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Louna from Lebanon, Bachelor's in Architecture

Architecture student Louna on a field trip in Berlin

Louna Bou Ghanem, from Lebanon, is in the second year of her undergraduate studies at the Kent School of Architecture (based at the University of Kent).

Here, she shares what inspires her, how her career plans have changed since she started her studies, and what happened when she had to spend the night in a shelter of her own design…

Why did you choose a UK qualification?

‘Achieving an accreditation from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) was one of the main reasons that made the UK an attractive choice for my university education. But this is not the only advantage. My experience as an international student living abroad has pushed me to discover that I am a stronger person than I thought I was – academically, socially and even emotionally. I also got a head start on an independent lifestyle in a student-friendly city (Canterbury, in Kent).’

Your guide to studying architecture in the UK

What do you find most inspiring about your studies?

‘I find that the most inspiring aspect of architecture is the extent to which it affects our lives. We cannot escape architecture; it surrounds us. Thus, the architect is entrusted with a great task that can affect our present lives through our built environment, and a responsibility to leave a legacy of timeless and sustainable designs.

‘At the Kent School of Architecture, I enjoy being around equally conscientious, focused and passionate students and staff. We are a close-knit community that’s continuously learning, facilitated by the fact that students come from different backgrounds and have a variety of design experience and inspirations.

‘This learning process embraces constructive criticism, not just within my year group, but throughout the different stages of architecture study, and between students and staff. For example, I am an academic peer mentor to a group of 1st year BArch students, and am also mentored by an MArch (Master’s in Architecture) student.

‘We also voice our concerns through our year representatives, and through feedback forms for each design module. In essence, I feel very involved in my learning experience, as well as in that of others, and I have the ability to shape it positively as I go along.’

Bringing design to life: A model of one of Louna's designs (Photo ©Louna Bou Ghanem)

Do you think your perception of your subject has changed since starting your course?

‘When I first started my course, my perception of what architecture consisted of was limited to an exploration of form and aesthetics. Today, I am exploring the metaphysical potentials of architecture: the creation of positive sensory experiential journeys, the encouragement of social engagement, and promotion of interactive behaviour.

‘I aim to design spaces that target more than biological and economic needs, to create ones that empower people’s non-materialistic needs. This shift in perception also changed my career plans: I now feel like I have greater societal responsibilities to fulfil through my role as a contextually conscious architect.’

What do you like about the teaching methods and styles on your course?

‘Better than teaching architecture is inspiring and leading students to create good architecture. My tutors are great at inspiring and leading my classmates and I into making our own justifiable decisions throughout the design process. I find this teaching method allows self-exploration – it’s making me focus my efforts into what I find important to achieve through my projects, and therefore show me how I can materialise it through architecture.’

What does being ‘creative’ mean to you?

‘To me, being creative is tackling a situation with an unusual and intelligent approach.’

What advice would you give to students applying to your course in the future?

‘I would advise future architecture students to observe and be critical about their built environment. For instance, by asking why things were designed or built a certain way. Just because we have come to know our surroundings to be the way they are does not mean we cannot change or affect them to serve humanity in a better way.’

The creative process: Plans for a tea pavilion designed by Louna (Photo ©Louna Bou Ghanem)

Was there a trip, a workshop, a course or a speech that you attended that really stands out in your memory? Why?

‘I recently attended an interview that focused on the role of women in property. Before then, I had not regarded my gender as an obstacle in the way of my career. And I still don’t think it is, although the interviewers seemed to think otherwise. When I am designing, I am not a woman, just an architect. I was not sure if I should have felt discouraged or empowered by my attitude compared to theirs. I guess I will find out the viability of their point of view once I start practising architecture.’

What are your ambitions for the future?

‘My ambition is to receive my RIBA accreditation and start impacting the world around me through design solutions and interventions. I cannot wait to see my designs get built, but most importantly see them inhabited by contented users.’

What’s your favourite memory of your time as a student? The one you’d tell your grandchildren about?

‘My favourite memory, so far, is our first design project. We had to design then build a shelter made strictly out of limited materials (cardboard, polythene sheets, a polythene tube, bamboo poles and string). We then set up our finished and executed designs in front of the university’s school of architecture and waited impatiently to spend a post-storm cold winter night in our shelters – if they were not already blown away by the wind.

‘Needless to say we did not sleep, but spent the whole night meeting the other students on my course and socialising! Great ice-breaking tactic by our tutors to bring the new students together.’

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