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The New Normal for Universities

My Thoughts as a Tutor

The coronavirus is having a huge impact on the way in which universities operate across the country. Having negotiated the difficult task of makeshift reorganisation in the middle of the academic year just passed, universities now face the even greater challenge of reorganising the way in which they run their campuses and deliver their teaching in response to the impacts of the coronavirus for the upcoming academic year.

In addition to these administrational challenges, universities are also facing a significant drop in revenue due to the possibility of low admission rates for the coming year as it’s expected that many prospective students will elect to defer their university places due to perceived concerns over the impact of the coronavirus on their university experience. But what does all this mean for both new and returning students studying architecture?

Prospective students considering embarking on a course in Architecture face a difficult dilemma; whether to take a chance and enrol for the upcoming academic year without knowing exactly how the course will be run, what resources will be available to them or even whether the course they are enrolled to will end up meeting the requirements of the Architects Registration Board (the statutory body which provides academic accreditation), or whether to defer for a year or two.

Returning students face a similar conundrum, albeit, they have the advantage of already knowing the university and the expectations of the course and will have had experience of working and learning during the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year.

Giving objective advice here is difficult as there is a considerable amount still to be decided about how architecture courses will be run this year. However, universities will have learnt a lot during the final term of the academic year just passed and will have lots of strategies in place for the start of the new term to ensure that the courses on offer will be delivered to an equally high standard as in other years.

In-person vs. Blended learning

Architecture courses are traditionally reliant on teaching delivered in-person, both in groups in the form of lectures and seminars as well as one-to-one tutorials with design tutors. This is particularly important for an education in architecture as it involves an understanding of three-dimensional spaces which are easier to convey and examine in person rather than online. Architecture courses are also heavily reliant on indirect learning which involves the student body working as a group and sharing knowledge with each other between the structured lectures and tutorials.

These conventional in-person teaching practices may be under threat this year as university faculties are likely to be carefully controlled to manage the number of people allowed within them on a given day to manage the risks associated with the coronavirus. As a result, most universities are likely to replace their traditional teaching methods with a blended learning approach. Blended learning is essentially a combination of regular in-person teaching with digital learning techniques as well. So perhaps in a given week, you may have two lectures and a seminar online in addition to a one-to-one tutorial conducted in person.

This may have some negative effects as it is likely to reduce the amount of time students spend together at university and therefore the amount of indirect learning that is going on. It also may have an impact on how successfully architectural concepts are conveyed by the teachers and understood by students, as these are easier to convey and understand in person rather than online. However moving some aspects of the course online may also have some benefits. It is likely that the in-person student community may in part be replaced by an online community.

Whilst that may have certain social drawbacks, it does allow for greater connectivity with a larger student group which could provide a more inclusive, dependable and supportive environment for peer learning. Towards the end of last term, many university groups had built a strong online forum for themselves made up of students and tutors alike which provided a fantastic platform for sharing knowledge, providing inspiration and asking for help.

What to expect from online design tutorials and crits

Design tutorials and crits are perhaps two of the most important components of a course in architecture. Whilst the majority of these should remain in person with social distancing measures, it is likely some of them will also be conducted online. Tutorials and crits tend to be very personal where students are required to present their work and explain the decisions that they’ve made. In reply, the criticism offered by design tutors and guest critics will often be very detailed and specific.

Getting the most out of tutorials and crits relies on careful preparation and presentation by students followed by clear and critical examination and self-reflection. Whilst this may be easier in-person where models can be inspected from all angles and drawings can be examined up close and drawn over, there are also now techniques to ensure that the same freedom of inspection and communication can happen on a digital platform.

Many universities will be set up on communication and collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams which will be used for video tutorials and crits. Over the past 6 months, teachers have become more experienced at using software to conduct tutorials and crits online which will help to ensure a smooth transition for the next academic. Furthermore, there are now lots of additional features which can help to make online tutorials and crits more interactive. These include plug-ins to help create digital pinned-up presentations, the video and sound recording of tutorials and crits for future reference and tools to allow tutors to digitally annotate drawings, all of which can be extremely useful.

What about the human experience

Human interaction is a fundamental and irreplaceable part of the university experience. Both for the social value and wellbeing it brings in making students feel welcome and part of a vibrant collegiate community as well as for the observations and insights it brings to the study of architecture. Jan Gehl, a famous Danish Architect and pro-cycling advocate, once said:

“Only architecture that considers human scale and interaction is successful…” 

Jan Gehl

Thus understood, the study of architecture is in many ways the study of people and how to design buildings and cities which address their needs. In order to do this well it is important that students spend lots of time in the company of people as well as visiting buildings and spaces in person. Whilst in some ways these important facets of architectural education have been somewhat undermined by the impacts of the coronavirus, in other ways our new relationship to each other and to the buildings and cities in which we live and work has brought us closer together. And whilst this new social proximity may not be physical, it is certainly full of humanity and can become a great source of architectural inspiration for the architects of the future.

This article was written by a community member!

Ned Scott, architect and teacher at Greenwich University and University College London.

Learn more about Ned Scott on our Writers page.

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Actual Interview Questions You Should be Prepared For

We’re sure you’ve heard of the standard questions that every interviewer will supposedly ask you. In fact, I was given a list of such questions in order to prepare for an interview. Let me tell you that the list didn’t come in use at all. Something I realised very early on was that in an interview (for Part I’s at least), is that the employer is more interested in your work rather than logistical details or cringe questions 😬.

They want to get to know you as a person and understand your journey throughout university. This includes your design decisions or interests that can show through in the type of buildings you design or the topics for your written works. We can’t speak for every single employer and it will most likely vary depending on the size of the firm, which person is interviewing you and if you even make it past the initial impression in order to get an interview.

Over the course of a year, I’ve given 10 such interviews – the last one being successful. Apart from two, they were all for a Part I Architectural Assistant role. What I learnt at the beginning was that my 💼 portfolio was the star of the show. This meant it had to be immaculate and interesting, and I had to know every little detail about it.

If you’ve had previous experience, take some time to think about what your role involved, what you enjoyed there and what you think could have been better about the experience. Similarly, what are you expecting from this firm? Is it just a year-out experience, are you hoping to understand their sector better or do you want to just get a feel for office culture.

There is no right and wrong here. Every answer will depend on you as a person, as a student and consider all your experiences and skills. Sometimes, the person interviewing you might have only looked at your CV moments before they meet you. If this is the case, take the time out to go through your CV slowly, explaining more than what is shown. Usually they will ask for you to give a brief introduction, who you are, where you’re from, what you’ve been doing recently. In this case, I usually like to say that I am a recent graduate. But this doesn’t define who I am.

I would then go on to say, I’ve been utilising my time to learn Revit and run :scale blog. These are talking points. They don’t need to be some expert level achievement, but something that will intrigue to interviewer. You could mention a hobby you started, a volunteering experience, academic achievement you’re proud of and so on.

Popular Questions

🔴Why did you decide to make this decision in your portfolio?

When going through your portfolio, it is common for the employer to ask questions so don’t fly through the entire thing, take your time, and explain everything slowly. To give you an example, I had an interviewer who was very interested in one of my projects because they recognised the site and actually had worked near there in the past. Then, they were interested in the sustainable elements of my project which also happened to be the basis of my technology report. The question on their mind was why was I including sustainable solutions in a residential project in the middle of London?

‘It’s because the current situation of overcrowded back alleyways needed to be eradicated, especially the influx of unnecessary building systems. I proposed a series of sustainable elements (which were very creative and realistically not possible) in order to introduce natural ventilation and allow for better interior organisation.’

The employer might pick on the smallest detail that you didn’t even think about. So go through your portfolio several times. Present it to a parent or sibling acting as if you’re in the interview. It will allow you to see how much you actually know about your work and help you understand what areas are of most interest to you. Your portfolio should support whatever you are saying. If you want to highlight that you have spent the time working on your CAD skills, showcase this in your portfolio.

🔴 What would the people around you say is your best and worst quality?

I quite like this one. You don’t have to sound vain or make something up on the spot because they want to see how others feel about you. Think about the times your peers and tutors may have praised you for a skill like organisation or punctuality. Think about what you would like to be better at such as communication and presenting in front of an audience.

Switch it up and tell them what you think your worst quality is first. This might surprise them because we often tend to not talk bad about ourselves in an interview. ⭐ But being honest is the best thing you can do ⭐. Tell them that you’re working on this but be specific. For example, if you’ve been wanting to get more hands on with software, take the time to start a course or simply mention that you’ve been actively learning a specific software. It will show them that you’re all about bettering yourself, reaching for your goals and building skills.

It’s important for an employer to see that you are proactive. If you’re doing all these things for the simple purpose of learning something new, it’s obvious that you will apply the same mindset to work.

🔴 Has there ever been a time where you were faced with criticism?

This might seem like a challenging one at first if your mind goes to formal experience or other circumstances. But you’re an architecture student. Crits are full of criticism! If you think about it, we’re faced with some form of criticism every week. Your tutors will definitely support and help you, but a big part of their role is to make us question our design choices and dive deeper into why you’re designing in a specific way.

Really, the interviewer wants to know how you deal with it. I love the idea of taking something usually construed as 😕 negative and turning it into a 😁 positive. Look for the silver lining. If you’ve faced criticism regarding your designs or the wording of your essay, think about how you can take what the person has said and turn it onto something positive. The best way to do this is to write down what’s been said and coming back to it at a later date. If you had a crit yesterday and don’t want to face what’s been said just yet, leave it for tomorrow.

When you sit down to start your tasks, think with a positive and open mind and address the criticism. If it’s something really small, you will need to ask yourself if it’s feasible to make the changes that are being suggested at this stage, and if it is, why wouldn’t you make them? If you don’t have an answer to that, it might be something to consider.

🔴 How do you handle multi-tasking and deadlines?

Let’s be real. No one is perfect at multi-tasking every single hour of every single day. But essentially, the interviewer will want to know how you manage your time best in time-pressured situations. Everyone works to a deadline and you need to explain that you’ve been doing these skills throughout university and will definitely carry that into your professional life. In the interview, it could be hard to think of such ideas on the spot, but if you take the time to think about it and be honest, it shouldn’t be difficult.

To give you an example, I’ve answered this question by explaining that I pride myself on a different kind of workflow. I set myself deadlines slightly earlier than the actual deadline so that when the time comes around, I am ready and can utilise the time between my personal deadline and the actual deadline to do extra things. This also allows me to have a stricter timetable so that even if I don’t complete all my tasks and everything I want to do, there is still some leeway towards the end.

Balancing several projects can be tricky for some people and as an architecture student, I’ve found that after graduating it was very difficult to switch off my brain and get out of the designing mindset. This skill is important when multi-tasking because you need to constantly switch between your design project to your dissertation, to thinking about employment prospects.

The secret to this, is to be doing things that you enjoy. If you aren’t interested in the dissertation topic you’ve chosen, you will be more likely to avoid doing it at all. So while you think you are multi-tasking, you’re probably not. Another great habit to have is to schedule in days for certain tasks. For example, I liked to save Friday for all the extraneous and lower priority tasks that needed doing. I could catch up on that drawing I was supposed to annotate or write a list of drawings.

All the small things would happen on that day. Then, the other days would be dedicated to each project that was happening. This can get you into an automatic workflow where the boundaries are clear. It also doesn’t need to be set in stone and will need to change as deadlines approach where you might need to allocate more time to one project.

🔴 What is your strongest skill?

I won’t give you a script for this question. This is something you need to consider yourself. Think about what you were terrible at when you first started university and whether or not that skill has become your strongest yet.

Don’t be afraid to expand on your answers in the interview. Obviously, the interviewer isn’t looking for an essay-length response, but it might be good to explain why you feel a certain way.

🔴 What kinds of software have you learnt?

Again, being truthful in your responses is key 😇. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it will show weaknesses or put the interviewer off from going forward. If you tell them honestly that you’ve never worked with a software, it can save you a lot of trouble and embarrassment in the future. Similarly, don’t tell them you are an expert in Rhino when you’re just a beginner. Some employers might invite you back for a second interview that could include a surprise test!

The best way to go about answering this question, is to tell them you are using your free time to learn new software (in particular whichever one the firm works in). This will do many things for you; it will show them that you’re putting in the effort to learn whatever software that firm uses, making sure you are ready for the role. It also shows that you are being proactive.

It will also allow you to respond with a question. Ask them why they prefer this software, what kinds of things do they do with it primarily and how you would be using it on a day-to-day basis.

🔴 What did you enjoy about university?

I received this question a couple of times which actually threw me. I hadn’t actually thought about my experience at university as a whole and how it had shaped me as a designer. Of course, I enjoyed the course, had some realisations after graduating, so overall I felt that it was what I signed up for and more.

🔴 Do you have any questions for us?

This is the best and most important one in my mind. Before an interview, I like to go through the firms website, any articles, and publications about them and write down a list of questions. Another good way to do this is to look at the job description and highlight the bits you don’t fully understand. For me, I was often asking how does a Part I fit in within the entire firm. I usually got the answer that I’d be working in a team or be multi-tasking on multiple projects but would usually have some kind of guidance throughout the process.

Definitely make it a point to ask at least one question. If you feel like whatever you were going to ask has been answered in their description of the firm, let them know.

Another topic I haven’t mentioned yet is salary. Obviously, this will depend on the firm and their approach but in an initial interview, I’ve never discussed salary apart from a generic range. But a good thing might be to talk to your peers or those who have already completed their year out and get a feel for this area.

Hopefully, this article will help you to be a little bit more prepared and allow you to understand actual questions that are usually asked in an interview. Let us know what kind of questions you’ve been asked and think could be helpful for fresh graduates! Make sure to keep up with us on Instagram as well 😄

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GramLiving – Samiur Rahman

Can you imagine a place where you live and breathe – Instagram? Samiur Rahman from Greenwich University has proposed just that for his MArch design project – GramLiving. We discuss some of the techniques he used as well as some sources of inspiration behind the incredible illustrations.

1. Where did you study and in which unit (was there a reason you chose this university / unit?)

I studied at the University of Greenwich. I did both my undergraduate and postgraduate there. I had such a great time during my BA, that it was an easy decision to go back. The ‘arts’ based ethos of the architecture school was something which really resonated with me. In addition to this, I was familiar with the tutors and staff there. At Greenwich, briefs are kept quite loose and students are encouraged to explore and research their own interpretation of projects. During my MArch, I was in Unit 18, tutored by Pascal Bronner and Thomas Hillier both of Flea Folly Architects.


Pascal Bronner and Thomas Hillier – Flea Folly Architects

2. Can you tell us a bit about your unit / tutors and their approach to your brief?

I chose Unit 18 as I felt their projects were really original and heavily concept-led. They also tend to do really fantastical and immersive drawings which I am a huge fan of. The brief for my graduating year was ‘Extreme Consumerism’, focusing on the future of consumerism and the capitalist world we live in. For final year students, the brief is simply a guide and students are welcome to explore their own interests. My final year project was a speculation on a future social media obsessed lifestyle which somewhat reflected the unit brief.

3. Was there a moment during your project where something you absolutely hated or created on the spot ended up becoming an integral part of your design?

Whilst this has happened to me before, the final year project took quite a heavily researched and methodical approach. Perhaps this is because you need to develop a coinciding thesis with it. This sort of strategy doesn’t always work, and is quite project specific.

4. Do you think that studying masters is easier or harder as compared to studying undergrad?

I think neither is easier/harder than the other. They both come with their own challenges and boils down to the ambition of the individual as to how difficult the degrees can be. Undergraduate is very much a learning environment, where you learn how to draw, read and think like an architect. The notion of uncertainty is what I found most difficult. With postgraduate, you are much more equipped from a skills point, however you need to be far more creative and sophisticated in your design approach to develop a distinguishable masters project.

5. Were there any prominent references or sources of inspiration for your drawings or the general style?

In terms of representational style, I was always a fan of non-realistic renders. I personally enjoy exploring highly speculative concepts and wanted the drawings to reflect that. For my final year project, I took inspiration from contemporary artists such as Laurie Lipton and Kilian Eng. I’d also looked at films such as ‘Paris Texas’, to try and convey a particular mood in the drawings.

Paris Texas – Janus Films

6. Have to ask you the standard question of what programs did you use to create your images? (for BA and MArch)

I mainly used Cinema 4D, Photoshop and Procreate for my 5th year project. For my 3rd year I used Cinema 4D, Illustrator and Photoshop. I learned Cinema 4D in my 2nd year as my tutor at the time was a filmmaker. Whilst it is an incredibly powerful software, it isn’t widely used in architectural practices and therefore would advise students to consider this before investing time in learning to use it.

7. What kind of things did you learn in your year out / part-time work if any that contributed in some way to your project?

One of the main lessons I learned during my year out was how to work efficiently as part of team, and just how independent architectural education is. This involves asking others in your team for help rather than spending ages on google trying to solve issues like you would as a student. A lot of professional knowledge I picked up during my part 1 was really helpful during the ‘design realisation’ (technical) module. I also made a lot of models during my year out, which was really useful during my 4th year.

8. Are there aspects of your project you think you would change or build on?

All my student projects ultimately succumbed to the issue of time and deadlines. I’d always had more drawings/ideas planned or sketched out which never came to fruition, leaving all the projects slightly underdeveloped. However, this is also the nature of the course and discipline, if you have an ambitious scheme it is unlikely you will finish everything you want and therefore becomes critical that you prioritise you time in designs and drawings which best convey your ideas. One of the best lessons that Greenwich tutors teach is that 1 or 2 excellent drawings are better that 9 or 10 mediocre ones.

9. What qualities do you think a project needs to be able to get to a level of getting a first or being recognised by tutors / examining body / RIBA?

The Instagra Bedroom and Home Entrance

I think it’s really hard and slightly counterproductive to try and develop a project to appease standards of the RIBA or other external competitions. Mostly because there really isn’t a framework or particular guideline for these awards. Rather, students should just try to be as rigorous and obsessive over their projects and try to input their own interests and personal flair into the schemes. Often, these projects are really appreciated by tutors etc as originality is very sought after in architectural education.

10. What are you currently doing or are aspiring to work on in the next year or so?

I am currently working as a Part 2 architectural assistant at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios in London. Hoping to carry out my part 3 in the near future. I also have a few private tuition students, which I really enjoy teaching and keeps me in touch with the conceptual, speculative nature of student projects. I’m also hoping to start producing some personal drawing/artworks soon. With the current lockdown situation, it’s difficult to find excuses not to.

A huge thank you to Samiur for taking the time out and answering our questions. Be sure to check out his Instagram and his Thesis. We hope these interviews have given you an understanding into celebrated projects. If you have any questions, leave a comment below or let us know on Instagram what you thought.

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Paula Pokol – Somers Town Community for Women

Paula Pokol is one of the many ambitious students from The University of Greenwich. She received a commendation for her BA 3rd year project by the RIBA Presidents Medals and has become an inspiration to many of her peers and colleagues. Currently, she is working at EPR Architects and was kind enough to talk to us more about her project, the design approach and of course her incredible images.

Through this interview, we hope that many of the students who are coming up to end of year deadlines will be able to get an insight into another students’ thought process and project. We always encourage you to seek out and understand interesting designs that could spark ideas for your own work.

A short summary of Somers Town Community for Women:

“As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world”.

Virginia Woolf

“Women, Undoubtedly the Strongest Pillars of our Society”.

Meera Satpathy

Somers Town Community For Women is an architectural exploration of these statements, elevating female independence while coexisting in today’s world. It provide life-long private homes for elderly women, creating a community that keeps the residents engaged with all aspects of society. Ateliers and residences blend into one to provide a dynamic environment to practice and teach a craft.

Opposed but not mutually exclusive concepts such as ‘work/leisure’, ‘create/consume’, private/public, individual/communal are combined in the same space to shape a diverse experience. 

Explorations into the ‘duality of space’ result in the creation of a ‘perforated wall’ or ‘colonnade’ that can be inhabited, so, the ‘column’ becomes an active, bespoke component of the proposal .

1. Where did you study and in which unit?

I studied at University of Greenwich, Unit 1

Stockwell St Building – University of Greenwich

2. Can you tell us a bit about your unit / tutors and their approach to your brief?

My tutors were Benni Allan (of EBBA Architects) and Kieran Hawkings. They were wonderful and super supportive, and I can’t recommend them enough. The unit’s approach is a bit different to that of the other BA units in Greenwich. The unit concentrated on the physical and material qualities of space. There is great care in creating ‘thresholds’ and proper transitions from public and private spaces. It is very much an “atelier” approach to architecture. Each piece is uniquely designed for it purpose. 

3. Was there a moment during your project where something ‘clicked’ or was a key turning point for you and if so, how do you think it came about?

There was a key turning point in my project, however unlike other projects it came really early in the design process, which is an anomaly at least in my case. Early on I decided that I want columns in my building and became absolutely obsessed with them. I wanted people to ‘inhabit’ the Column. That was what drove my project. 

4. Were there any prominent references or sources of inspiration for your drawings or the general style?

I can’t say I had a key reference I was using. However there were a few architects I was following and knew I wanted my spaces to feel like some of their work: Flores y Prats, O’Donell and Tuomey, Irene Perez of TEd’A and DnA’s founder Xu TianTian. In terms of my drawing style, I never really use a specific reference, but I know Peter Salter’s drawings have been a great influence during my university years.

I also strongly believe that each project, each program is unique and should be ‘drawn’ in a way that is suited to it, not to the style of the designer, as that might inhibit the design process. I like to be open minded about my drawings. 

Sculpture Workshop – Somers Town Community for Women

5. Our favourites have to be your sectional axos and plans. When it comes to creating these sets of images, is there a planned out design approach you use?

I had very different approaches to my plans as opposed to the axos. With the plans I just wanted to add as much detail in my work as possible. The axos are meant to show the layers of habitation in my building. But as a process they are very similar. I break each drawing is small tasks so I don’t get overwhelmed as I make them. My work station is mostly post-its over post-its.

6. Have to ask you the standard question of what programs did you use? 

I used Autocad, Rhino and Photoshop for most of my final drawings. But similar pieces can be easily created in Revit, which is what I use now. I have to admit that I didn’t use a rendering program like V-ray, as I didn’t think it suited my project. 

7. Anything particular that you learnt yourself over time that could be useful for others?

Detail detail detail! Any drawing will look good if you add lots and lots of details. Sometimes they don’t even have to be right, just look good. Never do an all-nighter, nothing good ever comes of it, work at night if that suits you better but try and get at least 4 hours of sleep every day. Also matcha lattes are great alternatives to coffee without the anxiety for the crunch before the end of the year. 

8. What aspects do you think a project needs to be able to get to a level of getting a first or being recognised by tutors / examining body / RIBA? 

I think there are a lot of reasons work can be recognized by RIBA or get a first, sometimes impressive graphics and views do the trick. But having a good narrative that you tell in a structured and organized way through your portfolio is more important. You need to be able to coherently tell the story of your design. On the other hand a project needs to have substance. My program, a community for elderly women, was not only something that I was passionate about but something that is relevant to today’s society. 

9. What are you currently doing or are aspiring to work on in the next year or so?

I am currently working at EPR Architects. I decided to take two years before going back to uni, BA exhausted me. 

A big thank you to Paula for getting involved and answering some of our questions. Be sure to check out her Instagram and her work on the RIBA website.