I finished school and went straight into my Part 1 Architecture at Cambridge, and it was great. There aren’t many other courses that are artistic in the same way, or at least marry the arts and humanities and the sciences in that way. One of the things I started to develop while I was there was an interest in film, and particularly film’s relationship with architecture. By the time I left, I’d decided to pursue film instead of architecture.
I worked for two years in documentary production, and did a variety of films for the Open University and the BBC. After that, I did a Master’s level qualification at Oxford in Philosophy, and wrote again on film and architecture. After that, I started to see my career as encompassing both things – to be a practicing architect who makes film.
I came to the Royal College of Art to do my Part 2, specifically because I felt that it caters to that kind of approach, of trying to do a number of different things. I’ve been able to collaborate with some great people over the first year and that’s why I wanted to go there. One collaboration was with an Animation alumnus called Josh Redlake who’d come back to do some teaching; he helped me with some animation for my fourth year project. Another was with a guy called Joseph Dejardin, an architecture student who was working closely with a jewellery designer, and I worked with them. The culture of collaboration is really strong, and that continues into the alumni network.
Everyone does a live project at the beginning of the first year, meaning one that will be built. Ours was for the tunnel at South Kensington, which we ended up winning and was great fun, though, in the end, it wasn’t actually built. Real-world projects like that opened my eyes to new working methods, and gave me valuable experience of engaging with people in industry or clients. That’s changed how I approach my work, in some ways.
I am always challenged at the RCA, but it’s a good fit. I think that the RCA is more concerned with guiding and nurturing students’ interests and ways of working than it is about moulding them, unlike some other architecture schools, which have a real dictated aesthetic and method. It means that all the work here looks very different and is completely unexpected – the breadth and depth of the work is remarkable.
Over the summer, I’m working in film, two days per week, in addition to working on my dissertation; it’s about absent spaces, broadly speaking. I’m looking at speculative realism, particularly the writings of philosopher Quentin Meillassoux who has generated a way of talking about time and space that is, I think, revolutionary. His work hasn’t been applied in any meaningful way to architectural theory, so I’m analysing the potential of his work to be used productively by architects.
One piece of advice I was given was to be in college as much as possible, and I think that’s worth reiterating. Not necessarily working, but going to talks and galleries, and also just being around and making yourself known. Often good things emerge just from a quick conversation in the bar or café. If I had my time again, I’d probably try to spend more time at the Battersea campus, and get to know the Fine Art students a bit better. Collaborations are often organic, and the product of finding yourself in situations you hadn’t anticipated – you have to make sure you put yourself in those situations.
"I think that the RCA is more concerned with guiding and nurturing students’ interests and ways of working than it is about moulding them... the breadth and depth of the work is remarkable."Matteo Mastrandrea