I’m quite happy to answer questions about Architecture at Cambridge. I was at Selwyn, from 2004-2007 and I loved it.
What did they ask you in your interview/s? (Did you need to prepare?) I had two interviews, one at my college and one at the Department. The college interview was supposed to be a more general one, about me and my interests, but it was mainly about architecture. The interviewer was a historian so we got onto talking about my Art personal study on Nazi fortifications. But he got that from my Personal Statement. So make sure that you can talk very coherently about anything you say in your PS, eg any architects, buildings or books you have mentioned. He asked some basic questions about favourite buildings, so have a ‘favourite’ up your sleeve. And choose something original! (Don’t say Gaudi or Foster unless you’ve got something really interesting to say!)
The second interview was the subject interview. For this you will need a portfolio of recent work. If you’ve done Art A level then you have a head-start! They won’t want to see architectural drawings, they’d rather you didn’t in fact, unless maybe you’ve got something for work experience – but mainly they want you to come in with no preconceptions) Try to bring pieces in a range of media. If you’ve done any sculpture/3D work, then photograph it (well!) and bring that in. They will also be looking for evidence that you can draw, so still life, life drawing, any sketches of buildings that you’ve done would be good. Bring sketchbooks too. They are interested in the processes by which you came to final pieces, not just the final pieces themselves. And practice talking coherently about everything you’ve brought with you. They’ll want to see evidence that you can communicate your ideas.
So yes, you do need to prepare – the portfolio, read up on what you’ve written about in your PS, and practice answering questions in a formal setting. Even if the interviewer isn’t an architect, they can still help you get a feel for what the subject interview is like. And if your art teacher is amenable, practice talking through your portfolio pieces.
Is the course fun? (Very important) Or repetative? The course is great fun. Its challenging, creative, full of variety and it will make you see the world differently. Its not repetitive at all, the very opposite. It will keep you on your toes and stretch you further than you ever thought you were capable. The studio trip is also a highlight – a week in Rome normally, in first year. The small size of the course means that you will know and be friends with all 40 or so students in your year. You spend so much time with them, in the studio, that they become like a family, especially when spending all night in the studio before big presentations. Which leads me onto the next questions:
How many hours a week do you spend in the studio? Lots. Well, it depends, Working in the studio is good, because of the camaraderie of fellow students, but some people prefer to work in their rooms. Either way, the amount of hours a week recommended for studio work is 70 hours! Most people never actually make that, I probably averaged at about 50 hours a week, and that was pretty standard. Weekends as ‘time off’ don’t exist. You just have more time to work at weekends! The problem with studio work is that you can NEVER feel like you’ve done enough… You could always do another model, replan your building, do another perspective.
What is the workload like? If its not changed structure, Mondays and Thursdays are full days in the studio with your tutors and you have to produce work to present at small private ‘desk-crits’ with your tutors on these days. The other weekdays you have lectures 9-1 or so, and will need to spend the rest of the day working on studio, or at home, on studio work. Twice a term or so you have Big Crits where you have to present (and defend) your project to your peers, your tutors and visiting critics (who are often famous architects, David Adjaye for example). They’re pretty nerve-wracking but you get used to them! They certainly build confidence. On top of studio, there are supervisions on the lecture courses for which you have to prepare essays and example sheets, and read a lot about architectural history. One thing the course is heavy on is understanding cultural context and history. But there are also Structures and Construction lectures, so that you understand how buildings work as well as what they look like. Somehow you fit those in around studio work and are examined on them at the end of the year (you get a full five days to revise after final portfolio hand in at the end of the year… but the exams aren’t work as much as studio work – 40% down to 20% by the end of the third year). So yeah, the workload is heavy, and its heavier than a lot of courses at Cambridge except perhaps equal to Medicine, Law and VetMed.
What are the teaching staff like? The teachers are great fun. Studio tutors are often young, practicing architects who teach as well, and they are really vibrant, exciting people to learn from. The lecturers are also fun. Some are better lecturers than others, and there are some characters! At the yearly cabaret (Christmas party, and notoriously debauched), the staff show they love having fun just as much as the students.
What are the students like? Obviously it varies year on year, but you will have similar artistic/creative interests and you will know them all very well very quickly so yes, you will make good friends. Some have a tendency to be a bit pretentious but they’re in the minority. You’ll meet loads of other people in your college anyway, so that you’ll have a bunch of ‘normal’ friends too, to keep you sane. One unfortunate thing about the course is that it stops you from taking on too much extra-curricular stuff, but if you’re disciplined you can fit it in.
Anything that I have forgotten that you would have loved to have known when applying? Hmm, one thing I would say is that the course is not very well funded, so it is expensive. Courses like the one at UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture, are better funded have more facitities (the Cambridge course had just one big printer for all 120 students… and towards hand in time it was a battle to get things printed. Some people just went to London and paid literally hundreds to get things printed there, as they had no choice). The Bartlett is as well, if not better regarded than the Cambridge course. Most of your projects will be in London, so you have to fork out for travel to and from your project sites pretty frequently! I struggled financially, and I would say that choosing a big rich college that can help you out (unlike Selwyn where I went) is a good idea. Jesus, Trinity, St Johns, Clare, Pembroke, Magdalene. to name a few. Also choose a college that actually has a director of Studies who is a Fellow of your college. The prospectus has this information. It makes life easier, trust me, not to have to go traipsing round the university when you have a supervision, and they make sure that the college understands you better. Larger colleges where there are more than one architect per year are also better. I was the only one in my year at Selwyn and it was hard at times. Take a laptop. It is invaluable to be able to take your computer with you and work on it wherever you need to.
Despite all this, Cambridge is an amazing place to study. Even knowing what I know now about funding and facilities, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else. The lecturing and history tuition are fascinating and well taught. It’s a unique environment, and I have some really great friends from my time at Cambridge who mean the world to me!
Are you going on to take masters? If so where? Nope. I am currently working for a research consultancy company, Cambridge Architectural Research, and I am hoping to continue to become an architectural researcher, and perhaps go on to do PhD. I never enjoyed the studio work as much as I enjoyed writing essays and my third year dissertation. I worked at an architectural firm in London for a year, and I didn’t really enjoy that too much so I moved back to Cambridge, bought a boat to live on (see my blog www.nbluckyduck.blogspot.com
for more on that!) and put out my feelers, making contact with old supervisors to see if there was any research work going. I ended up here, and I love it. London Met is widely regarded as one of the best places to do the Part II though, and I have friends doing their Part IIs there, in Glasgow, Dublin, Sheffield, UCL and the RCA.