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Andres Souto Vilaros

MA Architecture, 2015–17

What were you doing before you started at the RCA, and why did you decide to study here?

I studied BA Architecture in Mexico City at the Universidad Iberoamericana. This was a five-year course, and at the end of it I was a qualified architect by Mexican standards. It was a very pragmatic architectural education and didn’t involve philosophical or introspective research. You learn how to ‘do architecture’, rather than finding your own voice as an architect. After that I ran my own architect practice with a partner for three years, working on projects ranging in scale from interior design to a small boutique hotel in downtown Mexico City.

I’ve always wanted to go to art school, and I’m part-European so always had the idea of coming to Europe to study. I started looking at the Sculpture programme at the College, and through that became very interested in the Architecture programme. I was awarded the Abraaj Scholarship, which was the tipping point for me deciding to study here.

What have you found to be the main differences between your expectations of the RCA and the reality?

I was looking for a freer environment, and it has pretty much met my expectations. For me the RCA has been closer to an art residency experience; a place where you come with certain ideas and are very well guided to work on them. That’s what I expected from an art school.

Can you describe what it’s like studying at the RCA — what’s a typical week like?

Over a week it can be very varied. The relationship with other students is really important; we spend a lot of time talking about projects and getting constant feedback. To me this is fascinating and very different to my previous education. There is a similar relationship with the tutors: having talks about ideas, getting feedback and guidance. You are not told what you should do, instead you are asked questions that you wouldn’t ask yourself.

Then there are the workshops, where I’m spending a lot of time at the moment, doing a lot of prototyping using the 3D printing and rapid form facilities. It’s great to have the workshops in the same building.

Have you been set any particular briefs that you've really enjoyed working on, or have had a significant impact on your practice?

I am part of ADS6. In the first year this was all about materials and the way crafts are changing in an evolving world. I wanted to get away from architectural models and be involved in working with the actual materials of architecture. This ADS helped me to do this, with a focus on the unregulated settlements of Mexico City, which is my research interest. The ADS helped me investigate the building processes of these settlements by actually mimicking them, by using their own materials, reinterpreting their materials and trying to produce new archetypes that would celebrate the architecture I was looking at.

Have you faced any particular challenges while you have been here?

It has been a challenge adjusting to the way education works here. In my former university it was very based on being told what you are supposed to do. Here is the opposite, you are free to decide, and it depends entirely on yourself and how your project evolves.

How has your work or thinking developed at the RCA?

Being at the RCA has really mixed up my goals; they have radically changed. I’ve realised that my work as an architect can go beyond what I thought of as architecture. I’m moving beyond the idea of building buildings, and becoming more interested in research-led art, without losing what I want to say about architecture. It has really changed the way I think about my career and our profession. I can now see how architecture can infiltrate the arts, to address things that concern everyone – politically, socially, economically – through architectural research.

What have you found most rewarding about your time at the RCA?

At the RCA I am starting to trust in myself, through finding what I am able to offer design-wise and investigation-wise. Through working independently and carrying out very personal research, I am starting to trust in my ideas, trust the questions that I am asking myself and starting to find what my role as an architect will be in the future.

"For me the RCA has been closer to an art residency experience; a place where you come with certain ideas and are very well guided to work on them. That’s what I expected from an art school."
Andres Souto Vilaros
Andres Souto Vilaros