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BA (Hons) Architecture

Jamie Neal

Young man stood in Italian city street

Jaimie Neal / Architecture

Jaimie is a BA (Hons) Architecture student who studied in Venice as part of the Erasmus+ exchange progamme.

Before we begin with my student story, I think it’s important to outline what Erasmus+ is. Erasmus+ is an EU funded exchange programme where we as students get the opportunity to study in another European University. The Erasmus+ programme began in 1987 and has been going ever since. The process of going on Erasmus+ begins with students filling out a form and choosing their top two Universities they wish to go to. Their home University then assesses the students’ academic record and if the student scored high marks, they’re chosen to study abroad!

The aim behind this program is to promote inclusivity and self-reliability, allowing students to learn a lot from living in another country. Roughly around 4 million students a year endeavour to take this once in a lifetime opportunity.

I remember my Erasmus+ journey started back in the second semester of first year. We had been presented with the opportunity to study in one of two locations: Venice or Marseille. With the latter requiring you to be fluent in French, I applied to Venice, a city rich in culture and architectural masterpieces, a city in which I knew I would be able to develop the skills I had so far collected at Leeds Beckett.

After hearing about the programme, I rang my parents instantly and said I was going to apply, much to their delight. It would mean a lot of things would need sorting out both in Leeds, and in Venice, however it was a chance I could not pass on.

Before making my way over to Venice, there were a whole mix of emotions. Whilst I had left home before for university, living just an hour away from Leeds meant it was very easy for me to simply drive home when I saw fit. I had been on a plethora of school trips before, including an ecological trip to Mexico for two weeks, a short break to Iceland and to Germany, but I had never left home for this long. So as I left my parents in the departure lounge of Manchester airport, I was excited at the prospect of the opportunity I had been given, but I was also apprehensive as I wouldn’t see them again for over a month!

I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Venice before the resumption of teaching, and the beginning of semester two over there. This provided me with a chance to see what the surrounding area had to offer. In this time I was able to travel to Verona, Lake Garda, Burano, Murano and Lido. This also provided me with time to meet some students from all over the world, and hear of their experiences so far. Joining the Erasmus network programme gave me an outlet to be able to meet these new people, many of who would go on to become my friends throughout the exchange programme.

As for every student globally, COVID-19 became a big problem when trying to fulfil their studies. On 21st February, Venice and the Veneto region were put into lockdown! We had all just visited the university complex for our induction before it was shutdown, only three days prior to the beginning of our teaching programme. The transition from physical to digital was a foreign concept to the style of teaching I was used to; the first thing we had to learn was to adapt from a largely studio-based course to completing the same output without physically seeing team-mates and tutors, and without the use of the universitie’s equipment and materials. Although this was disheartening, a course of action was quickly developed, and we began daily lectures and work reviews on Microsoft Teams.

With some restrictions to the original output of work and the introduction of team work (completed with Callum Suttle), we began our studies. The main focus of the design module was to design a therapeutic pavilion in the valley of Vajont, providing a quiet space for psychological treatment to those effected by the floods which occurred in 1963. The project used the visual stimulus of a branch to influence the methodology behind the design, metaphorically creating the ideal of progression and growth. Within the pavilion, clusters of mental and physical wellbeing buildings were separated by a central concourse level that partitioned off the private from the public spaces. The overall final design had to take into account the climate crisis, and so calculations had to be created to work out the impact the building would have on the surrounding and wider environment. This was in response to the deforestation rates as a consequence of the flooding event.<

The project has helped myself as a student architect to progress, both in terms of the software and techniques I have learnt, and the direction in which it is clear I will focus on in future. It is essential now, more than ever, that aspiring architects should strive towards a brighter future, which all begins in the material selection stage and the overall production of the building. It is vital that the consequences of all the decisions we make for designs are known, and the knowledge possessed during my time in Venice helped me begin to understand the scale of these ramifications.

By the 23rd June, I had successfully finished the exams for my modules, and with my next teaching block not starting until the first week of July, and the effect of Corona virus halting my journey back to the UK until early July, I seized the opportunity to travel once again. I was lucky to have close friends still remaining in Venice, and so in the final week before my departure I managed to travel to Sirmione, Bassano del Grappa and even as far as Bolzano. I am grateful tohave shared this experience with them.

The only regret I have is that I didn’t make more of the opportunity to travel further afield at the beginning of the programme, it’s definitely a travel destination I will be going back to in the near future to explore further!

I hope my experiences will provide inspiration to those who are interested in the possibility of the Erasmus+ exchange in the future. Despite everything that happened during my time in Venice, I whole heartedly recommend the opportunity is taken if it should arise!

I was fortunate enough to be residing in an Airbnb roughly 10 minutes outside of Venice for the duration of my stay. During my lockdown and studying visit I had the support of the hosts who would go onto be known as my Italian family whilst I stayed there. Throughout the tough times of lockdown, they were always there to support and cheer me up which I was very thankful for!

Thank you also to the University staff both at Leeds Beckett and IUAV, friends and family for the support and encouragement you have given me, throughout this experience.