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Salem Al Qudwa is originally from Palestine. He is a PhD by design research student in the School of Architecture and the title of his thesis is 'Architecture of the Everyday as a Responsive Possibility for the Gaza Strip, Palestine'.
I joined Oxford Brookes University as a full-time PhD by Design Student in 2015, after 11 years of working in design and construction, and teaching architecture in Palestine. My research curiosity resides in how to engage local affected communities in the reconstruction process and to empower them to build their own appropriate homes that respond to their socio-cultural practices while making efficient use of scarce resources.
Being a research student is a transformative experience. I have great supervisors who are always available for advice and checking on the development of my research. This fantastic supervision provides me with a much focused research aim and enables me to enjoy working towards my PhD. In my first year, I made excellent progress not only on the specific topic, but also on how to manage my research project, providing me with a strong foundation for my PhD by design.
My first semester at the School of Architecture was very energetic. I have attended most of the academic events for researchers at Brookes, including extensive training sessions and learning about others’ methodological approaches through the weekly lunch research seminars, which I found really valuable.
In addition to architecture and as a self-taught visual artist, I was regularly attending art sessions at the School of Arts. Through presenting my work to a different audience and reading my work through sketching and mapping, it was subjected to analysis and discussion. It is wonderful presenting my research at its initial stage and receiving constructive feedback which enables me to firm up my ideas and further develop my research. This encourages a more cross-disciplinary learning process, as well as more networking opportunities.
Oxford Brookes School of Architecture has earned an outstanding reputation as one of the top five architecture schools in the UK. Being a part of that is a hugely enjoyable and exciting experience. I am always surrounded by high quality teaching and research, imagery sketches, drawings and craft models. The Library at JHB building is a great source of knowledge where I spent most of the summer working on my literature review.
In May 2015, I presented my research at the 3rd Annual TDE Student Research Conference with a presentation and a poster. My colleagues’ presentations were vibrant and supported by their mapping and works in reality. This gave a real value to the essence of our research and its role towards the development of our communities. My poster was judged to be the most informative and graphically appealing and I was pleased that my work was recognised in this way.
I have attended most of the Architecture Society's evening lectures by high profile professionals. In addition to that, the city of Oxford gave me the chance to fulfil my artistic potentials. I have visited many exhibitions and art galleries. Through walking tours, I have developed a good understanding of contemporary and modern architecture within the ‘city of dreaming spires’.
Trying to give something back to Oxford Brookes and the city of Oxford, I am working as a guest tutor in reviews and tutorials for undergraduate and master studios. I took part in installing the end of year show of the School of Architecture in May 2015. I also volunteered with a registered charity to take care of elderly people with physical and mental health problems.
In the first year, I self-financed my research with very limited resources. Even though I was aware of the challenges and financial constraints related to leaving my family and starting a new life as a research student in the UK, I was persistent to take such a challenge as I believe my studies will help me offer something meaningful in return, not only for myself but for the whole community. I see it as a form of contribution to the families in Gaza who are desperate for a change to happen.
In January 2016 I received the Oxford Brookes 150thAnniversary Funding (Architecture Student Award). I am proud to have received this recognition which has encouraged me to push on with my studies and never give up. I also became a research assistant to the Design Theory and Practice research group. Working closely with design researchers is an exciting research experience.
Achieving such a great deal during my first year at Brookes and being very proud of participating with this lively atmosphere, I am so thankful for my inspiring Supervisors, the Research Team and my cheerful PhD colleagues. It is amazing when you have the chance to be in a foreign country and have the support of a great group of people and this will always be the most beautiful part of my journey in Oxford. Time is flying and right now I am carrying out my field work in Gaza, looking forward to returning soon to Oxford and to Oxford Brookes.