Uni

Growing Up

I’ve been having a bit of a freakout. I’m nearing the end of my degree, my time at university is nearly over, and soon I will have to get a real job and be a real person and live my life without an academic structure (I know, woe is me).

I think a lot about ‘real life’ and ‘real jobs’ like I’m some sort of infantilised child, but the thing is, it just seems so unachievable. Aside from the student debt, the rising house prices that mean that really I’m just never going to buy a house, the lack of jobs available in the arts, aside from all that, certain people just seem to have their lives together and unfortunately, I don’t think I’m one of them.

And the thing is, it’s very easy to beat yourself up about that.

There’s been a shift, among everyone I know recently. They just seem much more… grown up. They’re dedicating time to working hard and looking after themselves and making dinners and sleeping properly. And I’m starting to do it too, a bit. Sleeping proper nights and waking up before 11 am and leaving the house before 9 on some mornings. Noticing when my mood drops, and assessing why, and doing the right things about it. I even went running. For a week. We can’t have everything.

And I think that’s the key thing – you can’t do everything. You can’t be this person who exercises and sleeps and eats healthily and has a buzzing social life and a healthy mental state and gets good grades. And that’s okay. If I learned anything from a combination of CBT and a very good Simon Stephens playwriting talk, it’s that success does not equal happiness. I thought it did, for a long time. I thought that if I did a million things then that was success, because I was running myself ragged and loudly telling everyone how tired I was. That I had to be the best, making the best things, and having other people tell me how good they were. But self-validation is so much better. Letting yourself fail, or get it wrong, or even, to just doing nothing is one of the kindest things you can do to yourself if you’re happy doing it.

It’s particularly easy to not feel good enough when you’re constantly living your life through a screen, constantly comparing your reality to the social media posts of everyone having a nice time, the Instagram stories of what you wish you were doing, those people who are 5 years ahead of you in both career and life-planning and got their play on at the Royal Court aged 21 (I am not bitter, I promise). But comparison is dangerous, because it’s easy to while your days away wishing you were someone else, without fully appreciating who you are, that your hair looks great, and that you are great fun to go to the pub with.

I think that’s being a grown up. Learning to stop constantly punishing yourself about not being grown up. And I’m getting there. I might even start running again.

 

Words by Sian Brett.

 

 

 

Hello First Year

Welcome to university, and sincere congratulations on getting here. Yes a lot of people are at university, but that doesn’t mean you getting here is any less of an accomplishment. No doubt your family and friends and maybe even teachers are proud of you, and you should be proud of yourself too. The joyful feelings of getting in are fleeting, so absorb them and revel in them until the reality hits. The reality first that you need to go to IKEA stat before everyone else goes and you spend 5 hours in a queue, but also that you have no idea how to go to university. What do you wear? Should you bake something? Is that weird? Should your parents stay the first night? When can you go home? Do you need an NUS card? Saucepans? How much underwear do you take? All of it?

University is weird. It is three years (occasionally four or more), and it is not necessarily going to be the best three years of your life. That is a popular saying I know, but it doesn’t make any sense. It is your life, and every year is better or worse or about the same as the last one. How the hell are you supposed to know which years are the best? Every year is happy and sad in equal parts. Why is it the best anyway? Because your parents aren’t there to get mad if you come home late? Personally I’ve yet to have a year where I’ve thought ‘this is the best so far’. Point being, don’t push your expectations so high up that you’ll never reach them. It’s only uni. It is three years of writing essays and doing exams, making new friends and learning to live without adults. It’s like school except you won’t get reminded to eat when you get home from classes.

University, contrary to what some schools believe, is not for everyone. So it’s not the end of the world if you don’t like it. However, you cannot leave before you’ve tried one whole term. My heads of sixth form were very clear; “don’t leave before Christmas”. They are so right, you have no idea. If you don’t like it, stay until Christmas. At Christmas you can go home, catch up with all your friends, spend time with family, and probably go back to working a till somewhere. After Christmas you can go back and try again, you can think straight, you can work out your game plan, and chances are, the second semester will be much easier. If you do want to leave university, unfortunately you will still owe them money, and if you got a grant you’d have to pay that back – but don’t worry they scrapped that. Now you will just owe them even more. Yet it is still an option. Do not think of university as a trap. There are options. I know many people who have done year one again, who have re-applied to the same university for a different course and people who have switched uni after one year. There’s loads of things you can do. You can even take time out.

General advice from me would start with ‘go to your lectures’. I skipped so many in first year when I realised it wasn’t like school and they had no idea who I was so they didn’t know if I was there or not. The lectures can be shit, to be perfectly honest, but they are there to help you. In second year you can at least make sure you go to the lectures that will be relevant to your essay topics; notice what and who the staff are talking about, and what texts they reference. You’ll get way higher marks if your writing is relevant, particularly to what they were actually teaching. Secondly, although I would advise against it in first year, is extensions. Up-to-a-week extensions are available if you are struggling. If mental health, family or illness is getting you down and you’ve not done as much work, then you can apply to your lecturers for a week extra. I’ve used them before when I’ve needed them, and I would recommend them if you are really struggling. It’s only a couple of days but it can make all the difference. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for using them.

You shouldn’t let anyone make you feel bad. People fail modules all the time, most people I know in third year had extensions, most people struggle. It’s university. It is hard, otherwise they wouldn’t have wanted your best grades to get here. If they wanted As at A-level, it’s because they want to know you can cope. University is a step up, but it’s so achievable. Honestly, just sit down and do your work. I’m not saying you need a really strict routine in which you never do anything but read, write, and go to classes. I’m saying, if a reading is important, or they’ll test you on it then read it. It’s quite simple. If you have an essay deadline in a week then go get your books out and start planning. Once you realise you can do it, it becomes a lot easier to start work in other years. As you get higher up, the word count will probably increase from the hundreds to thousands until you’re telling yourself you can write a 10,000 word dissertation. Which you can. The important thing to remember at uni is that you can do it. Never tell yourself you can’t. You got here on your own, you did the work and you made your way into a university that wanted you. You can do the rest too. You can do it, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help if you don’t feel like that.

As for freshers, girls and boys I’m going to start by saying don’t buy any bloody club wristbands. Honestly it’s £30+ that you will need in a few weeks. I went out twice in freshers, but spent plenty of nights in playing cards, learning about my housemates, talking, watching films and drinking on the kitchen floor. You really don’t need to buy a wristband for anything, and if you do go out every night that’s great – you can always buy tickets on the door. Don’t let anything pressure you into the idea that you’re supposed to be doing something else at university. Do what you want.

Be yourself. It might take a while for that to happen, I’m still learning in my third year, but you will not make friends trying to be someone you’re not. If you like something, someone else will like it too, I guarantee. You’ll never know if you don’t ask, or if you don’t tell people. Don’t hide what you believe in. Christian? Feminist? Conservative? Great, there is literally a society for all of them. There’s societies that drink, play sport, play games, dance, sing, run, read and whatever you’re interested. True, you don’t know anyone there, but that’s because you haven’t been yet. Go, meet people, and try things because the harsh reality is that it will only get harder once you leave university.

University is hard, but the world outside is much the same. You made the choice to come here, so embrace it. You could meet the love of your life, the friend you’ll keep forever. You could find your passion, your calling in life, or you might not. You might get the placement of your dreams and hate it. You might realise you never really liked your course and that you regret your choice of degree. Whatever way it turns, you’ll only know if you try. Listen to the bounds of advice people give you about uni because it will help you whilst you’re there, and it will probably be just as valuable after too. The world is your oyster, do with it what you will.

My final advice is merely to try, because even if you fail, you learn something new every time, and if you succeed, you’ve opened up another door for yourself. Be proud of yourself, look after yourself, and don’t forget that university, like life, is what you make it. Good luck fresher.

Zaha Hadid: A 360° Mind in a 1° World

Coming to university, I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and as expected its been quite a journey, though by far the best, most exciting one I’ve ever been on. A huge part of this has been the whirlwind that is architecture, a course choice that usually gets a response of horror or confusion as to why anyone would put themselves through that. To be honest, they’re not lying.

I find architecture about as easy as playing twister drunk (something I have done and which I can confirm is stupidly difficult), but I like to remind myself why I picked it in the first place. It was partly because my D&T teacher was the bomb, but mainly because I wrote an essay on females in the field, realised there were about two and was then like you know what, I’m going to be the most epic architect-ress EVER. (Note: architect-ress should really be a thing, I mean why is there no female version anyway?).

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Now, having written this essay I felt like an expert when really young me had little idea about how to achieve said dream, until I stumbled across one specific woman, someone I since then looked up to as a symbol of women in architecture – Zaha Hadid. Treated like the Marmite of the architecture world, Zaha could not have cared less – she was on fleek 24/7 and boy did she know it. When she died a few weeks ago almost everyone I know (lets face it, all architecture students because we have no life) posted some sort of tribute to her on Facebook, shared her work or even cried – something definitely changed in our architecture family. But rather than sitting her mourning her life, I thought I’d pay tribute to all the amazing things this woman achieved, the norms she defied and the first steps she made, not only to prove her critics wrong, but to to pave the way for us, the next generation of architect-resses.

Born in Iraq to an artist mother, Zaha pretty much had creativity in her veins. She studied architecture in Lebanon and at the AA (this really fancy private university especially for architecture in London) where she met Rem Koolhaas, whose company, OMA, she started working for soon after. Now I don’t know about other courses, but architecture is a pretty hard metier to get your foot into, especially a studio like OMA, one of the most reputable firms around. Zaha did this in a matter of years and a lot of her peers hated her for it, crediting not her ability, but her rich parents. This judgement however did not stop her and she even started her own studio, Zaha Hadid Architects, only a few years later. This is where everything slowed down a bit, and she was relegated to being a ‘paper architect’, basically someone with ideas so wacky, they could never be realised. Though she continued to persevere, her gender arguably, did little for her.

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Architecture was then and still remains a male dominated profession, with a solid glass ceiling in place. Fewer women are hired as they pose project uncertainty – in architecture projects can take an average of 5 years from conception to building and with young people starting families, the women are often the ones to leave to care for the children. This means they do not see projects through and their input upon return is given less validity, all in fear that their presence will not be consistent enough to uphold a full term project, regardless of skill. Equally women are often seen to not bare the stress well, and are thus given less critical tasks, a prejudice which puts a lot of females off the profession’s training and causes high university drop out rates.

This is something Zaha had a huge effect on. The prominence she gained from 2004 onwards, after being the first female and Muslim to win the Pritzker Prize (basically an architecture Oscar) inspired so many more women to apply for the course – at my uni, the course is actually 60% girls! Zaha’s architecture became unique, not just because of her awe inspiring futuristic forms or pioneering of parametricism (basing forms on parametric equations – remember those from maths?) but because she demonstrated that experimenting and stepping out of the box when it comes to attitude and methodology can allow anything to be realised.

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Her architecture feels new and astounding because it is taken from a perspective rarely incorporated in architecture – that of the female. It takes a different approach, considers priorities in a different order and though some of her pieces may look like gigantic, contextually ignorant space ships, they become one with user, site and programme through subconscious subtleties.

One example you’ll probably be familiar with is the Aquatics Centre she built for the 2012 London Olympics. Although it received a lot of criticism, as a lot of her work did, for being too wild, too much of a pointless statement, too impractical – the roof of the building stooped too low so that not enough seating could be fitted in – arguably, no ones architecture is perfect. Though there may have been practical flaws, the centre was a symbol. With a roof like a wave it represented not only the programme but the tidal wave of joy and togetherness that the Olympics brought across London, leaving the building’s legacy as one of unity and community spirit, the lasting effect the games had on London and its people as a whole.

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So all in all, Zaha was a pretty fantastic woman. She showed that design is not a limit but at adventure, a journey, a story. She made women feel empowered and motivated to overhaul architecture’s male reputation and demonstrate how essential female input is in keeping architecture socially and morally relevant. No matter how wealthy she got, or how incredulous her architecture was, it was always for the people and the diverse society we live in today.

Unlike many she dared to push contemporary attitudes to where her statements could not be ignored, persevering with a passion that stemmed from dedicating her life to the making of not just structures, but places. She lived for architecture, her studio was her family and she gave up everything for it. Her death will be continued to be mourned for years to come, as an almighty presence is now missing, though the footprints she left on architectural attitudes to gender and resulting approaches remain a visible reminder of her legacy to all.

 

Words by Maxene Sommer