Give yourself a break

As architect students we all need to stop taking ourselves too seriously, take a break… spending 70 hours in the studio per week may sound like a great and noble way of finishing a model or drawing. In reality, 40 of those hours are spent singing along to radio 1 (in sync with you fellow student adjacent to your desk), 10 hours spent receiving and drinking hot beverages and only 20 of those hours actually being productive. It may seem romantic, but inspiration and motivation is not a flash of lighting on a clear day and most certainly not found sitting in the studio. In the words of Chuck Close, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” Things happen when you start doing, get a sketch-roll and just go for it and stop thinking and just doodle (guarantee something will happen).

Or just talk to someone. If you need perspective, go look for it they’ll always be someone older and wiser who you can bug. We have learnt over the last 18 months that you learn more from the people in your class than from your tutors. Everyone has their own talent (Meggan can do the worm, Eilish can fake cry at the drop of a hat – watch out architecture world, we’re coming!), but seriously some are better at sketching, others at conceptual ideas and others at presentation – they can all help.

Always ask for help, and always help someone when they ask. When you are the one needing help, you’ll be pleased when someone takes off their headphones to listen to you – they could save you hours of frustration (and tears on Eilish’s part) with just one conversation.

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Architecture and Context

The role of a designer is to create an object using many layers and scales, as architecture students we’re required to do the above, while being guided by the focus of public places and spaces. In order to build on the unique local character of a site, we’re also required to find the best qualities and forms inherent in that particular geographic region. We also need to appreciate that every site is inherently different, picking out key characteristics that will form the design process, whether it be social, geographical or economical elements.

Nikolaus Pevsner produced the ‘context theory’ that stated towns should be compact and urban, with the surrounding countryside retaining its agricultural character, (in other words, respecting the context means not sticking a high-rise in the centre of a small compact village, you’d be surprised how many people propose this in studio).

Like the video linked, undertaking a site survey allows you to understand and develop a layered approach to the site and its context. Having this understanding allows the building to become part of the town, rather than the town a part of the building. The video was created during our site analysis visits to a small local town called Strangford; the short film approach’s the complexity of the site. During the visit it was apparent that the site had a compilation of materiality that varied widely. Documentation is a key way of understanding the context and gives the flexibility to re-evaluate it later in the design process if needed.

Although this is one way to approach the complexity of context, as students of architecture it’s essential we explore multiple ways of documenting and approaching a site. ‘Modernist’ theories lack sympathy with picturesque contextual approaches, and believe ‘form follows function’ (you’ll hear this a lot in architecture school) and prioritising particular human requirements over environmental consideration.

In our view equilibrium is the answer, approaching both of these contextual theories allows your design process to be interesting and dynamic; by limiting the site analysis, you’re essentially limiting your design process (simple right). Equally, after gaining depth into the context don’t ignore the findings during the design period, we’re prone to sacrificing the contextual character for strange materials and crazy forms.

Overall, if a design isn’t responsive to people and it’s context, it’s safe to argue the building is merely a form of ‘self-expression’ making it art, not architecture.

Know Your Precedents

Know Your Precedents

Although you learn a lot in architecture school, inside and outside of the lecture hall/studio (we learnt yesterday that cutting whilst not looking will, ALWAYS end up with a cut finger and blood everywhere) along with being bombarded with new information to do with the student life, the dreaded ultimatum between going out and not eating for a week, or getting some sleep (the answer is go out if you don’t have a deadline and well, if you do, WHY ARE YOU EVEN CONSIDERING IT!) you are expected to remember a couple of things… one of those things are buildings and their Architects.

When designing we use precedents to help come up with new ideas and see different techniques. Some architects are renowned for using one type of material (Tadao Ando – a concrete genius! Although not a traditionally trained architect, he used concrete like no other) Others are ground breaking with new designs, (Le Corbusier – the Villa Savoye; A visionary building that left the architecture community astounded with the new “5 points of architecture” that every ‘good’ building should have)

As a result, there have been many conversations between students trying to remember either a buildings name, or an architect that they’ve stumbled upon, (We think we probably have one of these conversations at least once a week). They go something like this:

Eilish (E): “Hey”
Meggan (M): (Takes headphones off, trying to not act annoyed that I’ve just distracted her) “yeah?”
E: “What’s that building with that really cool roof?”
M: “Uhh. What?”
E: “You know… the one with the roof? Our tutor was talking about it the other day… That one. The architect was the one who designed that building that’s being built in London?”
M: “… I literally have no idea what you’re talking about. Google it?”
E: “no, you do know it. We were talking about it other day… Damn it.”
M: (Getting annoyed now) “Fine. Describe it again?”
E: “It’s the one with the roof that curves down and hits the floor… You know what, it doesn’t even matter. I literally can’t be bothered”
M: “Right…”
(10 minutes later)
E: “YES!!! I found it”
M: “Greaaaaat” (sarcastic thumbs up)

Sometimes a precedent or an architect’s design can completely change your ideas for a project. But the advice is to try to learn at least 5 architects that you know will always have influential designs for you to look at. Here are our top 5 architects that you’ll bump into along the way. (We know they’re all male, it wasn’t meant to be sexist in any way, but all 5 of them are famous for being influential in the world of architecture) Get to know them, and get to know their style. Soon, you’ll be getting inspiration from them when you have “designers block” and your whole design can change for the better.

Frank Lloyd Wright
Le Corbusier
Renzo Piano
Frank Gehry
Mies Van Der Rohe

First year realisation

After our first year of architecture school we learnt a few inalienable truths about our new lifestyle, its not as terrible as everyone makes out (Shock right)… We joke and warn you that everything’s terrible as soon as you step into the architecture studio on your first day, in hindsight it’s not as terrible as it sounds. Please leave your ego at the door and you will survive.

Although the first few weeks were a collaboration of ‘what-the-f*ck’ experiences, i.e., 60 students being asked to used a plain A4 sheet to create origami in the form of something ‘beautiful’ (there were a few screwed up pieces of paper in the pile, hardly inspiring or beautiful) hardly felt or met the expectations of architecture. You think it can’t get any worse. Your first-semester deign consists of a tutor (who doesn’t care about the first year students in the slightest) who comes in 4 hours a week to teach you how to draw lines (wait for it) with and without a ruler. The worst part was not actually designing anything vaguely close to your concept of architecture. Instead your stuck behind your desk drawing a lot of lines, starting drawings again because the line weights are wrong (or you happen to smudge your almost finished plan ‘face palm’); redrawing over and over again until the axonometric doesn’t look ‘off’. And all the while you’ll be thinking, “why the f*ck am I doing this.”

But seriously, it may feel silly and amazingly frustrating at the start, but (wait for it) it’s important in the long run… (Sometimes we look back and wish we’d taken more notes). Learning the line weights and basics of architectural drawings will help you especially when it comes to using AutoCAD in the future. All those hours of drawing those plans and sections that took you 4 hours at the start, will, (eventually) become quicker and easier, practice really does make perfect.

Stick at it…

Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre

Giant Causeway Vistor Centre

On the northern coast lies the Giant’s Causeway, a landscape of basalt stones and cliff walkways; one of Northern Ireland’s natural wonders. The design of the visitor centre is a great example of how a building can really appreciate its context. The irregular lines of basalt columns (shown in the photograph) grow and recede into the landscape to form the building facades, with the building roof a part of the dramatic landscape. (click on the photograph to be directed to the National Trust page and get your tickets to visit today!)
Photographer: Meggan Collins
Architects: Heneghan Peng Architects

Here Goes Nothing…

Welcome to our page, this is our first post of many! We’re two students who are currently enrolled in the architecture programme at Queens University in Belfast (Northern Ireland). Creating this joint blog was an opportunity for us to document our education, developments and mishaps as architecture students in a fun and creative way! Most importantly, share it with students who are experiencing the same stresses and pressures of studio life (nobody else quite understands what we go through). As architect students we all understand and appreciate the friendships we create in studio, having the ability to expand and bond together through common interests and experiences is an exciting prospect. After all, our greatest inspirations and teachers are our fellow students.

This blog will also give us the opportunity to present ourselves, discover and connect with new people. The content of this page will aim to help with every day demands of architecture, to more pressing things like dealing with deadlines and portfolios. You can all share our developments and journeys by leaving comments, telling us your stories and simply asking questions, we’re here to learn from you just as much as you from us! We want this blog to be a ‘family’ orientated space reflective of studio culture; so don’t take yourselves too seriously (we certainly don’t).

As you’ve probably become aware, we both met at Queens University on the first day. Although we sat near each other in the first semester, it was only small conversations and quick smiles to each other. But bonding through our English accents and fighting other people when they would laugh at how we say “ruler” or “grass”, we would always come together in a team for an argument (By the way, if you know anyone from Northern Ireland, get them to say “how now brown cow” its very amusing).  We soon realised we were similar in many ways, from designing to our mannerisms, often being mistaken for sisters (we don’t see the physical similarities ourselves, maybe we’re in denial). If you feel compelled to get to know either of us in a deep and uncomfortable way, just visit our ‘about’ sections (well worth the craic).

We’ve also sweetly enclosed a photograph (I apologies if our faces offend anyone) so take us, as you will, we’re a little crazy….

First Post