Hi there! I am Louisa from Kuching, Sarawak. I did my A-levels at Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar (KTJ) and am currently pursuing the Foundation Course in the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA School). This will lead to my First Year in Architecture.
When you hear the word ‘architecture’, you will probably think of buildings, sketches or the people responsible for creating space, function and form while the engineers grumble over that these architects draw dreams that they have to create. Architecture is, however, a long journey of 5 academic years for the master’s degree and another two years of working to earn your RIBA part 3, which ultimately proves that you are a fully-fledged architect and are able to sign off your drawings. It is encouraged to take a break to work for a year after the third year of your degree. So this journey would be about 8 years long – “as bad as medicine”, people would say.
You have to be certain of your choice and you must have a passion for this course. Otherwise, it will be absolute torture for you. The hashtag ‘#architorture’ is a thing on Instagram, go check it out. This is not the course for you if your plan is to get rich quick. The famous architects you hear about don’t represent more than a bare minority and they had to work long and hard to reach where they are now. Hard work, perseverance and passion are necessary to survive this craziness.
The big major question everyone has in their mind. The major headache of every art student. Honestly, presentation is what is important for the portfolio the most. You need to give good quality images of your work and then be able to explain it well. Have a side note to each image and tell them what inspired you to do this – the thought process. To each student their own because the portfolio is almost like an extension of your character. Especially now with my course mates, when I see their portfolios, I see their characters in the images and the way they present their images.
There is no right or wrong with portfolios. It may vary according to the school you apply for, they may be looking for students with certain qualities or styles. That is why it is important to research on the schools you are applying for, to understand their approach to teaching the architectural course.
When I applied to the AA School, my portfolio was very much comprised of fine art with a bit of graphic design thrown in. My friends have portfolios showing just sketches or just photographs or every style of art under the sun; showing their experiments and approaches. The AA School likes students from all styles as long as you can communicate and explain your work. They are more interested in the way you think, the way you approach things, rather than actually seeing what you can do, though that is necessary too.
Another headache. At this time, the UCAS students are shaking their heads and panicking because the deadlines are here or for the Oxbridge candidates, pass and the agony of waiting is upon them. The important thing about personal statements is to speak about your passion in architecture and what influenced you to choose architecture. Let them understand without question or doubt as to why they should choose you for a place in their university for architecture. Explain how your skills and ECA activities tie into architecture or how they are useful.
Spend a small amount of time, small being the crucial word here, to explain why you choose the university. Of course for UCAS applicants, you have to be very general about it but explain why the university would be necessary for your future and how you are important to the school too, how you could contribute to them. Talk about how your experience and leadership skills acquired in high school can be used in the clubs and societies offered in the university.
For applicants applying to private universities or applying to a university individually, this is the time to really research on the university’s teaching style. Is it technical or more creative? Explain why you want to pursue those aspects that the university can offer. These are mere examples. Remember, do not oversell yourself or ‘butter up’ the school too much. You will come off as desperate or a sycophant, both of which will decrease your favourability to the universities and you do not want that to happen. Unless you state it, the universities will have no idea which other universities to applied to, this is especially so for UCAS candidates, until you have chosen your firm and insurance choice.
In my personal experience, I would say, be prepared to work hard but remember to work smart. Every day, do something and little by little, it will build up into something amazing. Do not get discouraged if your first topic was bad. Keep working on it, Rome was not built in a day after all. You can only get better with practice. Do proper research, read a lot and observe. Take photographs, sketches, make annotations of buildings and anything at all that captured your attention. You never know when these things might actually help spark that creative streak in you down the road when you are stuck in the studio in the middle of the night trying to come up with an idea. You start to notice what works and what does not in architecture, architecture will take over your life.
Important point is, that even with an architectural degree, you do not necessarily have to practice architecture. There are people with architectural degrees doing product design, interior design or even event planning. The sky is the limit, it does not stop with architecture. In fact, it gives you a better understanding of things. In architecture, you learn model-making, observational study, photography, and an excellent understanding of the Adobe Creative Suite which includes Photoshop to name a few.
I personally enjoy my course even though it can get extremely tedious. Honestly, there are moments when I love it and moments when I question my life choices. But if you are certain about this, and you have a passion for it, I say ignore whatever other people say and go for it. This is your future, you should do something you enjoy and if need be, go against the current. I am all for being unique. After all, that is how amazing things happen – with confidence, tenacity and hard work.
Louisa Wong is currently reading Architecture in the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA School) in the United Kingdom.