Cultural Hub, Oxford Brookes University

From De Montfort University in Leicester, England – the GEN Z Series travels to Oxford Brookes University to meet a young talented 2023 interior architecture graduate Sara Mahmood from Girona, Spain. She reveals, “My family moved to London in 2013, seeking for better opportunities. My father is a gas engineer, and my mother excels in beauty and well-being. I also have a younger sister aspiring to pursue a career in media and journalism. My parents have always insisted on education, so I have relentlessly pursued my dream of becoming an interior designer (smiles).”

View from the Street

Having had a passion for art and design from early childhood, Sara participated in various art workshops in Spain and London, and was duly acknowledged for her creativity and imagination. Sara comes across as a very warm person and one who believes in family’s strength and strong bonding. Even though her quest in the architecture world is at nascent stage, but her commitment towards bettering lives of the people is truly noteworthy.

Johnny D speaks to Sara Mahmood to explore her journey so far and her sustainable thesis ‘Cultural Hub, Oxford Brookes University’.

Ground Floor Plan and Activities

What was your childhood ambition? Did you always wanted to become an interior designer?

I have always been passionate about art, especially drawing and painting. My father owned a café in Girona. I used to sit in the corner of the restaurant and spent hours drawing landscapes and people (smiles). I knew I wanted to be an interior designer, when I started drawing interior sketches. I even started spending most of my evenings on Google images searching ‘beautiful bedrooms for girls’. I started appreciating every space I would walk into; from the use of colours, lighting, paying attention to small details and how the room makes me feel when I enter it.

Design Strategy – Modifications to Existing Building

How has interior architecture influenced your life as a student?

Interior architecture has influenced my life in many ways and one of them is to value time management and organizational skills. I did not have the best attendance during my second year of university, which reflected on my grades. I realized the importance of being in studio at all times and learning how to control my time with university and other responsibilities. I must confess that it completely changed my way of working during my final year. I was able to manage my time and organize my days in order to get the best results for my projects and feel much more confident while presenting my design creations.

Collaborative Workspace

Briefly tell us about your University Course.

Oxford Brookes University, known for its top-tier Architecture and Interior Architecture department, provides students with exceptional resources. The annual exhibitions allow students to showcase their work to potential employers and family.

The comprehensive Course involves design, technical, material exploration, digital culture and management, practice and law modules, and imparting valuable professional skills. It enhanced my presentation abilities during critiques and final presentations, while also honing my proficiency in design software like AutoCAD, Sketchup, Rhino and Photoshop. In my final year, I had a hands-on experience collaborating with real client on an Oxford site, gaining insights into real-world design challenges.

First Floor Plan and Activities

Briefly describe the significance of your project.

My project proposes the establishment of a ‘Cultural Hub’ with the aim of addressing the under-representation of ethnic minorities in various societal domains. The main objective is to tackle the resulting lack of diverse perspectives and experiences. The envisioned hub serves as a platform to celebrate and preserve the unique cultural traditions and practices of ethnic minority communities, highlighting their significance in enhancing the diversity and cultural richness of society.

Basement Plan – The Library

The focal point of this initiative is to foster inclusivity and diversity through cultural literacy initiatives, different events and social opportunities related to promoting diversity and inclusion.

A key to the design is the concept of dynamic ‘furnitecture’, which involves movable partitions designed to facilitate adaptable spatial configurations. This design element allows the ability to modify privacy levels to accommodate collaborative or independent work, while still allowing individuals to remain engaged with the vibrant surroundings and activities within the hub. The dynamic ‘furnitecture’ thus enhances the overall functionality and user experience of the Cultural hub. In order to make the design sustainable, I reduced the amount of demolition, while creating the structure and used timber and loofah fibres as the main materials.

The Library

This project is a real-life site in Oxford, which is currently a cafeteria space for students. However, it faces a few problems such as lack of space, natural light and clear routes around the site. I managed to make the new space without rebuilding and demolishing much, while inhabiting the building instead to adapt to its new purpose of the ‘Cultural Hub’.

Sectional Perspective with Context

Which national or international architect / interior designer has inspired or influenced you?

Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto has truly inspired my work during my projects throughout university studies. Sou Fujimotos’ way of working is characterized by a unique, innovative approach to architecture that blurs the boundaries between nature and the built environment. His work is described as experimental, conceptual and deeply rooted in the idea of creating architecture that interacts harmoniously with its surroundings. This is something I consider very important as a designer. I believe that ensuring the cohesiveness between the internal design and external environment is a key to maintaining a cities character.

East-side Section Elevation

As an intern what is the most important lesson you have learnt from senior architects, while being a part of a project?

I have gained valuable insights from my tutor, Andrea Placidi, an architect. From him, I have come to appreciate the primary importance of prioritizing the users’ needs in design. It is not only about aesthetics and visual appeal, but also about creating functional and adaptable spaces that cater to the users. During my final project, I learned the art of effective design by focusing on flexibility and repurposing existing structures, rather than resorting to constant reconstruction and demolition. This approach not only preserves the integrity of the original building elements, but also aligns with sustainable principles in interior design.

Final Sectional Model

Will the younger generation of architects make innovative changes to mitigate the catastrophic effects of Climate Crisis?

The younger generation of architects plays a pivotal role in combating climate crisis. With global temperatures rising by the years, architects are tasked with creating sustainable, energy-efficient, and climate-resilient buildings. The urgency of reducing carbon emissions demands innovative, long-term solutions, such as using sustainable materials like timber, incorporating recycled resources and designing well-insulated, well-ventilated structures. As we have only a limited time to curb global warming, it is imperative that emerging architects take a leading role in this vital transformation.


Which significant aspects of the global platform ‘zerobeyond-the new frontier!’ did you like the most and why?

I am truly impressed by the GEN Z section of ‘zerobeyond – the new frontier!’ It is quite rare to find websites that offer students and graduates the opportunity to showcase their works and talents, especially on such a prominent industry, where the focus is often on the professional experience of recent graduates. While experience in undoubtedly important, I believe that enabling young architecture / interior graduates to exhibit their work to a global audience provides them with the unique chance to break into the professional industry and enjoy learning from each others’ work.

Atmospheric Qualities – Lighting

Local charm of cities has diminished due to Modern architecture as every city looks alike and similar. How should architects/ urban planners/ landscape architects modernize cities, while maintaining the local charm intact?

This topic really interests me and holds a substantial importance in my role as a designer. The balance between urban modernization and the preservation of local character is a pivotal consideration. Architects and urban planners should give the primacy to the conservation of traditional and historical structures.

Individual Workspace

The case of London serves as a great illustration of this approach. Here, architects have retained the charm of traditional British architecture on the exterior (and sometimes the interior structure), while innovatively modernizing interiors. Central London’s museums, galleries and residences stand as remarkable examples of this harmonious blend between historical preservation and contemporary designs.

Sustainability – The use of Loofah Fibres

Looking at the past in the current present, what are the futuristic architectural changes you would like to see in your home city / town?

I would love to see a transformation in the interior design of apartments within my hometown, Girona, Spain. Girona boasts an exquisite historical architecture that greatly preserves the city’s rich heritage. My relocation from Girona to London exposed me to a stark in contrast. In London, houses often share a uniform exterior and interior structure, a deviation from the charming diversity of Girona’s’ flats and apartments. This difference has left a lasting impression on me. I envision a harmonious fusion of traditional structures in Girona’s apartments, echoing the city’s captivating historical essence, similarly to the blend observed in London.

Backdoor Entrance

Image Courtesy: Sara Mahmood

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