Diane Mackay

Student spotlight details

Diane's experience renovating English properties rekindled her interest in studying architecture, this time at postgraduate level.

‘I had spent the two and a half years prior to undertaking the course renovating and extending two houses. I have long had an interest in architecture, completing four years towards a degree in architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa upon first leaving school. Although I have spent the majority of my formal working life since then in the field of business analysis and administration, I also simultaneously purchased and renovated a number of houses in South Africa. On returning to England in 2010 I took up a position as an analyst for a couple of years before moving into property renovating full time in 2013. I first purchased and significantly extended a 1930s property in South Oxfordshire before undertaking the renovation of a late Victorian terrace house in Berkshire.

‘I was fascinated by the richness and diversity of the urban fabric here in the UK and wanted to learn more so as to be able to make sense of the multitude of styles and forms that make up the built environment. I initially enrolled for a short ten week course entitled “How Old is that House” in 2014 and it was while attending this course that I came across the brochure advertising the more extensive Postgraduate Certificate in Architectural History course. My decision to take the course was primarily out of interest in the subject of architecture, but also to better understand the environment in which I now both live and work.

‘I was concerned when first applying to the course that I lacked sufficient knowledge of English history, having completed my schooling in South Africa. I did do some preparatory reading prior to the commencement of the course, but found my fellow students to be extremely generous in providing assistance and insight where I lacked knowledge. It was the formal process of writing that I found most challenging however. I have never been a confident writer and I did find the prospect of producing a dissertation extremely daunting. Writing the shorter essays as a prelude to the dissertation did help and [course director] Dr Barnwell was incredibly supportive. It is however an area in which I think I still have an awful lot to learn.

‘What was most rewarding for me was being not only allowed but in fact encouraged to use actual buildings as primary sources. This course did not only promote reading on the subject, but also hands-on analysis of buildings as a means of understanding and interpreting them from varying perspectives. These included how the buildings were conceived, how they were realised, how they worked, who they were for and what they tell us about the beliefs and social practises of the people that used them. Magic!

‘When I first started the course I had no specific areas of interest, but over the duration of the course I became increasingly interested in exploring how the specific configuration of certain spaces within different buildings became essential at different times, and the extent to which these spaces can be considered emblematic. I think that an understanding of this can help provide insight into how ancient architectural forms have been referenced in revivalist styles in the past as well as how they can be sympathetically referenced by ourselves when re-purposing old buildings in the present day.

‘Overall, the course challenges you, but it also enriches you. I did find it demanding in terms of the time I needed to dedicate to it, but I met some wonderful people who share an interest in the subject. I would encourage someone considering the course to use it as an opportunity to explore and give expression to their own ideas. I found that the environment really did provide the relevant support that allowed me to attempt things I had previously thought were way beyond my very limited abilities. As for what I’m doing now: I am still renovating houses, but am considering how to extend my studies further; I would very much like to undertake a full master’s program in architecture.’

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