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George’s blog

1st Year Preparations

Hey guys,


Firstly, well done to all those that have successfully achieved a place at Cardiff next year! I look forward to seeing you all.

I’ve had quite a few people contact me recently via my facebook account, (George Fielding Cardiff) regarding first year as an architecture student and best ways to prepare before you get here, so I thought I’d write a blog all about it!!

First off, I’ve noticed there are a few new facebook groups floating about for architecture this year; Cardiff SAWSA 2013/14 and Cardiff 1st Year Architecture 2013/14 so I would recommend joining these! They are created by the guys that are part of the society (SAWSA; Student Association of the Welsh School of Architecture) so they will be posting info on the freshers events planned, and other useful info, its also obviously a great place to start meeting some of your course-mates!


So in terms of preparation, I imagine the Uni will send you some literature to read before you arrive; don’t worry there won’t be too much, and I would strongly recommend reading it; it will get you in the right mind of thinking about architecture sensitively and how to think about spaces around you… plus, you’ll probably have an assignment in your first week that revolves around the text, and you don’t really want to be cramming that while all your flatmates are playing drinking games in the kitchen…!

Also as much as I find it difficult to just sit down and draw, its really useful to just think about different styles and techniques in shading/ drawing a space atmospherically – and hey, you don’t have to be Michelangelo, you can make it as abstract as you like and the tutors will drool over it. I recently watched the documentary ‘Imagine: Zaha Hadid” – should still be on iPlayer all about this amazing architect and how she uses geometric and abstract painting to represent ideas about space, shape, movement, direction, etc. that go on to inform her designs. Really interesting and inspiring stuff! Google her artwork…and then her architecture!!

So yeah, read what they tell you to, as well as others! Its good to keep in touch with what’s happening in todays architecture world by dipping into magazines – you don’t necessarily have to subscribe to one,

1. Because the Uni subscribes to them all so you can grab one of thousands in the library when you get here, and 2. They cost a lot of money!! Also check out websites such as ArchDaily, and Dezeen and many many more.

When you start design projects, you will be expected to look at precedents for ideas and inspiration! As easy as you might think it is to have a flick through a couple of books or a 10 minute search on google and find some projects you really like the look of and are relative to your project… trust me, its not. Previously I’ve spent several days, even weeks to find a previous building that deals with a similar design constraint I may have. So for preparation I think it’s a really good idea to familiarise yourself with architects you like or specific buildings/materials/styles/concepts etc. Then you can invest in some really nice books that you know you will refer to in the future, or, what I’ve been doing, is start a folder on your computer with loads of images and the architects name/interesting facts that you can search through when your in need of inspiration! … its good to be a bit geeky and organised…you don’t have time not to be!


So moving onto computers… the big Mac vs. Windows debate. I have spent many hours arguing about this subject and of course everyone with a Mac will tell you they are amazing, fast, reliable, last much longer – in terms of battery life and their life-span. Plus they are quite beautiful. However, they aren’t invincible, (gasp!) they do indeed slow down and occasionally crash with heavy rendering and graphic jobs just like windows laptops!

There are a few important things you should know when seriously considering what laptop to buy;

Some of the software currently used by the school isn’t available for the Macintosh operating system. While there are school computers that you can use with all the software, when it gets late I much prefer going to work at home, and the media lab is often very busy so you may find yourself in a sticky situation if you have a deadline coming up! Therefore, a lot of Mac users have partitioned their hard drive so that they can install a windows operating system on one half of it! It’s a fairly straightforward process, and one which is supported by Apple, there are plenty of instructions on the Apple website, or Cardiff has a large Apple store where the ‘Geniuses’ helped my girlfriend out when she split hers! Windows does cost about £100 though, so its an expense to remember!

Despite this issue, there are many benefits with Macs. As mentioned before, the battery life is far better than a windows which is great for lectures and tutorials that are a couple of hours long. The screen is really high quality and the colours/contrast on them are truer to what you will print out than on some of the windows models.

The spec is also always great on them, powerful processors and a high amount of RAM and memory storage (I’d still advise getting top of the range). Try to avoid buying the slimline MacBook Air, yes they’re sexy and amazingly light but have slow processors and surprisingly small RAM capacity.

Now obviously the big issue to many is the price; a top-range MacBook will cost you around £1800, whereas a windows machine will set you back maybe £500-800. To me the price difference just seems crazy, but my girlfriend regularly reminds me that her MacBook will ‘apparently’ out-live my laptop by up to 7 years! And Apple’s reputation in customer care is great; you can make an appointment to see a ‘Genius’ in the Apple store…whereas there’s no friendly HP surgery for me to pop in and see if I encounter problems with mine.

Another option is to get a pretty decent laptop, but then also buy a desktop to sit at home. This is my set up and it works brilliantly, desktop computers are much better value than laptops because you’re not paying for the portability, but its also really useful to have a laptop to work on if your in groups, or if you want to be sociable and work in studio (a must, really!), but then the ability to go home and do all the graphics/RAM heavy rendering and Photoshop is really great and a setup I’d strongly recommend if your room is big enough and if you have the money!

Just so you know… about a third of the studio is lit up with little apple logos.

There will never be a definitive answer on this one.

There are 2 very important things to do before you buy a laptop and start work:

  1. know what you’re buying before you buy what is the most expensive, or the one the salesman is telling you is best. You need a machine with a good processor, I’d recommend at least an i5 (intel) or equivalent. The faster the better as this will speed up renders. If possible I’d aim for 2.5GHz. After processor the next most important thing is RAM. Having more RAM means your computer can multitask much better. My current laptop has 3GB of ram and if I’m on photoshop I can’t use iTunes… NOT ideal! Ideally get a machine with more than 4GB of ram. I say 4GB as programs like photoshop will use every available bit of RAM up to, on average, a 4GB limit. For the sake of having a fast machine aim for 8GB of ram.
  2. Hard Drives!!! Rule 1 of working on a computer… BACK UP YOUR WORK! Rule 2? Back it up somewhere else!

There is nothing worse than coming up to your final crit, only to find your computer has crashed or worse, your whole laptop has packed up. Most of your life in architecture will be digital (apart from term 1 perhaps) so MAKE COPIES.

I have a portable 1TB hard drive that goes with me everywhere. ALL of the work I do is that hard drive. At home I have my Backup hard drive. This is a desktop hard drive. They are cheaper but bulkier and need to be plugged in to the power.  Many people assume that because they have work on an external hard drive it’s backed up… it’s not, it’s saved.

Ok, all of this seems a bit expensive, especially if you’re buying a mac but in my eyes its worth it! At the moment I’m looking at buying a new laptop because mine is nearly 4 years old. I’m looking on PC World at the reconditioned laptops. I’ve found a lot under £500 with 8GB RAM, i5 2.6GHz processors an over 750GB hard drive. If you have a larger budget and know your stuff, try websites like PC Specialists. They will custom build a machine, laptop or PC, to whatever spec you specify. This is what I did with my PC and you do get great value for money.

My final point on computers,  if you do have a MacBook, remember to buy a hard drive that can work on both Windows and Macintosh simultaneously, because a lot of them demand that you format it to be one or the other, but you need it to be able to work on the school’s Windows computers in order for you to print!!!


There… Rant over!

A great tip for first week is make sure you attend the freshers events for architecture; it’s a really great way to make friends before you start your first day in studio! But don’t get too drunk and make a fool out of yourself!

Don’t be nervous about first year; you only have to pass the year, and any grades you do get won’t count at all… and although it may not seem it at the time, its really not that important! Don’t stress out about deadlines, don’t take it too seriously, don’t waste your time doing all-nighters in studio when you can afford to be out having fun! – Plus you need to sleep in first year to make sure you have enough energy for 2nd and 3rd year!

Spend first year learning new skills, and understanding your own style and what architecture excites and inspires you. Have a play, and be experimental before you have to start worrying about regulations and the more engineering/practical side of things!

Apologies for such an essay!! Hope this helped in some way!

Remember to join the Facebook groups mentioned way up there somewhere ^^^ and follow me on Facebook at George Fielding Cardiff or twitter @GeorgeArchi where you can get in touch and ask any questions you may have!

A final well done to everyone, not just for getting through this mammoth blog but also for getting into Cardiff.


Until next time




One comment

  1. Brian Richardson says:

    A very interesting and informative post George.

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