All across the world educational examinations have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, including my own exams. This is the first time that exams have been cancelled since their introduction in 1888, even continuing through two world wars. These must be unprecedented times if this is the course of action that must be taken.
This has now left so many students across the world in such a strange situation, in a matter of days going from huge pressure from teachers and schools to achieve in the summer exams to being told that they are in fact cancelled. It has stirred strange emotions within myself as I am having to react to the news and process the ramifications of these decisions.
On one hand, I feel released from the huge pressure and stresses that are associated with the exam season which is a positive thing. But on the other hand, I feel that I have lost all control of my destiny almost and it is now up to the judgement of my teachers and the examination bodies. This is a feeling that I am struggling to deal with as I much prefer being able to work at something to ensure the best possible result rather than leaving it to fate almost. I am sure many other students are feeling like this as well and I know that I need to maintain trust in those making the decisions to make the correct ones. This is a unique situation that we are all in and we must remember that every other person is in the same boat as us.
Like I have mentioned in an earlier blog post, try to control the controllables rather than the uncontrollables. Of course, this is always easier said than done, it will just take time to wrap our heads around this forever evolving situation.
Paris, often referred to as the City of Light is one of the most romantic, beautiful cities on Earth. Littered with pockets of irresistible culture, it is a city that should be on everyone’s bucket list. I was extremely lucky to visit this particular city in the summer of 2018 and basked in the beautiful weather, food and architecture that the place has to offer. I thought that I would take the time to pen my experiences of this magnificent city, exhibit some of my photography of the city and to offer recommendations on what to do and see if you ever get the chance to visit.
Fun fact that I learnt in my research for this post, the reason that the nickname ‘City of Light’ was coined is that Paris was one of the first European city’s that adopted gas street lighting on a large scale to light the city’s boulevards and numerous monuments. Moving on let’s get straight into the thick of it.
Location #1 – Visit the metro system
The Paris Métro is, of course, a rapid transport system responsible for the movement of over 1.5 billion people annually. The metro system is seen as an identifying symbol of the city and is known for its distinct architecture and unique entrances influenced by Art Nouveau designed by Hector Guimard. It was the signs adorning the entrances that piqued my interest as I walked the streets of the city and encouraged me to document their intriguing appearances. I highly recommend seeking these features out and taking a trip down into the metro. Some of the underground stations are beautifully designed and worth seeing.
Location #2 – Walk the steps to the Sacré-Coeur
If you don’t fancy taking the stairs when visiting the world-famous Sacré-Coeur may pose a slight issue thanks to the 222 steps up to the entrance of the building. But trust me it’s worth it when you get to the top, the view across the skyline of Paris is incredible and the building up close is beautiful. The Sacré-Coeur is a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is an iconic example of ancient Roman architecture, Byzantine architecture to be exact. If you can visit Montmartre which is steeped in artistic history, situated 300m from the Sacré-Coeur. This is where you come if you want a classic Parisian caricature.
Location #3 – Visit the Musée de l’Orangerie
For the avid art lover or keen tourist, the Musée de l’Orangerie is a must-visit. A collection of paintings named the ‘Water Lilies’ were offered to the French state by the world-famous painter Claude Monet on the day that followed the Armistice of November 11th, 1918 as a symbol for peace. As a lover for architecture, the extra intrigue came from the knowledge that Monet designed the building in which the painting had to be exhibited, this was because he carefully calculated and designed the way that light would enter the rooms and affect his paintings. He believed that the lighting was crucial in aiding the message he wished the painting to impart on the observer. You will not be disappointed with this particular art gallery.
Location #4 – Make sense of modern art in the Centre Pompidou
I must say that this particular art gallery was a change from the classic galleries of The Louvre and the Musée de l’Orangerie but a welcome one at that. This particular art gallery is the Centre Pompidou. The building was designed by the architectural team made up of Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano who wished to create a futuristic, high-tech building. And they have achieved just that, it is so different from the majority of the classic Parisian architecture that is commonplace throughout the city. This art gallery is the largest modern art gallery in Europe and you could easily spend most of your day walking the exhibition rooms. To be perfectly honest, some of the installations were interesting, to say the least, and took some thinking to make sense of the artist’s intentions. But I guess that is the point of these thought-provoking, layered artworks and I came to like various pieces throughout the gallery. Take a trip to the 6th floor and soak in the incredible panoramic view of the city, it is not to be missed.
Location #5 – Take a trip up the Eiffel Tower
Of course, a trip to Paris could not be completed without a mention of the world-famous Eiffel Tower, an iconic symbol of the city. The Eiffel Tower is a wrought iron lattice tower with a height of 324m. Its construction took a remarkably short period of two years, two months and five days between 1887 and 1889. It was constructed to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution and to demonstrate France’s industrial prowess to the world. Stood proud by the bustling waterway of the River Seine it is an unmissable piece of Parisian architecture. It is equally as impressive come darkness and transforms itself into a stunning light display.
So there are my top five locations in Paris that captured my imagination and the experiences will stay with me forever. I think that the current situation allows us to reflect on the experiences that we have had and increase our level of gratitude for being granted them. At the present moment, travel is so restricted that sightseeing is out of the question but I think when as a planet we come out of the other side and movement increases we must take the opportunities to see as much as possible because you never know what’s around the corner.
Now that everyone has settled into this rather strange, new way of living thanks to the lockdown restrictions that have been placed upon us, people are starting to look towards certain activities to pass the time. It is so unusual to be given this period of time which allows us to take a moment to slow down and reflect upon our own lives. It has given some the time to start projects that have fallen by the wayside due to in most cases a lack of time. This could be writing a book, learning to paint or taking up yoga.
I thought that it’d be fun to share one of the projects amongst others that I have undertaken in these strange times. I decided to compile a definitive ‘Top 100 films of all time’ and work my way through the films during this difficult period. I felt that this would be an opportunity to experience a whole range of films differing in age and genre. Some of the films on the list are said to be extremely impactful and hold great significance.
I turned to IMDB, an online database of information related to films and television programmes. From their website, I selected their ‘Top 100 films of all time’.
I have included this particular list below:
The Shawshank Redemption
The Dark Knight
The Godfather: Part 2
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
12 Angry Men
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
City of God
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Silence of the Lambs
Saving Private Ryan
The Usual Suspects
Life is Beautiful
One Upon a Time in the West
It’s a Wonderful Life
My Father and My Son
The Dark Knight Rises
The Green Mile
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
The Lives of Others
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
American History X
Back to the Future
The Elephant Man
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Kill Bill: Vol. 1
Night of the Living Dead
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Quantum of Solace
V for Vendetta
Grave of the Fireflies
The Great Dictator
Paths of Glory
Like Stars on Earth
Requiem for a Dream
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
North by Northwest
Once Upon a Time in America
Some of the films listed above I have already watched but I shall be rewatching them as part of this challenge that I have set myself. I will also write a short response to each film to reflect upon the film and offer my opinion. At the time of writing, I have watched 5 out of the 100 films, so I have a long way to go yet but I am looking forward to it.
This was one of the challenges that I have set myself over this unusual time but it doesn’t necessarily have to become one of yours. Just take some time to think about if there is anything that you want to do but have been putting off, a new skill to be learnt perhaps. Use this newfound time as an opportunity for self-improvement and evolution and avoid remaining stagnant during this period. You’ll see it as a missed opportunity and regret it in time to come.
Strive to improve and have fun. Stay well, everyone.
I have decided to create a post offering some support in creating a portfolio to submit to universities as part of their application process. In all of the architecture courses that I applied to and those that I looked into required a portfolio that included a range of artwork. This range could be in the form of sketching, painting, collage, graphic design, the list goes on. There may also be additional tasks that are specific for the university that you have applied to. This will often be a piece or series of artwork in response to a brief.
In most cases, for UK universities it is not imperative to have studied Art before attending university so this portfolio could be wholly made up of work completed outside of your academic subjects. So do not feel that your subject choice has to be a barrier to studying architecture.
I applied to the University of Sheffield, University of Nottingham, Kent University, UAL (University Arts of London) and UCL (University College London). From these universities, I received an offer from Sheffield, Nottingham and Kent. I was invited to an interview at UAL but was unsuccessful in receiving an offer and I pulled out of the UCL application process when I decided that it was not the university for me and chose to firmly accept an offer from another university. All of these universities required me to create a strong portfolio to compete with the large volume of applicants that each university receives each year. Both Sheffield and UCL required a specific task completed which I will go into more detail about later on.
What software to use?
I used Google Slides to create mine and then downloaded into a PDF file for upload to each university. I found the interface simple to navigate and did the job for me. Microsoft Powerpoint would work just as well and InDesign is also a good software platform for portfolio creation.
In my experience universities require a PDF file so creating an online portfolio won’t be suitable for this particular situation but are always useful to create to further promote your work when you progress throughout your studies.
Tip #1 – Research
Make sure you look into the university that you are creating the portfolio for. I would not suggest creating a one size fits all portfolio as certain universities ask for evidence of sketchbook work for example. Others want to see your artistic process that has led towards a resolved piece where others may just want to see images of your final pieces. Taking the time to do this research will pay dividends when your portfolio is being scrutinised and it fits the criteria that they are specifically looking for.
For example, for my UAL portfolio, I looked into their requirements and I saw that they wanted to see sketchbook work. So, I simply scanned in a selection of my sketchbook pages to express my readiness to practice and develop my drawing technique. On the first slide below I included examples of still life drawing with the shells and on the second slide I displayed my understanding for the effects of light on an object and the importance of this to create a flat drawing that seems 3-dimensional.
Careful research and planning are also vitally important in avoiding portfolio submission deadlines. Also, carefully read any documentation that the university sends you as it may include a request for further documents from yourself. This could be in the form of a cover letter from a teacher that proves that the work that is being submitted is that of your own and not another person. Something to consider is the ability to compress your PDF file to a small enough size to upload to the university. They will often ask for a file that is around 6mb. Most portfolios exceed this due to the inclusion of several high-quality PDFs. There are some online programmes and tutorials that can walk you through the process that allows for compression of a PDF file without pixelation of your images in the portfolio but don’t leave this to the night before the deadline as I must admit I did do myself. Save yourself any stress and figure it out in advance.
Tip #2 – Keep it simple
I utilised a simplistic design within my portfolio and tried to avoid layering too many images upon a single slide to prevent the observer feeling overwhelmed and I think it is important to maintain a mentality of quality over quantity to avoid having certain pieces bringing down the overall quality of your portfolio because you want to show the volume of work you have completed. Only select your best work for your portfolio.
In the images above they show the lack of a complicated design, I consciously decided to only use 2 colours and avoid the complexity of some themes that can be found preset on Google Slides and Microsoft Powerpoint. The lack of bright colours and overcomplicated design means that the focus is primarily on the work that I have selected, which ultimately what they will base their decision upon.
Something to consider when compiling your portfolio is the order of your work. There is no right way to do this, to be honest. You could order your slides in the following:
Chronological order of completion
Grouped in artistic technique (drawings, paintings, etc.)
Starting and finishing the portfolio with your best work
There are other ways in which you can order your work but in my case, I chose to insert my best work at the start of my portfolio and finish with an equally strong piece. I felt that this started the portfolio well and captured the attention of the observer and then with the strong final piece it would tie together the portfolio as a whole. I also used grouping throughout and kept similar artistic techniques together, for example, the two slides below were one before the other and consisted only of photography which did then not appear anywhere else in the portfolio.
In terms of the description text for your pieces, I suggest keeping them short and sweet. Ensure to use concise and technical language that gets across what it is and perhaps your hoped effect of the piece. Avoid any kind of waffle!
Tip #3 – Maintain a range of artistic skill
It is easy to assume that because you are applying to an architecture course it is crucial to include work that is related to architecture in some shape or form. In most cases, any computer-aided design, perhaps AutoCAD or SketchUp are frowned upon and they would rather an applicant to display their artistic talent through mediums such as drawing, painting, construction etc.
This lends itself to my final tip, to include a range of artistic skills. This could consist of a multitude of skills. For example, you may include sketching, painting, photography, collage and much more. And, if you feel that as an artist you only focus on one or two artistic techniques, push yourself out of your comfort zone and try new things. It does not have to be perfect but the fact that you have taken it upon yourself to try these new skills will be attractive to universities. For example, in my portfolio, I tried to do this and included pencil drawing, oil painting, graphic design, physical modelling, photography and woodwork.
A word of advice that I received from the feedback from unsuccessful applications and accomplished artists around me, universities like to see a lot of drawing work. So I would push the boat out with practising and refining your drawing skills to be able to create a large pool of drawn work to select from. This is something that I lacked and I have now taken the time to rectify this and now draw for pleasure much more regularly and in doing this my confidence in my own drawing ability is increasing.
Specific task examples:
As mentioned earlier for a couple of my university applications I was required to submit specific pieces for their university. This is crucial to the application and is why it is important to fully understand the brief and know what it’s deadlines are. The universities that required additional work were the University of Sheffield and UCL. I will display both of my responses to the task set and offer some advice if you were applying to these particular universities.
University of Sheffield:
This is an excerpt from the University of Sheffield Portfolio Submission Guidance leaflet:
“As a further test of your critical, representational and observational skills, we ask that you submit a piece of work that illustrates an aspect of the street/road/lane that you live on. This can be in any medium and should be accompanied by a short text of around 200 words.”
Below is my response to the above task with the attached 200 words:
This is my piece responding to the brief on ‘your street’. I decided to draw inspiration from David Hockney who was prolific in cubist photography. He would take multiple photos of a scene and concentrate on some areas and ignore others. I decided to dive into certain details that would otherwise often go unnoticed in my street. These differing perspectives of certain elements were then brought together to create an analytical view of my street.
I decided to link an artist to the completed piece which is something that I recommend as it displays that you have a broader understanding of the art community and the influences of certain people in that community. I would also advise trying something slightly unusual perhaps as it will separate you from the rest and avoid answering the brief in a very literal way such as simply drawing ‘your street’. Try and layer your response with some insightful artistic knowledge and exploration.
Your specific piece is then included as a slide in your complete electronic portfolio that you upload online.
University College London:
The brief changes every year so I am unable to give direct advice on what to include but I will briefly explain how the task is set up and what is required of you.
You will be sent an email including a brief that will require you to respond to a certain theme that changes year on year. You will be asked to submit five A4 pieces as frames of a storyboard. The drawings must be quick and personal responses and not drawn from photographs. It is required that the drawings explore different media, two must be drawn with pencil, one mixed media and one a photograph. A unique aspect of the UCL drawing task is the time pressures. One drawing must be completed in 5 minutes, one in 15 minutes, one in 30 minutes and one in 60 minutes. The final piece has no set timings but has to be in response to an image that is given to you on the brief.
The advice that I can give is to try and think outside the box and be inventive with what you decide to do. Don’t worry too much about it being perfect as they are aware of the time constraints when looking over them. This particular task in my case had to be sent in the post to London so make sure you allow enough time for it to arrive before the deadline.
I have included my full university application portfolio at the end of this post for reference for prospective students that may find it useful when creating their own. I hope that this post may provide some assistance. If you have any questions shoot them over!
I have started this blog in strange and turbulent times which is affecting everyone globally in different ways. The COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping the world and at the time of writing 1,121,973 people are infected and there have 59,403 deaths globally. It has had an unprecedented effect on everyone with flights being grounded, schools shutting their doors and the general public are working from home if possible. These measures are to help limit the spread of the virus and help protect the health services from reaching an over saturation of people requiring medical support. I hope you will join me in thanking all the ‘key workers’ out there who are working tirelessly to allow the country to continue to tick along.
I am sitting at my desk writing this blog post whilst in lockdown and going a bit crazy I think! Due to government advice, the schools have been shut and the May exams have been cancelled. I was in my last year of studying the International Baccalaureate and preparing myself for a stressful couple of months of information cramming and now that has all been thrown in the air. I feel for all students out there in a similar position as myself experiencing this level of uncertainty in how our grades will be awarded. I have been maintaining the mentality that there is very little that we can influence so it is best to keep it at the back of mind and concentrate on the ‘controllables’ rather than the ‘uncontrollables’.
A word of advice for those that are looking to study architecture and have now come into what seems like an infinite supply of time is to use it wisely. Read up on your favourite architects or that building you saw, practice your drawing or watch some architecture-related TV, Grand Designs comes to mind as I know I am trying to do more of these things.
I hope that we will come out of these perplexing times stronger than before, with a newfound sense of community and appreciate the privileges that exist within our lives.