"It's not what architecture is; it is what architecture can do."
I have now been back in Bristol for a week or so, and have had a bit of time to begin to process my experience at Workshop Holzbau in Trondheim, Norway.
I always knew that the trip to Trondheim was going to be a fantastic experience, I knew that I would learn a lot whilst I helped build something and I knew that I would get to meet some interesting new people. However, I didn't anticipate the full impact that the workshop would have on me.
The first thing I recognised as special about this workshop, was the people. Each participant was enthusiastic and focused on the project, taking the project seriously and acting professionally. I thought everyone was respectful toward each others opinion and there was a general recognition that each person's thoughts and contributions were equal, despite the group being a mixture of ages and experiences. This made the attitude of the project one of open acceptance; everyone had something to contribute and no one was made to feel inferior. I thought this was brilliant and that this attitude was what made the workshop a exceptional environment to work within.
As a student of architecture, my strengths lie in conceptualising, in theory and in the academic. At the workshop I was immediately, actively involved in the discussions about concept and experiencing the space, but became more passive as we moved from conceptualising to detailing. This latter stage became the most challenging, and most profound part of the workshop for me. Since there were many students, with many different strengths, who came to the fore as and when they felt comfortable, it was okay for me to fall into the background and watch as the process veered into territory I wasn't fully able, or comfortable, to engage with. As I watched other students work through detailing problems, discussing the translation of concept to structure, I became more confident and found that I was soon able to participate in the discussion. I feel that my experience at Workshop Holzbau has pushed me to engage with an element of architecture that I had always skirted around in the past, and in fact, I have found out that I do have knowledge and capability in this area that I previously thought I didn't have.
There is one last lesson I learned from Workshop Holzbau, and it wasn't directly from the project we participated in. The workshop was run by students over the summer holiday, who wanted to do a project that meant something, and found the means to do it. I have often thought about what I want to do after I finish studying, who I might work for, what opportunities I will be given. But, I realise now that I don't have to, and maybe shouldn't, wait for someone else to give me an opportunity to do something great, I can help create that opportunity myself.
7 things I (re)learned in Norway:
Exhaustion teamed with focus can lead to profound revelations
Norwegian is a difficult (read: impossible) language to pronounce
Snacks are really important
Summaries and analysis of your thinking and process are just as necessary and important as working
Never forget the user, it's all about the people in the end
Confidence in your own abilities is important, and is a skill that can be learned
There is a lot to be learned from your peers