Hello London!

Channa Daswatte (UCL Bartlett 1991)

Magazine: Portico Issue 1 2014/2015; Client: UCL

As an architect living in Sri Lanka, my life is all about experimenting with thoughts and ideas, trying out different styles and designs, and my time at UCL helped shape those ideas. I live in a reasonably cosmopolitan place, with distinct climate and materials, but I still believe London has that edge. Being in the city encouraged me to find new ideas – not so much visual ones, but deeper ideas about how human beings live and how people enjoy their environment.

Sri Lanka is a former British colony and I’d grown up hearing about all the wonderful things that were in London, so making the choice to study at UCL was easy. But when I arrived I remember thinking London was so much smaller than I thought it would be. Even the grandest spaces felt more intimate, and therefore more attractive, and much less stuffy than I’d imagined. It was an incredible discovery.

I loved that UCL was in the city and that you weren’t walking through the gates outside the centre. I was tickled by the idea that the university was on the street. It’s something that’s fantastically enriching about UCL – it’s not one little compound, it’s so much a part of London, this great metropolitan city.

Living in London

Being part of that city was a big draw, and it made my life at UCL that much more special. I could get from college to Tottenham Court Road through the British Museum courtyard, and I could visit my favourite works of art and pieces of history, the world’s most wonderful libraries. I found it amazing that you could go to the National Gallery for free.

The Royal Festival Hall is one of my favourite places. We went to tea dances in the basement – the wonderful staircases floating up above you, the democratic undercroft. It’s a 1950s building, but has a timeless feel.

On my course we only had a few lectures a week, so I spent my days making full use of living in the centre of town, and did the required reading at night. I had a grant – a reasonable amount – but I went back to Sri Lanka with nothing because I’d spent it all! I went to opera, concerts, ballet, shows in the West End, the Barbican. I loved going to the London Contemporary Dance Theatre.

My time in London was the root of a great deal of the confidence I now have; the level of discussions on the course and conversations at the union all gave me a lot of belief in myself and helped me stand up for what I believed in. It was that level of confidence that encouraged me to set up my own practice here in Sri Lanka, something I probably wouldn’t have done if it wasn’t for UCL.

And even though it’s been 20 years since I studied in London I try to visit every year. It’s my second home. Of course it’s changed massively but there’s still that feeling of familiarity: it just has different faces. It’s a really friendly and easygoing place: so civilised.

London is the perfect example of what a great city can be, and it’s still very much a part of me.