Applied in: Winter 2013

University Offers: Cambridge Interview, UCL, Bath, Edinburgh, Westminster

As part of a two week work experience at a London based architectural firm, I was around for the design phase of one of their French projects. The practice had won the competition to design a museum in Narbonne. Unlike traditional museums the aim was to merge a visitors’ space with the research areas and in doing so provide a more informative and democratic experience. The project’s design was informed by a series of constraints: an industrial location on a riverbank, public financing and proximity to a developing auto-route. From the start the project at Narbonne suggested that a building’s aesthetic is shaped not just by an ideal of what is beautiful, whatever that may be, but rather a complex tangle of economic, social and political considerations. The architects I was shadowing appeared to see themselves as a kind of mediator between these. They seemed resigned to the reality that their original ideas for a building would soon be attacked from all sides by others, and that the end result would inevitably be a compromise.

Political, financial and construction difficulties aside, the team at Foster + Partners working on Narbonne wanted to create a space that would not only be practical for museum staff, but to create a ‘good’ place to visit. Inside a central rectangular building a metal spine separating the visitors and research areas appeared to free stand under a vast floating roof. The spine, in the form of industrial shelving would invite the visitor to peer through to the other side. Manipulating the space’s effect on a viewer was key for the team and relied on understanding how people themselves behaved in different places. At board meetings the architects spent time contemplating ways to accommodate all sorts. I realized that trying to provide for a ‘standard’ visitor was going to be difficult. Georges Perecs raises some of these difficulties in ‘Species of space and other Pieces’, emphasizing that space is seen through many eyes, under many different conditions. From these discussions inevitably rose the question, what made a space a ‘good’ one?

This question seemed at the heart of Richard Roger’s thinking in a recent retrospective I went to in London. For him a building could not only articulate the values of a better society but also encourage them to prosper. I’d never been particularly drawn to the ‘look’ of the Pompidou centre, but listening to Roger’s explanation of the building as a product of 1960’s openness, the ability to change according to use through an open plan gave me a better appreciation of what the building was trying to do. Like the ideas for the Narbonne museum, it reflects its open, transparent values by displaying its processes, its workings, its structure, and in doing so, leads a viewer to feel they understand it, that they can approach it. Whether successful or not, Rogers ideals of a better and fairer society linked to, and shaped, his plans for the layout of surroundings that he created. I find his projects exciting in their originality, though perhaps not aesthetically and I hold my closer look at his work responsible for my strong questioning of whether or not something must be explained in order for it to be appreciated.

Both these personal experiences confirmed to me architecture’s potential as a tool capable of shaping, even controlling, the way we experience the world. Rogers’s plans were based around a political ideal of equality, sustainability and democratic openness yet I feel aware too this can be used in less perfect ways. Where Cathedrals impose, uplift and inspire perhaps with their scale or Neocalassical architecture has shown itself capable of being used as a way to assert power and control. Architecture, as a discipline that integrates creativity, pragmatism with an understanding of people and place appeals strongly to me. When I row I work as part of a team that has a clear objective, I am conscious when I design a website or when I make a short video of who I am appealing to and the effects I am trying to evoke in them. These are a few of the reasons I would like to study architecture.

Please note UCAS will detect any form of plagiarism. PSE and its contributors do not take any responsibility for the way in which personal statements are used.

Contact us