Shanzina Alam is passionate about creating architecture that will pave the way for more people to feel comfortable in the world around them. Her younger brother is autistic and Shanzina has personal experience of the difficulties that neurodivergent people can face within traditional architectural confines.
Designing with purpose
“I am so satisfied with studying for my master's here. It is not only about being creative, it is about focusing on the actual purpose you have for designing something; how does it work for the community or environment?”
And speaking about environmental factors, Shanzina adds:
“It is also about considering what already exists, what can be reused. One of our main projects is about regenerative design and how we can reuse materials. How can we reclaim them?
“Studying here, I feel like I have more meaning in my degree, and more in life overall.”
Pioneering architectural tutors
Shanzina was delighted to be offered the opportunity to work with Professor Flora Samuel on the Community Consultation for Quality of Life (CCQOL). Flora is the lead academic for the CCQOL, which is a map-based model of community consultation. It aims for a more purposeful, community-minded age of architecture and long-term sustainability.
“Part of this project is the Urban Room, where local people can come and give their views on the future of their city.
“I feel very pleased to be involved and to be able to investigate such questions as: how would an autistic individual be able to join in, or what are some of the anticipations that neurodivergent people might be facing?”
Architectural practice that engages with places and communities
“We can develop our environment for neurodivergent adults by learning from the schools that have done so much for autistic children. We need to engage those adults into community consultation and get their voices heard.”
Shanzina’s brother is too young to fully comprehend what her objectives are, but as she points out, the family may not always be around for him in the future, and this gives her the motivation to work at creating spaces where he can feel comfortable.
Having been a carer for children with hidden or physical disabilities, Shanzina has seen what families and carers go through alongside the child. These experiences have made her determined to contribute to creating communities that are inclusive and welcoming for all.
A mentor in the family
As well as being inspired by her brother, Shanzina always had a mentor in her father.
“My family has a property business in Bangladesh, and my father would say to me when I was young: ‘Draw this up for me, make it look nice!’ and my interest developed from there.”
When he sadly passed away during Shanzina’s first year of her master's degree, she took on a great deal of family responsibility. She is grateful that her tutors were there to encourage and support her.
“Fortunately I had great tutors who were understanding and kind. They encouraged me to do the best I could at the time and luckily I got through it.
“I knew my dad would be supporting me.”