Archistart IAH Summer 2016

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I have always wanted to participate in an architecture competition, and after some research, I found an amazing opportunity to do so in San Cataldo, Lecce, Italy, as part of an architecture holiday too! What’s better than touring with architects?! We know what to look for 😉

So there I am, signed up for the 9-day Architecture workshop – Archistart. All paid… and waiting to go!

(IAH – International Architecture Holiday)

Day 123456789

Day One

On the brink of the morning of the 1st of August, I was picked up in Brindisi by a hired driver (organised by Archistart), along the way, we also picked up several others that were from different countries – an American, a Greek and an Italian! We already started to bond quickly and although completely exhausted, we were animated talking about our backgrounds and how we found out about Archistart.

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As we arrived camp in San Cataldo, we registered and set off to our accommodation options – dorm or tent. (I would have gone for the tent option but I did not wish to lug a tent with me as I backpack through Italy) Absolutely glad I chose the dorm, I unpacked and enjoyed my quite comfy bed.

Sketchmob lecce piazza del duomo.jpg

Our first activity was meeting in the nearby town LeccePuglia’s Baroque masterpiece. We spent a few hours exploring the town on our own, then met up at 6pm at Piazza del Duomo for a ‘Sketchmob’ session with Alterstudio Partners. Our task was to sketch anything in the Piazza for around an hour or two… I opted for the Clock-tower.

The ‘Sketchmob’ was really inspiring and fun as all the participants sat around the square, focused and lost in the world of sketching, in our ‘Archistart’ t-shirts. (We became a tourist attraction as people snapped pictures of us!)

We then headed to the Roman Theatre of Lecce (a hidden tranquility gem) for our formal introduction to Archistart and to admire our artistic pieces. Seated amidst this perfect historical setting, one felt overwhelmed immersed in culture and with ambitious young architects. Where else in Italy is more appropriate than an architectural wonder of a Roman theatre for an architectural show?

Roman theatre of lecce

During the crit, it was noticed that many of us chose to draw the tower, and actually… the majority of the towers floated off the top of the page… *oops*

Sketchmob italia.jpg

Day Twoteam 16 archistart iah (1)

‘Team 16… Zoe Mak!’

Whew! Finally, my name has been pulled out of the hat. I walk up to my other 5 team members and we head towards the ‘woods’ to settle down and get to know each other.

Majority of the camp were Italians, possibly about 90%, but every group had a mix. The usual suspects that I ended up hanging out with throughout the workshop were all the non-Italians, (Greeks, Polish, Ukraine, Spanish, Czech, Austrian, UK and American!) we later called ourselves “Our Gang” ;), but of course we mingled with everyone else too!

The theme of the workshop is to design temporary emergency shelters able to provide reception and first assistance services to all people who are in need because of natural disasters, war, poverty and race, religion, nationality and political reasons.

The key concerns that require attention are the rationality in transport, assembling and disassembling phases, the affordability and availability of construction materials.

team 16 archistart iah (2)

Our group began firing ideas across the crate tables and made quick sketches. We first discussed the theme, the function of the space, and the needs and wants
of the refugees. We were growing frustrated as our ideas were all over the place and we wanted to integrate them all together, but then that will lose the focal concept and it may be difficult to cater for all the activities.

With the help of the tutors, we concluded that we will focus our design as a learning center, as the refugees are not uneducated, they are actually well qualified, but due to the war or for whatever reason, they have lost their homes, jobs and family, so it is imperative for them to feel useful and valued in life. We decided they can utilize their skills and knowledge to teach and share with others at the camp.

It was also mentioned from the tutors that the children are also vulnerable in this situation, and they could be mentally unstable. (Which reminded me of the book ‘First they killed my father‘) I think that the psychology of the children would have actually been a rather interesting topic, but personally, I don’t know how to start, I only know that as they escaped their home countries, they are missing out on critical education, so they could utilize this space as also a learning center. (But I feel this isn’t different enough, or inventive enough, what else do they need?) A place where they can express themselves, maybe through art? But then, would they have the mood to do such a thing?

I also thought that a place for story telling was quite interesting, so then you can hear about each other’s experiences or the joys of life, that the world hasn’t come to an end for them.

Another thing the tutors pointed out was how to keep the refugees from leaving Italy, a way to make them want to stay and not escape, teach them the Italian culture and language?

After what seemed like a long full day of burning our brains, ‘Our Gang’ swiftly rewarded ourselves with a beer at the beach to catch the sunset (literally just outside the campsite! HOW convenient)

Lecce beach.jpg

However, the day does not end here, a lecture starts at 10pm… whawhhaaaat! *hides*

Archistart the cloud.jpg

Day Three

A productive morning and afternoon workshop session clearly has to end with an eventful evening! Today, we head off to a private pool party! ooo… booze and food. – Buffet-style 😉

pool party.jpg

Day Four

You wouldn’t call us Architects if we didn’t wake up feeling stressed and hungover… it has dawned on us that we had to submit an A4 sheet of presentation of our concept by midday today! :O And to present it in the evening! and guess whose presenting? … Me.

But before any presentations were to start, we had to give our shelter a name. ‘WAVEHUB‘ was born.

“You cannot stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Much like the waves of the ocean, you cannot stop unfortunate events but to not be defeated by these situations, why not embrace this opportunity to learn from the available sources around you to build a better future and open up opportunities, or comfort each other with positivism?

presentation archistart iah.JPG

The ‘WAVEHUB‘ is a learning hub, where workshops takes place. The users can alter the floor units to tables to seating areas where they can work on. Classes are held either by local volunteers or other refugees. When the hub is not in used as an educational facility, it can be transformed as a relaxation area, or for entertainment.

It is finally time for our ‘mid-crit’/presentation to everyone, I had to represent my group to present our design idea, our ‘WAVEHUB‘ ~ (I did get really nervous waiting to present, presentations are my weaknesses and I am trying my hardest to overcome it… I just need to be confident of our design and not to miss out on any valuable design decisions we made). I am very thankful for my supportive peers though, they calmed me and just told me to relax, it’s no big deal! Well… I managed it! 😀 I did stutter and mind-blanked for a bit, but I don’t think I missed out on anything, we definitely had many beers afterwards though! 😀

Day Five

Model-making day! We were given materials that we requested earlier this week so that we can model our shelter. In an instant, our group split the presentation where the guys started planning to build the model, and the girls drew the architectural drawings, and tried to figure out how the facade will look.

At one point of the day, one of the tutors came to save us from our dilemma of trying to solve how the floor units can actually be operated. As we wanted the floor units to be propped up as a table in a ‘square’ shape, and also can be locked into a ‘triangular’ shape for users to lie on as seats.

It was actually a very simple solution that we just over-complicated. *oops*

(Bit of a side-story) When we were trying to solve the problem, the tutor struggled to explain it to us in English, he was slow and used basic English. He then paused and was like, ‘Sorry girls, I need to explain it to the others in Italian’, it was when he switched to Italian that we knew it was absolutely necessary, he was speaking extremely quickly, aggressive and very expressive. The Bulgarian girl and I just stared blankly at each other. But, it got the job done.

As the workshop for the day ended, we escaped the campsite as soon as we could, time to relax! Immediately outside the campsite tonight was a street full of markets! A band playing on stage and lots of food! Perfect! We wondered if it was a special day today, but figured it was just the start of the weekend, so everyone was obviously embracing it and going wild.

Lecce market.jpg

After we grabbed our grub and our draft beer, we went back into camp and saw everyone gathered together where a Traditional Folk Band was playing, and all the Italian girls were dolled up and so were the guys too! They started Traditional Folk Dancing! What an eye-opener!

Italian traditional dance.jpg

It was really fascinating to watch them dance and hearing the stories about the dances, apparently one was about a tarantula that was on the floor, *shivers* so everyone has to keep jumping up and down. Another dance was about a lady and a man courting each other, flirting with the handkerchief! Fancy~

It was a lovely cultural night, everyone really enjoyed themselves, a night I will definitely remember! 🙂

Day Six

Short workshop day today, as we head off to Togo Bay in the afternoon for a beach party.

Togo Bay was absolutely stunning during sunset, the sea was calm and clear, the sand was fine, albeit packed with people, we lazed around on our beach beds under the straw umbrellas and just boozed…

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Day Seven

Something happened last night. Rain.

As the deadline for final presentation looms above us, our team is in concentration mode, nobody spoke, we just got on. Things had to be done.

But nothing goes smoothly… by afternoon, it started pouring down, and with no shelter in the ‘woods’ we all scrambled and grabbed as much as could and sprinted indoors, working in the dorms on beds or in the lobby area, sprawled out on the floor. What a chaotic sight.

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It was a long day today, even dinner was just a quick takeaway pizza, then back to work… and BAM, back to student life – all-nighter welcomes us.

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Day Eight

Rush hour. Final few hours till the final presentation of our projects! *excited* We even had a few hours to spare to relax and chill!

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Carefully packing our 1:50 scaled model into our ‘Group 16’ box along with our A2 presentation :sheet, we loaded it on to the coach and set off to Gallipoli, by the Ionian coast, a popular Italian holiday town that has hardly any other tourists. However, we were heading there for more than that.


This workshop has really been a unique experience, who guessed we were going to pin-up at the top of a castle?! (Although it was too windy to present at the roof, we descended one flight and pinned up there instead).

The presentations began as we eagerly crowded around Group 1, as it is a competition of course there was a judge panel, the tutors and the invited local architects – King Roselli Architects.

The time has come! It is finally our turn to present! Welcome to the Wavehub… presentation.jpg

Presentation model archistart iah.jpg

(Read the background of our project from Day Four)

Our design is to be constructed from a timber structure, featuring retractable textile roof/shade that can open up, slide-able meshed wall panels and a woven bamboo that acts as a canopy to lean comfortably against.

The floor units are made from bamboo as it is light for interaction, they are connected in rows on a rail that can be pushed and pulled and locked to create tables and seats or folded inside the shelter when unused. There are also storage units underneath the floor units.

My input on the presentation board – all the technical details and how it functions. technical details.JPG

So… WHO wins? Dun dun dunnn… *suspense* We found out after we arrived back on camp, giving the judges several hours to decide. There were many amazing projects that were impressive in terms of functionality and aesthetics, even I found it difficult to have a favourite!

Well, there was a winner though! (I’m sorry, I don’t know which group number they were) They had a very simple design but definitely extremely functional, with movable walls that doubles the space and holes or hooks on the walls so that you can plug things on it! Well done guys!

Now… time to PARTY! A nice wrap up as we mark the end of an awesome holiday workshop! Mixed feelings. This is the last night we are all spend together before we depart back to our home countries…. 😦

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Day Nine

So great to finally lay in. But sadly, people were slowly departing… luckily enough, ‘Our Gang’ stayed an extra night, so we spent the rest of day together exploring Lecce!

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I was heartbroken that I lost my sketchbook right at the end of the event though! 😦 It had all my notes and design ideas and little sketches of Lecce 😦 It was when we packed up everything to go that my sketchbook decided that it had to stay in Italy. (How I wished I could join you too sketchbook!) Nevermind… all the memories made are stuck inside my head forever and also now on this blog. 🙂

archistart lecce iah summer 2016 (1)

I will never forget the friends I made here along with the amazing experiences we shared amongst a beautiful setting of Lecce, Italy in the summer of 2016. Thank you Archistart! ❤

Disclaimer: Not all photographs are by me (I  stole it cheekily from our facebook group) 

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