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· Sahiba Chadha

Open City’s Accelerate Programme

This year, Cullinan Studio has gladly participated as we agree wholeheartedly with the premise of the programme; that the built environment sectors are not diverse enough in terms of gender, class and ethnic minorities.

A huge part of architectural design, regardless of scale, is developing an understanding of how people live and about how design might enhance or improve this. To design buildings, cities and spaces that correctly interpret the needs of a diverse society we need an equal diversity of designers.

Two Cullinan Partners (myself and Nathan), mentored two students from Harris Westminster Sixth Form as part of Open City’s Accelerate into University programme. Reflecting on the experience, Nathan said, “It was enjoyable to see the students develop their confidence in exploring design ideas through the various sessions. Although the sessions were quite carefully planned, the designs themselves were unexpected and came from the students.

I think it has given them a well-rounded idea of what studying and practicing architecture could be like. Any work experience is invaluable in developing a young person’s idea of professionalism as well as putting their educational process in some sort of context. This is particularly valuable for architecture as there is very little preparation for it until you start a university course.

The programme also gives students a unique opportunity to confirm whether architecture really is for them. Many students start an architecture course without knowing what it will really be like. The money and stigma attached to dropping out means that many people will stick with a course that doesn’t suit them for a whole 3 years.”

Accelerate is a superb programme to support, but there’s still so much more the profession can do to enable people of all backgrounds train as architects. For example:

  • Improving awareness of the profession at school – we’ve recently given industry talks at St. Mary Magdalene Academy and City and Islington College, and found a receptive audience in the students there.
  • Lowering financial entry level through apprenticeship schemes – the RIBA Apprenticeships scheme shows this is in hand and a viable option. RIBA should certainly be supporting students so the organisation can remain relevant to young people.
  • Subsidies or grants for university studies
  • A cap on how much can be spent on materials and study trips within university to enable a level playing field; a ban on unpaid internships over 2 weeks to level the playing field.

Of course at practice level, firms should get in contact with their local council to organise work experience with local students in your area who aren’t otherwise connected to your practice. We’ve found the Islington Learning Skills and Employment team very helpful in this regard.

See below for an Open City film about the programme and the wonderful work produced by the students at Cullinan's over a 6 sessions from November to January.

 

 

Student work

Regent’s Canal is a commuter highway, leisure route and pleasure destination, making it a vital thread in the urban fabric of Islington, where Cullinan Studio is based. Through photography and a joint drawing exercise, the students analysed a small stretch of this canal alongside their own observed precedents of water with architecture, from the Barbican to artificial light reflected in wet pavements at night, and even suburban puddles.

Open City Accelerate students undertaking drawing studies of Regents Canal.

Beginning with conceptual sketches and watercolours, the students progressed different model scales and collages with their own found textures. Having created further iterations of their designs, they finally collaborated to combine their structures into an ambitious joint proposal.

This student arrived at her theme of ‘movement’, which she sought to enhance with her own ‘urban intervention’ of a lit-up, sculptural through-way on the canal towpath. She grew in confidence in speaking critically about her ideas and used wonderful creative freedom in her intuitive model making.

 

This student found her own theme of ‘reflection’, which she responded to with her own ‘urban intervention’ of a viewing platform over the canal water. She used her impressive command of model making and collage work to help her critique her proposal.

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