Julia, University of Edinburgh

Urban Transformation in Colombia, 2019

Julia, a recent Architecture MA(Hons)graduate from the University of Edinburgh, took part in the first Urban Transformation in Colombia course in 2019. Here she answers some questions about her studies and her time in Colombia. 

P1240623In July this year, I am graduating from my undergraduate Architecture MA(Hons) course. This course provided my RIBA Part 1 Professional accreditation. I am due to begin the Architecture MArch course, which serves as my RIBA Part II accreditation, in September. I shall continue to study at The University of Edinburgh for the Masters programme.

During the last two years of my studies I have become strongly interested in the integration of ethnography and architecture. A key project I undertook in my third year of study which influenced my perception of the importance of grassroots participation within the design process was the ‘Bridge School in Alcala’.

Whilst studying in Madrid, I was fortunate to take part in a course which worked alongside a prospective university student from a disadvantaged background, who was obtaining a scholarship through their collaboration, in order to design a ‘Bridge School’. The ‘Bridge School’ premise was to integrate the aspect of storytelling into the design as a means to create a granular and sensitive approach. Storytelling of personal experiences informed the open and concentric composition of a school as an instrument for social and urban regeneration in the context of the partner student’s hometown, Alcala.

Urban Transformation in MedellinThis experience sparked an awareness of the importance of community involvement in the design process, particularly when the given context of the project faces social conflict. I then expanded my academic investigation of mechanisms to include the community through my final dissertation, which was an ethnographic study of Leith in Edinburgh and through my final design project for community housing in Falkirk, Scotland. Thus, as I have felt my academic interests grow towards to the conversation that takes place between architecture and the community, I felt this Urban Transformations course in Medellin provided an exemplary platform to explore this topic further.

During the third year of my undergraduate, I studied abroad at Universidad CEU San Pablo in Madrid. Experiencing contrasting cultural perspectives within my academic study broadened the scope of my academic perspective and subsequently has greatly improved my work within the context of my university studies. Whilst studying in Madrid I was able to make life long friends and began a love for Latin culture; I am very grateful for the opportunity I had to study abroad.

  • What projects have you currently got on, and what upcoming projects are exciting you?

Currently, I plan to enjoy the summer between the intensive last semester of my undergraduate and beginning my Masters in September. Nevertheless, I am part of the community group ‘Save Leith Walk’ in Edinburgh. This year, as a grassroots collective, we prevented the demolition of an Art Deco listed building which was central to Leith, through community planning workshops and public engagement events. The building, which had been vacated of local commerce, is now the centre of the groups plans for a community hub. In the next phase of the campaign, we aim to reintroduce the local stores and music venues which faced eviction back into the centre of Leith, whilst informing the council of the grassroots voice for surrounding development. I remain involved in this campaign, outside of my academic studies and I am very excited to see what the future holds for the community of Leith.

  • What would you like to get out of your time in Medellin?

P1240621So far, there has barely been a free minute. The course has provided ample opportunity to explore the city on site from an academic perspective and also countless social activities to get to know Medellin at night and during the weekend. I have been able to experience the local cuisine, the dancing culture and extensively explore the topic of urban transformation. I couldn’t ask for more!

  • Any tips on prepping for an overseas course?

Before coming to Medellin I watched different YouTube videos and spoke to some of my Latin American friends as a way to research what to expect from Colombia. I definitely recommend watching some online videos as a quick and informative way to begin to build a contextual basis for an overseas course. If you have time, I would definitely recommend learning at least the basics of the language too!

  • What’s the biggest benefit of studying abroad for you?

I believe studying abroad provides an opportunity for cultural immersion with far greater scope than travelling. By meeting local professors, students and friends with a purpose deeper than tourism, I believe you are given a rare opportunity to see under the surface of a city despite being a temporary resident.