grades or the best portfolio to get the job/ career you want. This feels incredibly important but if you can realise it, then it takes a whole load of pressure off final year. Having now been on the other side, going through volunteer applications, I’m realising the two important things are passion and personality. Then portfolio.

2. You don’t have to know what you want to do with the rest of your life (and it doesn’t have to be just one thing). I remember feeling that I was making a massive life decision when I was deciding what to do after graduation. It’s great if you know what you want to do but be flexible and open, you might end up doing something you would never imagined.

3. Getting a job isn’t the only option. I remember everyone asking so what are you going to do next? It’s a horrible question you feel like you need to know exactly how things will pan out, but it’s alright to say I don’t know. There’s working in an office/ studio, freelancing, setting up your own business. I’ve ended up doing all three which is tough but fun. Also take the summer off, if you can. Properly off, not even job hunting, I wish I’d done that now.

4. It’s alright to say no to a job. This can seem crazy when you can see your bank balance is nearing zero to say no to any type of offer but sometimes it’s definitely worth waiting.


5. Life is not a straight line,
it’s a series of choices. I’m only slowly starting to realise this. It’s so much about what you do, when you do it and as what you don’t do. So decide carefully but don’t wait too long.

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The Top 10 things I wish I knew when I graduated college_ Debbie Millman

The Top 10 things I wish I knew when I graduated college_ Debbie Millman

Debbie Millman

Debbie Milman is fast becoming one of my heroes. Here is her fantastic talk The Top 10 things I wish I knew when I graduated college.

What really struck me is when she said find and know your purpose. Hers is to ‘try to make the supermarket more beautiful.’ It also got me thinking about the importance of presentation, it made a huge difference at university to who succeeded or didn’t.

1. Design talent is equivalent to operational excellence
Provide empathy, talk about what you do in a way that allows viewers to understand your message. Understand your messaging and communicate it to others

2. Design is not about design- it is about a whole lot of other things
We need an encyclopaedic knowledge of the world. The client is looking for a return on their investment, the difference will it make in somebody’s life (the value proposition)

3. There are two things that are not really about what we think they are about; money and sex
Money is rarely about money, convince them that the value you’ll provide will be valuable enough for them to pay for it

4. Ideas are easy. Strategy is much harder
Strategy is the unique point of difference. It is choosing activities differently. You should be able to communicate what you are doing and why you do what you do. Mine is “make supermarkets a beautiful place”

5. know what you are talking about
Tell the truth especially when you don’t know something. People love to teach

6. Common vocabulary does not equate to common behaviour
Work on the design brief with the client to decide what the client language means

7. Relentlessly prepare
Prepare yourself for every possible outcome

8. Beware of artificial harmony
It allows you to come up with a game plan

9. Seek out criticism
Only use work that you love, don’t use fillers to show your skills. If you’re not making enough mistakes you’re not taking enough risks

10. You need to know how to present.
Take a class! Talk about your work in a way that creates a framework and decide what your criteria for success is.

“Busy is a way of organising you priorities if you really want to do something you’ll find the time to do it”

“Take opportunities to continue to be educated”