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Ian from Switzerland, BA in Architecture

Architecture student Ian Sawani Omumbwa, from Switzerland, in the design studio

‘I used to think architecture was a straightforward subject: you study architecture to become an architect. Boy was I wrong – the extent of what one can do with a degree in architecture is alarming! Urban planning, council consulting, 3D animation design, interior design…’

Meet Ian Sawani Omumbwa, an undergraduate architecture student from Switzerland. Now in the second year of his BA (Hons) course at the Kent School of Architecture (part of the University of Kent), Ian had high hopes for his UK degree – and while his career ideas might be changing, his love for design is going strong.

Want to know what it's really like to study architecture? Scroll down to see some of Ian's projects!

Why the UK?

‘I personally chose to study in a British institution due to the higher percentage of career prospects available, as well as to experience the UK by completely immersing myself in its culture and environment. Although Switzerland (my native country) has excellent educational institutions, the international appeal that British centres of education have is slightly more impressive.

‘I chose to study architecture due to a deeply rooted interest in design, as I found myself drawing anything and everything from a very young age. As I became older, through more research into the field, I found it to be a perfect balance between the arts and the sciences, which led me to choose it as a degree.

‘I did a thorough scan and looked at various universities during my application process. Britain is full of powerful academic institutions which have shaped many centuries of the modern world, but I found the University of Kent stood out for me.’  

Your guide to studying architecture in the UK

What advice would you give to new students applying to study architecture?

‘I would definitely recommend them to have a thorough look at all the universities they are interested in, and then narrow it down to a handful which stand out.

‘Firstly, every architecture degree is slightly different. Even though everyone gets the same qualification at the end of the degree, the path to this differs from one institution to another. Some universities focus on the historical aspect of architecture, others on the mathematical or engineering side, some are theoretical and others practical.

‘Secondly, I would strongly recommend having a look at the location of the university; studying in a big city has a completely different dynamic to studying in a smaller town. For example, I love the idea of a campus as it’s really easy to meet new people, but if one studies in London, for example, this “campus life” isn’t really there. Choosing the right place for you is key to enjoying your time at uni!’

Ian and friends celebrating Holi, the festival of colour, on campus (Photo ©Ian Omumbwa)

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

‘My favourite way to learn is by taking a “hands-on” approach, and sure enough that is what I found at Kent. Site visits, model making and interaction with working professionals are all key to the learning process of an architecture student, and these have all been available to me.’

What does being ‘creative’ mean to you?

‘People usually say that being creative means “thinking outside the box”, but what does that mean? To me being creative is going through a thought process where you appreciate what’s in the “box” and asking questions like, “What’s actually in the box?”, “What is it made of?”, “How was the box made?” and then going on to a process of creation whereby you apply what you have learnt from previous experience and create your own “box”.’ 

How have your perceptions of your subject changed?

‘I have never had such a drastic change in my view on a subject, until I started my studies here! Prior to starting my degree, I found architecture to be quite a straightforward subject: you study architecture to become an architect. Boy was I wrong – the extent of what one can do with a degree in architecture is alarming! Urban planning, council consulting, 3D animation design, interior design; all can be done with a degree in architecture.’

What was your favourite trip, workshop, course or speech that you attended?

‘Right at the beginning of our first year, we were all taken to Barcelona for a week to do a site visit and to experience the city. Although I had been to the city numerous times before, going with a new bunch of people was absolutely great as we got to know each other in a completely different setting. A memory that stands out is when the entire year, along with the accompanying professors, sat at a café on the Plaza Real in the evening and everyone was just chatting to each other; no friendship groups had been made yet, so everyone had a clean slate and could get to know anyone.’

Ian and friends on the ski trip (Photo ©Ian Omumbwa)

What’s your number one memory of your time as a student?

‘I haven’t completed my degree yet, so this may be yet to happen! However, my current number one memory would be a trip with the university’s skiing and snowboarding society, when we went skiing in France and even did some night-time skiing. The setting was absolutely wonderful, and the company definitely memorable!’

What are your ambitions for the future?

'I'm hoping to either go on and do my master’s in England or in Switzerland, and then work with an architectural practice. Regarding where I’d like to work, it’s still quite vague; I do see myself staying within Europe but working in an international firm so I’m able to travel and work on projects in different locations.’

The design process: A site plan and models of Ian's work (Photos ©Ian Omumbwa)

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