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Nathan Ovens: 'Winning the 3DReid prize was an honour'

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Nathan Ovens, a member of the four-strong team from the University of Bath which scooped this year’s winning 3DReid Student Prize, talks about the project, his education and not letting architecture take over his life.

Briefly explain your prize-winning project.
For our final year, the University of Bath radically changed its course structure and gave us the freedom to choose any city within Europe to carry out our project. This was done in groups of four, and as a team [with William Hei, Darran Levins and Timothy Anderson] we soon gravitated towards the city of Nicosia; initially attracted by the sunshine and beauty of Cyprus. The aim was to find some of the problems inherent within the chosen city and then design a masterplan proposal that re-envisioned a small part of that city. Our proposal masterplan alludes to a more sustainable ideal and gradually transforms the Green Line into a national park through three phases over a 50 year period.

One of the key moves is to reintroduce water in the heart of the city through introducing two sea water greenhouses. Next this park is enlivened by temporary installations that vary along its length based upon the existing areas of the city such as areas of community, culture, education, the arts, commercial and civic. These temporary installations over time help create a social unity around new institutions of common interest.

How much time did you spend altogether on the scheme? 
We’d a total of two months to develop our masterplan proposal before the final review, of which one week was spent in Nicosia. In that time we managed to produce a giant 2m square model of the city, two booklets and an animation, which lead to some consecutive late nights before the final hand-ins. The most challenging part of the project was to balance an individual project, a written thesis, a social life with completing the final group reports. All these assignments were due in at the same time and this put an extra stress on the group as people fell behind on their individual work.

Timothy Anderson, Darran Levins, Nathan Ovens and William Hei of University of Bath

Timothy Anderson, Darran Levins, Nathan Ovens and William Hei of University of Bath

What do you think of the 3DReid student prize?
It has been a privilege to take part - winning has been even more of an honour and something I didn’t expect to achieve as a group. The victory will definitely help each of us find employment in what is a competitive environment. It also gives our project great publicity; we are hoping we might get an opportunity to present some of our work in Nicosia to some of the contacts we have made.

What have you learned from working on this project that you may take into practice?
Working on a project within the context of a contested city, alongside extensive research around the subject, has started to change my perception of what architecture actually is.

Many projects within contested cities fail to achieve any progress towards reconciliation

Architecture can be used to make a lasting difference. It is more than merely making beautiful buildings. Architecture to me has become a multifaceted process that is influenced by the social, physical and political context in which it is created. Now, rather than ignoring these outside influences and trying to achieve my own agenda, I want to be involved in an architecture that is more inclusive and works through collaborative processes, empowering communities. Unfortunately, many urban regeneration projects I’ve studied within contested cities such as Beruit, Jerusalem and Mostar fail to achieve any progress towards reconciliation.

Do you think architectural education has prepared you for real life?
The degree and masters courses at the University of Bath included periods of placement, which have equipped me practically for the workplace. The theoretical taught course at Bath is also based in reality, where ideas are encouraged to become realised through built form.  I also enjoyed the freedom that was given to us to determine our own path of education. We were free to write our own project briefs, choose any European city and write our thesis on the topic of our choice. This allowed us to pursue and develop our own passions, rather than being forced to follow a predetermined agenda like in some schools. It also taught me self-motivated study and how to work independently.

What one thing would you change about architectural education?
Increase the exposure and amount we are taught about the developing world, and how our architectural skills can be applied to make a difference. Our education will shape our future and how the next generation of architects will see and influence the world. Architects only contribute to three per cent of the world’s built environment. There is another ninety seven percent out there. This statistic perhaps makes architects seem insignificant, but we still have the ability to create ground-breaking work, and to bring vision and creativity into a situation.

Who have been your biggest architectural influences?
I’ve been influenced by architectural writers such as Jeremy Till’s Spatial Agency and Esther Charlesworth’s writings on rebuilding in contested cities. They both advocate an architecture where ‘the consequences of architecture are of much more significance than the objects of architecture’. 

Who is your favourite architect?
I admire architects who use their skills to transform communities. Architects such as Samuel Mockbee, rural studios and Hassan Fathy. I love the inventive way in which they reuse simple materials in their projects and the way that they are actually engaging with a social need.

Learning there is more to life than architecture has been an invaluable lesson

They also demonstrate that a building doesn’t have to be expensive to make genuinely good architecture.

 What is the best advice you have received?‘I am not my work.’ Architecture can sometimes be overly demanding and consuming. I’ve often fallen into the trap of letting it take over my life to the point where my self-worth is determined by my work. Learning that there is more to life than architecture and to detach myself from becoming my work has been an invaluable lesson





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