Sophie Chisholm

Diploma in Architecture with special route of sustainable building performance and design

Questions and answers:

  1. Where are you from originally?
  2. Originally from London, but obviously I have done a degree before this so I came from Plymouth back up here.

  3. Why did you decide to come and study at Brookes?
  4. It was actually the special route that made me come here. It would have been very easy to stay in Plymouth where I knew everybody and I knew exactly how the course was run but during my degree I became extremely interested in sustainability and also incredibly frustrated with the lack of tangible information and numerical results and I felt like I needed to do a specialist course in that to get some answers and this was the perfect course to do that.

  5. Were there other places that offered similar courses?
  6. This was the one that was pushing it as a special route, this was the university that was giving it the most importance, I wrote my dissertation and degree on something related to sustainability so I read a book written by Sue Roach, who used to be a tutor here on the sustainability course, so that's what pointed me in this direction but this was the course that was definitely the best one for me to do.

  7. Did you come to a Brookes open day?
  8. No...but I had an interview here so I got shown around then. It was very different because I came from a university where the architecture school was separate from the rest of the university so we were a very small community and we all knew each other so it was a big change to be on campus with a lot of people. But I was impressed, at the time there was a lot of building work going on in the studio so I had no idea what it was going to be like, I just knew it would be very different.

  9. What did you think of the staff?
  10. I thought they were all very nice. I was very impressed with Rekha Giddy who is in the architecture office, she knew me by name, I don't know how and I just felt like a lot of effort was made. I turned up early and they didn't just make me sit there, they showed me round and introduced me to students and let me speak to them, I thought it was very good.

  11. What was it like settling in to life at Brookes?
  12. It's a really big step. It's huge. I have to say that my first year, which was my fifth year in architecture was a difficult year for me but not because of anything Brookes did but just because of the change, to learn to do something one way and then learn to do it another way is difficult but it is the best thing I ever did and I wouldn't change it for the world.

  13. Was there anything else about the course that you found inspiring or that you enjoy specifically?
  14. I just think the course as a whole is really well put together. I feel very lucky to have been in contact with the tutors I have had and they have been really supportive. It's almost like being on the special route has been like finding that small community again, I do feel like we are a big team and I feel much more supporting within my special route than I did in my first year where we were doing a design studio. They always keep their finger on the pulse. They are always sending us emails about special days we should go to or special trips they can organised for us, so it's good.

  15. What research do you have to do?
  16. Loads of research, in the first term, lots of it was research based but a big piece of work we had to do was an individual research project which built upon the previous submission during one of our modules the "bioregional approach" I think it was called, and looking back in hindsight I think that was getting us prepared for the research that would be involved if we wanted to take a masters, because it was basically a mini research project, we weren't necessarily aware of it at the time but there's obviously a lot of thought gone into that, into giving us small steps to where we need to go.

  17. Where you given a lot of support or classes on how to approach it
  18. We didn't get special classes on how research in the first term, that came later when we, as part of the special route, take credits that could go towards a master. I have now written a masters proposal even though I haven’t finished my diploma yet. We had to do a module for that called Research Methods. But during the individual research project we had to think of our ideas and we had a tutorial on that and then we had to develop our ideas and we would give a presentation when we got feedback. There was always feedback and even if we needed more feedback there was always a tutor just an email away they’re always happy to help

  19. Are there any tutors that stand out to you?
  20. It's really difficult. I'm quite fond of all of them actually, for different reasons. But for me the reason I picked my dissertation tutor was because at the time, it was Fionn Stevenson, and she was the one we did the individual research project for. I felt quite supported through that so I felt I could work with her on a dissertation. But that decision was made early on in the year and since then I have come to respect all of the teachers. I do feel very lucky.

  21. What do you think of the learning facilities? Specialist equipment, things like library resources, things like that?
  22. The libraries are great. A lot of times throughout the year our tutors have asked us if there are any books that we would like them to get into the library, if there are enough copies of things, if there are any books we need for our research studies, so that's good. We also have a subject librarian, I've never gone to him, but he is there.

  23. Is that because you guys know what you want and just go and find it?
  24. Yeah I guess it is. After 6 years of architecture, we're quite aware of all the different places to find things. The internet is a wonderful thing and often you can find things on that. I'm sure he does a very good job and helps the undergrads a lot but as a post grad you don't really need that kind of support. We do a module called "Post Occupancy Evaluation" which is about monitoring a building after it has gone up, how it works its energy and things like that. For that we need specialist equipment like hobos and ibuttons and things like that and they were made available to us through Dr Rajat Gupta and his assistant and there are people doing masters on similar subjects and they have been allowed to borrow it for that too. So it's all there for us.

  25. What comes next for you?
  26. You do your undergraduate degree and then you do a year out in practice and then you do another year at Brookes, postgraduate design stuff and then you go into your special route for a year. That special route can set you up for the potential of doing a Masters'. So because we have done so many modules this year what is needed from us is a 12,000 word thesis. And then we can get a masters, but normally what you would do is your 2 year diploma and then you would go into practice again before your take your part 3 exams so at the moment we are choosing between staying on a doing a masters or going into practice or doing a combination of both. There is lots of scope. You don't have to take your part 3 if you don't want to but you have to have a minimum of 24 months before you can take your part 3 exams. You don't have to take them at Brookes but they do offer them and in fact they have already given us lectures on that so we are well informed on what we should do then. If you don't take them it means that you're not qualified to single-handedly run a job onsite. You can sign drawings off and you can sign buildings off without being RIBA accredited with your part 3.

  27. What are your plans after this?
  28. There is so much that I want to do. I would like one day to have my own practice and there are a lot of people who are thinking of doing that now but I believe that its quite irresponsible to just set up practice now. I've still got a lot to learn, I've learnt so much here but in practice you cant learn what you can learn in practice here, its just not possible, we don't have real clients, we don't have real jobs or real disasters that can happen on site, so I plan on getting a lot more experience, I'd like to do a bit of teaching, I'm just going to see where the wind blows. I have a lot of opportunities.

  29. Have you been given any careers advice at Brookes?
  30. I'm a postgraduate - I know what's available and if I have any specific questions then we have a practicing management tutor who will answer those questions for us. We can ask anyone, although Brookes has specialist careers staff I don't feel I need to go to anyone outside of the architecture department to ask for advice about my career. I'm sure its very useful but I have not made use of that.

  31. Do your lecturers have contacts?
  32. Coming to Brookes was a big change in that we've got some quite famous tutors and the Oxford Architecture society, of which I am a member. We get lots of quite important people in which is much more high profile than it was at Plymouth. It's good because we are around these high profile people.

  33. Do you feel that being in Oxford has helped your study in any way?
  34. Yes I do, But not in the same way as the undergraduates. Just being somewhere that has good architecture is an inspiring place to be, you remember why you are doing it. And there is a lot to be drawn upon from old architecture to bring it to new architecture. I don't get to go into town much because it is hard work here but when I do it is nice to look at the architecture definitely. I have to say the historical part of Oxford has more of an impact on me. I feel very inspired by the city.

  35. Are there any big projects going on that have been good case studies for your learning?
  36. I am very aware that one of our lecturers, Rajat Gupta, his PhD was this programme called Decorum which he devised which is a system that could assess the opportunities for buildings to be refurbished with renewables or with insulations in order to decrease their energy lost and therefore increase there sustainability and it's the most fantastic programme. Being taught by someone who has done this massive project in Oxford is just amazing.

  37. What is the Oxford nightlife like, the culture that kind of thing?
  38. There are some very nice places to go. There is a huge range; you've got bars, really nice restaurants, loads of different types of clubs. You are spoilt for choice. You can't get bored. If you've got a night off and you want to go out you'll find something you want to do. It is really good but a lot of our time is centred on friends hanging out from the course.

  39. Do you live in Halls or in a shared house?
  40. I always lived in a shared house. It's good. The problem with moving here for a diploma is that you don't know anyone, but this year has been great. You do form very tight friendship groups and I live with a really nice group of girls this year and its really helpful living with a group of architects.

  41. Did you have a personal tutor?
  42. Yes I was assigned a personal tutor as soon as the pip page was put up. I knew who he was I was actually quite lucky with that as well. He was one of the technology tutors, and he has been very supportive.

  43. Is it easy to get hold of your tutors when you need them?
  44. This year yes. Within the special route they are most definitely here to help.

  45. Where you involved in any clubs, sports or activities?
  46. I'm just about to stop being the secretary of the Oxford Architecture Society.

  47. What was involved in being secretary of the society?
  48. Lots of meetings, lots of trying to get people excited about things, lots of running around. But at the same time we got to meet lots of really good people, had some good fun. Anything involved with architecture, basically anything you put in you get twice as much out, it is hard work but it's totally worth it. The Oxford Architecture Society, their main function is to run the student lecture series. This year we introduced life drawing classes, lots of projects within the societies, we did so much this year, it was so much fun.

  49. What advice would you give to people considering studying architecture at Brookes?
  50. I would advise then to come and do my course. I would advise them to take every opportunity learning wise. It's important not to rely on your lectures because that's not where you do your main learning, your main learning is self-driven and if you have that drive you'll fly here.

Sophie studied Diploma in Architecture with special route of sustainable building performance and design with the School of Architecture

It's important not to rely on your lectures because that's not where you do your main learning, your main learning is self-driven and if you have that drive you'll fly here.