Master of Architecture student
It could be said that Design student Abel Feleke is living out his dreams, travelling the world to complete his research project on informal settlements and architecture
Currently completing his final year of a Master of Architecture at The University of Western Australia, Abel was awarded the 2016 RIBA Norman Foster Travelling Scholarship to study the dense social networks which exist in such communities – writing, recording and photographing his experiences and case studies as he goes.
“In my project, Weaving the Urban Fabric, I’m travelling to China, India, Brazil and Ethiopia to gain greater insight into the intricate social relations that exist in high-density urban communities. I’m meeting with architects, designers, activists and residents to better understand what factors shape and affect the development of informal settlements.”
Abel’s interest in this topic originates from staying in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. While visiting family and friends, the strong sense of community and expression of identity that exists within such settlements became apparent. Abel says his interests have always centred on interacting with people.
“Design is communication. It’s a way for expressing thoughts, ideas and narratives that hopefully are conveyed in a way that triggers an emotive response from the user. Architecture existed for me as an avenue for expression and one which had the greatest potential to affect change in the physical environment and social circumstances of people. I think it was this appreciation that encouraged me to pursue both architecture and design.”
Abel believes architecture is very social, so engaging with people, discussing ideas and listening to constructive criticism have furthered his architectural knowledge and given him a greater understanding for the broader field of design as well. Being awarded the scholarship has also allowed Abel to engage with people of different nationalities and various socio-economic circumstances.
“I think a great achievement is experiencing the variety of cultures and the ability to study comparisons and differences. Meeting people with the intent to understand their viewpoint makes for really interesting experiences and can challenge your own preconceived perceptions. This opportunity has helped expand my understanding of others and myself.”
In January, Abel will present his research findings to the Royal Institute of British Architects and Foster + Partners in London – a large challenge, but one he is eagerly looking forward to pursuing.
“From this journey I’ve learnt that to make the most of opportunities, it is necessary to be adaptable. If something doesn’t work how you planned or thought it might, look for another route and be ready to respond to the change in the environment. It’s important to maintain a goal but also to remember there isn’t any fixed direction to achieving it.”
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