Seven questions with Tom Noonan
2 November 2016
This week meet Tom Noonan, a 2010 UCL alumnus of MArch Architecture.
Why did you choose to study this subject and how has it informed your career path?
I had a passion for both art and science at school and studying architecture allowed me to combine the two. I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Nottingham and throughout the application process, my eyes were opened to the potential of the subject - architecture straddled a vast, varied and infinite array of subjects and issues that went far beyond my expectations.
Throughout my early studies, I had never deviated from the idea of a traditional vocation in architecture: I would graduate, work in practice, and at some point in the future, set up on my own. When I arrived at the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture to study my Master's degree, I was offered insights into alternative worlds in which architects can play a part - film, art, academia and writing, to name but a few. Students and academics alike were experimenting with innovative and surprising forms of architectural practice and I was excited by the world of opportunities that was presented to me throughout my time at the Bartlett.
After graduating from UCL, I spent the following months working on art installations, small-scale architectural projects, drawings and exhibitions. I collaborated with friends and enjoyed the variety and creativity of the work I was doing. After a while, I decided I wanted to build! The idea of working on a large, complex building project, with a collaborative team of architects, engineers and designers, was attractive. I started working at Hawkins\Brown Architects and have been lucky enough to work on exciting projects across all sectors and stages. I also teach a design unit at the University of Greenwich, which keeps me on my toes and allows me to keep an eye on the ever-changing world of academia.
What was the most interesting thing you did, or got involved with, while at UCL?
Architecture is all-consuming, and my time at UCL was mainly spent between the design studios, library and tutorials. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by incredibly talented and interesting people and was fascinated by the knowledge and creativity that permeated throughout our building. The design unit system that the school embraces fosters a sense of camaraderie between fellow students and academics. Annual field trips to Berlin and Copenhagen were an opportunity to spend time with your colleagues, tutors and collaborators in the context of inspiring environments and cities.
What do you miss most from your time at UCL?
I've never really left! I've spent the past four years at Hawkins\Brown working on a number of projects for UCL, including two buildings for the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture - 22 Gordon Street, which opens in a few weeks - and a temporary home for the school at 132/140 Hampstead Road. I'm also working on a centre for advanced robotics and manufacturing for the Bartlett and UCL Engineering, which will be based at Here East, in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
It was very strange, and rather terrifying, returning to meet my old tutors, this time with them as my clients. Once the nerves had been quashed, I relished the opportunity to work on these projects, where collaborating and combining our mutual skills exceeds the sum of our individual parts.
I'm very lucky to have maintained this connection to the Bartlett and UCL as I am certain I would have missed the boundless imagination of the staff and students. I certainly don't miss the old building!
What one piece of advice would you like to share with UCL students?
Have fun, but don't be complacent! Embrace every opportunity you can and enjoy the fact you are surrounded by some of the best minds in your field, in one of the best cities in the world. It is one time in your life where you can really try and push the boundaries, experiment, observe and learn. It's also the best time to make mistakes, from which great things can happen.
If you were back at UCL for the day what one thing would you do?
My final year at UCL was spent at the drawing board with pen, ink and drafting film. Over the past few years working with the Bartlett, I've seen incredible advancements in the technologies used in the production of architectural information and building components. If I had a day, I would wake up early, take a crash course in robotics and build myself a new drawing board and stool!
Who inspires you and why?
If I have to pick one, I would have to say the author John Fante, who has had a presence in my life since I first read his novels in my teens. I recently re-read Ask the Dust, and was reminded of the raw energy and emotion that he managed to convey through simple and unpretentious prose. His semi-autobiographical stories describe the struggles and hardship that he faced trying to make it as a young writer in Los Angeles, and I have always admired Fante's passion and persistence. He brought the page, and the city, to life through his writing and I hope to achieve this through architecture and drawings.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
The drawings from my final year project at the Bartlett are housed in the permanent collections at the V&A museum.