Freya Kay

Stepping stone to ‘real’ life

I live on the other side of the country in a small town in Kent, where the average age is about 80 and there are 20 tea shops on a mile-length stretch of road. I’ve travelled to Cornwall quite a lot with my family, so I knew the South West before I came to university here but I had never experienced Plymouth until my offer holder day.

I definitely wanted to use university as a way to get away from home. I wasn’t really worried about moving out and moving away – I saw university as that stepping stone to independence and ‘real’ life.

View of Roland Levinsky Building from The House
Freya Kay

Unusual childhood ambitions 

I wanted to do architecture since I was about four years old – I was a weird child that didn’t want to be a fairy, but wanted to be an architect.

Ever since I was young, my family and I have been going to Italy. When you are overwhelmed at an early age by the most beautiful 16th century Italian baroque architecture, it is no great surprise that I developed a romantic appreciation for buildings.

Second thoughts

In year 11 I had a bit of an ‘early-life crisis’ where I panicked and suddenly wondered if it was bad that I had always wanted to do this one thing and was so focused on being an architect – what if I don’t like it or it’s not for me? What then?

I started considering some slightly different options, more as a healthy alternative than a contingency. I looked into engineering in the army and a couple other possible avenues. Upon reflection though, I was always driven by the idea of being an architect and decided to apply for BA (Hons) Architecture courses.

Warm welcome

My first real taste of the campus and the city of Plymouth was on an offer holder day, once I had received my offer. It sounds like a cliché but when I came I fell in love with the place. It was a sunny day and I was lugging my portfolio around in a large folder – straight away I felt so welcomed on campus with a friendly Student Ambassador offering to show me to where I needed to be and carry my portfolio for me.

When we got to the architecture studio I was instinctively warmed by my first impressions and the positive feeling that the experience gave me. My offer holder day was the last step that sold this city and university as the best study destination for me. I used to live in a seaside town called Rye, in East Sussex. This sentimental connection to the sea might have also played a part in pulling me towards Plymouth.

Campus on open day
Freya Kay group photo

Living with other students

It’s scary moving out, but moving into halls gives you a bit of a safety net in that you have security, knowing that other people were in the same position. I felt more excited than nervous about taking that step.

My close friends, who I have been living with since the first year, all study quite intense courses – dietetics, paramedicine and criminology.

I find it really refreshing to be around students studying completely different subjects – it’s allowed me to gain a close-knit group of friends that I might not have met had I lived with other architecture students.

Astor House
Freya Kay PADS

Art and science

I feel like everyone is affected by, and is on some level fascinated by buildings. I was always really taken by art and the sciences at school. I recognised very early that the field of architecture perfectly epitomised my childhood attraction to buildings, and the symbiotic relationship between art and science was at its core.

Creative licence

There weren’t really any other courses that I felt gave me the unique freedom to operate between creative and scientific thresholds in the way that architecture does.

Plymouth’s BSc (Hons) Architectural Engineering course does contain modules that puts an onus on the scientific and technological aspect to the subject. However, I was only ever interested in applying to Bachelor of Arts (BA) courses. I wanted to ensure that I was grounded in creativity, the freedom for expression and connected to artistic ideologies.

freya kay
freya kay

Flexible framework

Tutors always appreciate and encourage you to push the boundaries of the brief. There will naturally be boxes that have to be ticked but there is real merit when you have the mentality of going beyond – that’s when things can get really interesting.

Different modules can have an emphasis on different architectural dimensions. Last year my focus was all about the performative function of a building – how it ‘performs’ within its environment and how it reacts to light and the elements. The optional module I’m working on this year is focused entirely on people and how people interpret and interact with space – two completely different angles.

Conceptualisation and communication

I’m not a massive physical modeller – it’s never really been one of my best attributes – but I have always really enjoyed the drawing, which could start off as conceptual scribbles on a page that evolve into more comprehensive drawings.

Drawings can then turn into conceptual physical 3D models, which can then develop into more detailed digital 3D models using computer software. I love seeing my ideas evolve and materialise.

Freya Kay
Freya Kay
Freya Kay

Inspiring study trips

So far, I’ve had the chance to go to Porto and Edinburgh on course study trips, and this year we’re going to Copenhagen.

In Edinburgh, we were introduced to real-world architectural challenges when considering the restoration of old buildings such as the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Museum, which burnt down a few years ago. There is an ongoing argument about how to restore old buildings and preserve their architectural integrity given that they are no longer compliant with modern-day fire regulations.

I found restoration a fascinating new subject to learn about and has actually led me to feel as though I would love to explore conservation architecture beyond my degree.

Porto 472159536
Edinburgh cityscape
Copenhagen 858544944

Personal space

The majority of my work takes place in the Roland Levinsky Building studios. We’re really lucky because we each get our own studio space and I don’t think all universities can provide that – the idea of hot-desking sounds awful to me. I can’t stress enough how amazing it is to have a space you can call your own.

We have access to the computer-aided design (CAD) suite, laser-cutters, printers, metal and wood workshops for model-making – all on campus, which we make good use of for live projects.

Technicians are magicians

All of the technicians in the University’s workshops are absolutely amazing. They help you to overcome challenges in making something you have designed. You’re able to quickly build a rapport and know them all by name.

When you don’t know how to make something, they are magical and know how to make everything. The technicians really are unsung heroes at university.

Freya Kay studying
Brunel laboratories technician word workshop

Getting hands dirty

The way that real-world projects are incorporated into the course at Plymouth feels really unique – I don’t know of other universities that have those kinds of live projects that get built, let alone by the students.

In the first year I project-managed a collaborative live project for a nursery school for underprivileged children within the city, where we designed and built physical structures that could function in the nursery’s outside space.

Architects and builders

There is a very loose stereotype in the industry that architects and construction workers don’t get on – being involved with live projects helps us to see how those dynamics play out, and helps you to appreciate that certain designs simply aren’t viable for whatever reason.

I think that on a practical level, the live site-based projects have helped to cement that appreciation for all the forces that have to work together during the whole process.

Freya Kay nursery project
Freya Kay architecture students nursery project

The great outdoors

I don’t like being inside. You’re inside enough at University. I love the meditative nature of running – it is my time to think and reflect. The location is perfect to go running along idyllic seafront routes.

I’ve found that studying architecture, you maybe don’t quite get as much free time as with some other courses, but it has meant that I have felt much closer to my cohort of students, probably because everyone is connected by the same patterns of study.

As a course we socialise quite a lot with surf trips, or go walking on Dartmoor. It’s extra handy if someone has a car, you can just get in and go on a spontaneous adventure.

Freya Kay surf
Dartmoor #157602818

Career pathway

  • Three-year university course (part one)
  • Minimum of one full year in industry
  • Two-year masters programme (part two)
  • Minimum of one full year in industry
  • Final exams to become a chartered architect (part three)

At this point in year three, I have secured a job for my first year in industry. I managed to get some work experience during my first year and through keeping in contact with the company, I’ve been offered the chance to work for them in London.

Professional support

For students in their third year who aren’t quite at the same point as I am, there are support structures that are built into the course that can help you with application submission, CV-writing and arranging your portfolio, which are all invaluable skills in helping you to secure work and help you to move forward in your career.

I have felt really empowered by being able to take responsibility for my own learning and development. I have proved to myself that I can successfully do my own thing and feel confident in having the skills to take forward beyond university into the real world.

Freya Kay architecture seminar
Architecture building

Is it all about becoming an architect?

I think that architecture is one of the most flexible degrees. Studying architecture requires a rigorous investment of time and effort, and is subsequently very well respected and regarded by employers outside the architect industry.

I know students who are leaning towards set design and there is even a University of Plymouth architecture graduate who now designs shoes for Adidas.

Un sogno italiano

An Italian dream

I want to take my architecture to Italy, I’d love to be fluent in Italian. It could mean that I potentially do my masters out there or look to work out there after study.

I’ve made an unbreakable handshake promise with my personal tutor that in five years’ time I will be in Italy in one way, shape or form.

Hopefully one day, I’ll be able to call myself an architect, run my own practice and fulfil my Italian dream.

Caro futuro, sono pronto.
Dear future, I’m ready.

Freya Kay portrait