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.

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