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Architecture for Everyone - the wannabe architects return

RMJM sent six budding architects to study at Harvard this summer: The AJ catches up with them and discusses what they learned across the pond

‘It was great,’ said 21 year old Callum Gilbert from Toxteth, Liverpool. ‘Throughout the six weeks I felt really comfortable being there and I could almost go back there and do it again.’

Gilbert left school at 16 and was stuck on the dole without any qualifications. Then on Mother’s Day 2006 he was stabbed four times in the face and arm in a case of mistaken identity.

But Gilbert’s life started turn when he enrolled on a course to study 3D design at Liverpool Community College.

‘I don’t want to go through life without knowing anything,’ said Gilbert.

RMJM and the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust ran a series of design workshops called ‘Architecture for Everyone’ that targeted young people in inner city areas. Six youngsters Nick Ackers, Callum Gilbert, Oni Hinton, Yohanna Iyasu, Paula McDonald and Luke Powell stood out for their talent and were selected to take part in a six-week scholarship at the prestigious Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

‘For me it was definitely a life changing opportunity,’ said Gilbert, who is now working on his UCAS application to study architecture at university. ‘My plans are to change the whole language of architecture. I definitely won’t be following anyone else’s footsteps.’

Paula McDonald from Penilee, Glasgow, was made redundant from her job as a graphic designer at Ikea in September 2008. ‘I’d worked in Ikea since I was 16. It was all I knew. You could cut me open and I’d be blue and yellow all the way through,’ said the 25 year old.

‘[But this is] an incredible thing to have on my CV. It gave me back my confidence,’ said McDonald who has recently been volunteering for an anti-gang project with Glasgow South West Regeneration Agency.

Yohanna Iyasu from Birmingham was born in the Netherlands and is determined to become an interior architect said: ‘Going to Harvard made me realise now how hard I have to work.’

Iyasu learned a lot about drawing techniques and how to present her work: ‘The architects were of a very high standard. It’s an experience you won’t forget.’

Architecture for Everyone was set up in memory of Stephen Lawrence, who aspired to become an architect but whose life was tragically cut short by a racially motivated attack 16 years ago.

‘The aim of the project was to raise aspirations of young people with regards to built environment professions and to encourage them to think about attaining architecture as a profession in the future’ said project manager Veda Harrison.

The lack of diversity in the UK’s architectural profession was the starting point for the project. ‘RMJM is a firm internationally that has a very diverse workforce, in looking at the UK picture they felt there was a need to shake up the UK architectural profession,’ said Harrison.

The UK-based international firm RMJM worked in partnership with Doreen Lawrence – mother of Stephen Lawrence - to offer an opportunity of a lifetime to aspiring architects from socially deprived or black and ethnic-minority backgrounds.

The six lucky students have now returned to the UK. ‘We will continue to help them in finding networking opportunities, mentoring, and work experience,’ said Harrison.

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