Thoughts of a Portuguese Architect Student

My name is Ana Moreira Bento. I was born in Coimbra, Portugal, in 1993. I study Architecture at the University of Coimbra. I have just concluded my bachelor´s degree. My parents are both professors. My mother teaches Food engineering at Coimbra Higher School of Agriculture – ESAC- and my father teaches physics at University of Coimbra. They are also researchers and my father is now living half a year in Munich to research dark matter in Max Planck Institute.

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Coimbra is a city where tradition is taken too seriously. We try to preserve our past, our roots, we have strong connections with our past and we have some difficulties in let it be when is needed - it is something that we have present all the time. We have it in our Fado songs, in our narrow medieval streets, in our typical flavors from our bakeries, everywhere… Coimbra is known as a city of students. Students and tradition. Even our student costume was inherited from our grandparents. So Coimbra is in fact, a book of history and holder of a great repertoire of national culture. But, although this marvelous environment, full of meanings and mystics, the way of teach, in my opinion, is also stuck in this bell jar of past glories. On the other hand, Seinäjoki is a place with no moorings. Everything is thirsty of progressive advances. It has less history but more action. The pace it is in fact slower than in Coimbra but things are though, executed and concluded. 

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My mother has been in Seinäjoki five times, because she has some projects with Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences and also because she has some kind of special feelings for this culture. It was mostly because of her inspired descriptions about this Nordic atmosphere, full of welcoming behavior to foreign people, that I chose this city for my summer internship. However, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences doesn´t have any Architectural course, but I wanted to try different approaches related with this area. 

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I want to be an architect since I know myself and I remember when I was seven and I made my first plan, which I still keep. I was drawing facades and plans all the time but I never improved my “free drawings” skills. I used Windows Paint to draw all the houses that I invented.  As time passed by, I started to be even more interested in architecture and I started to buy my own books. Anyway in my first year at the University, professors want us to make all our projects hand-drawn and they also wanted some free drawings, like hand drawn sketches. That was my worst year. I was not prepared for that, I felt like I was going backwards. I don´t think that’s the way how architecture should be taught nowadays. I belong to the new generation, the digital native generation and who avoids that fact and doesn´t know how to take advantage from that it is just decreasing the developing process as it is expected. Teachers must distinguish what should be just a curiosity from what is important to deeply learn and understand.



For that, they must be always avant-garde of new ways of work. That is something which is missing in the traditional and downgrade way of teaching in Coimbra. This is delaying the flourishing anxious students and I believe it is the main reason of their frustration. I don´t know how to draw but I never felt that as a barrier to show people my ideas, because I always had some digital alternatives to help me with. So, good sketches, in my opinion, are not a “must know how” tool. They are simply a pleasant ability or talent that some people have. My professors completely disagree with that. I believe I will be able to finish my course and to practice architecture even if I don´t have that skill. Rather than being worried with the old practices, full of hand drawings and miniature models, teachers should be committed and interested about the new virtual building applications. Programs like this, allow architects to pass ideas more instantaneously from the head to the paper. It is an ecological, easier, faster and cheaper way of developing a project. It just avoids the use of huge amounts of expanded polystyrene and other pollutant materials which professors still encourage us to use, to obtain a 3D representation of our projects with miniature models.

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I worked all my summer in SeAMK´s Virtual Reality Laboratory and that helped me a lot to understand my positions related with this connection between architecture and virtual reality. Laboratory engineer Tapio Hellman gave me a set of new perspectives about this ways of virtual representations. “How to use them”, “What they are”, “How they can increase the relationship between the users and the architects”, these are some of the new perspectives that I now have about this issue. This is a huge lack that we have in our department.

Although this brand new and updated VR lab environment, I ended up choosing an old and historical building to work on, it is somehow ironic. When I decided to go to Finland for doing my internship, the main purpose was to learn more about Alvar Aalto and his work. So when Tapio suggested me it as target of my work and I felt a huge satisfaction. Also because it is a building very connected to Finnish History and for me it was great to mix all of these aspects.

I never had done something like 3D modeling from an existing building before. I just had worked with AutoCAD and did some exploring with SketchUp. I chose ArchiCAD even though I had never used it before for digital representations. In just two weeks I had the main part of Civil Guard Museum´s 3D model designed. I think ArchiCAD is a very intuitive program. I found a lot of information, like videos and tips about how it works so it was easy to work with it. To work with ArchiCAD we must have a strategy of drawing, because it is based on a mathematical logic. It is a valuable architectural program because it does almost automatically the 3D from the plans. That is something that simplifies very much the way of drawing for an architect. It is not a free draw program, so all the elements are very categorized which somehow reduces the facility to acquire new shapes for walls and new unconventional situations. I´m not saying that it doesn´t allow to do that completely, but as it have a lot of properties to explore and adapt.  So at the first impression it seems something that restricts architect´s imagination. Also, it is not so easy to add image to the surface of the elements. I don’t mean patterns, but individual texture mappings and that’s something that really matters when we are working about an old building.  I really think about ArchiCAD as an easy tool to do some 3D model of buildings. I don´t think about it as a tool to represent city plans. I think SketchUp is better tool for that kind of work.

Talking about my future, well I know that probably I am expected to be wanting to be a successful architect as soon as possible because I have wanted this since I was a child.  I´m focused in graduating as soon and better as possible. But I´m not sure about just dedicate me to architecture in the future. That is the main thing about the Architectural course. It opened my mind and my vision to other aspects, to others areas. And it gave me - or I just found them - some other skills not just linked with Architecture. I also like another areas related with it, for example cinema, design and multimedia and I developed some knowledge about it in this three years. I know that future in Portugal is not so promising. Probably I will have to go abroad, but I don´t want to be worried with that by now. I expect things to change and better days to my country!

One thing that I have learned during this experience is that some areas of studying can be related in most unexpected ways. For instance, I never had thought how virtual reality can be so close connected with architecture and how the two areas can be linked in a synergic way. The mutual goal is to create and project a certain environment and persuade people to believe in it. Virtual Reality can be used as an amusement tool or a professional tool; a scientific, research and learning tool. Combining the latter use of it in architecture we are able to improve a project with a closer idea from the real final result of the building, for example. That can increase the impact of construction in people’s life, planning better solutions beforehand and testing their effect as if they were actually built. Architecture needs to be closer with the reality! Architects must think about architecture not such in abstract and artistic way, but also as something that is developed for people, which has such effects in their cities and is related with a specific context. So every area that can put architecture closer with the real world should be welcome!

I also learned that sometimes being obsessed with reaching certain objectives just deprives us to get some unexpected experiences. Sometimes these experiences prove more enriching than the goals we wanted to achieve. I was not expecting this experience to become so important to me. Sometimes we just spend our time underestimating some things and wanting other things so badly and it turns up that underestimated experience becomes something which we would never have had the capacity to wish for. This internship helped me to broaden my knowledge and to understand how architecture can establish some strong connections with other areas and how they can interact in a reciprocal way. That increases the legacy of architecture and gives us more opinions to work on.

I will just implement to myself this calm and efficient Finnish pace and walk through my Future with no worries.

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