The Bartlett


Widening participation in architecture: A student mentor's experience

2 May 2012

By Tom James, first-year student at the Bartlett School of Architecture. Here he talks about his experience of being a mentor on the Open-City Accelerate programme.

A-level students at design workshops with Bartlett mentors

I volunteered to participate in the Accelerate programme as I’ve been involved in several other Open-City projects including the Architecture in Schools programme and a model making workshop for young children during Open House weekend. I really admire the work Open-City does in making architecture exciting and relevant, especially with young people, and when I heard about the Accelerate programme I was keen to volunteer.

As a mature student with a first degree in maths, I knew I wanted to study architecture as a way of developing my creative interests and abilities, but in some ways I was just not prepared for the application process and the demanding nature of the course, and I’m eager to share my experiences of studying architecture, as well as offering advice on preparing for applications and interviews and communicating exactly what an architecture degree is actually like.

As Accelerate mentors we have taken part in an introductory workshop at the Bartlett where we met our mentees and brainstormed ideas about why we were all interested in architecture and Accelerate, which led to a model making session where we tried to communicate more abstract ideas about our homes through paper models, just by cutting and folding a single A4 sheet. I think everyone got a lot out of it – many of the students had perhaps not thought about how to communicate such intangible concepts through models before, and hopefully it should have sparked some ideas and curiosity that can feed into their design work. I think the Bartlett students may have picked up one or two ideas that may make an appearance in their own projects… as well as a much-needed dose of enthusiasm at a stressful time of the year!

I am a mentor to two Year 11 girls from a school in West London who both have a strong interest and ability in art and design and are keen to find out more about a career in architecture. After my final hand in at the end of May I will be meeting my students periodically at the architecture practice they’ve been partnered with to help them with the design project they’ve been set as the core of the programme. In the meantime, we’re available to answer questions and offer advice on a special social network set up for the programme where we can chat directly to our mentees as well as pitch into general conversation amongst all the participants.

It’s still early in the programme and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the students’ design projects, but I’d highly recommend anyone getting involved next year. It really doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment, and as well as being rewarding in its own right, working with young people who have their own expectations of architecture might just help challenge our own ideas about what architecture is and could be.