Student Life 

Caolán McCaughley: A passion for Architecture and saying 'Yes' to opportunities

Caolán McCaughley tell us about his story at Ulster, his journey into Architecture and his role at StudioPARK in Belfast.

01 May 2022   21 min read

overlay graphic Caolán McCaughley: A passion for Architecture and saying \'Yes\' to opportunities

My Architecture journey at Ulster

My name is Caolán McCaughley, and I am currently studying for my Master's in Architecture at UU.

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be an architect. The profession seemed to be an accumulation of everything I enjoyed doing; drawing, making, problem solving, etc.

When it came to choosing where to study for my undergraduate degree, I chose Ulster University after attending an open evening at the Belfast campus. I had looked into multiple different options, but Ulster really stood out. I loved the building, and when talking to the current students about what they were working on as well as seeing some of their work on display, I could really see myself enjoying working in the studio spaces and being part of the studio culture.

Choosing to come back to study again at Ulster was an easy decision when deciding on my Master’s degree. The undergraduate course had allowed me to choose what I wanted to spend my time researching and therefore I was always able to pursue my own individual interests in architecture – ultimately those interests led me to studying sustainable architecture in response to the climate emergency. The Master’s degree provided with the opportunity to do this in more depth, and so the decision to return was made easily.

I have been well supported at Ulster and have been taught by many tutors who are experts in their field – right now for instance, I am studying zero emission design and zero emission buildings under Professor Aoife Houlihan Weiberg who has years of experience in developing and testing methods for zero emission design with the ZEB research Centre in Norway - one of the leading research centers on zero emission design.

Caolan with friends

Delivering 'Architects of Change' training

The ‘Architects of Change’ is an ambitious collaboration between Belfast City Council and Ulster University. The project puts architecture students at Ulster at the heart of developing and delivering a manual and training program aimed at ‘bridging the green agenda gap’, equipping local business leaders and stakeholders with the knowledge and skills to help tackle the climate crisis.

As part of the programme, we discuss strategies for creating smart cities and zero emission design solutions, taking examples from other leading countries to see what can be learned and applied here. The overall aim is that with enough relevant training, we can work together towards creating a new and climate resilient Belfast.

My areas of focus are the reduction of emissions in the transport sector, through promotion of active transport methods (walking and cycling) and improved public transport infrastructure. I also focus on what a reduction in car traffic and car dependency does for the quality of the space in the city and what can be gained to our quality of life in the city by promoting better, more sustainable transport habits.

A climate emergency has been declared and change needs to be made. The Architects of Change gives a great platform to discuss the potential solutions to this very real problem with people who can make the necessary changes required to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Architects of Change

Studying and working

Studio Park is an architectural practice based in Belfast; involved mostly in residential scale projects from all over the north but with several projects ongoing in the south of Ireland.

I joined Studio Park in January 2020, halfway through the first year of my master’s degree and have really loved being part of the practice and contributing to the work that they do – I have been fortunate enough to end up in a practice with experienced architects that value teaching, as both directors Ronan and Lisa have experience as lecturers from their time in Australia, and more recently Lisa has been involved as a teaching fellow with Ulster. I am still very early in my career and have a lot yet to learn, so their willingness to take the time to explain certain processes is greatly appreciated.

The experience of working professionally alongside my studies has provided me with great value as I am able to apply what I have been learning daily. I find the difficulty with learning things ‘in theory’ is that often you don’t fully understand it until you have had to apply it in practice, and so working alongside studying gives me that opportunity. The skills I learn in practice are also hugely transferrable back to my studies as the organisational and timekeeping skills required to work professionally help me to be efficient with my time and meet deadlines.

At times it can be quite difficult to juggle work with the demands of university, and if I was to give advice to other students dealing with the same issue it would be this; really understand your deliverables and your timetable, map out what is required of you and when. If you know when your deadlines are, and you commit to being strict with yourself when you need to be then you will find the time to do it all.

Architects of Change

My advice to students

My advice to other students is to get more involved, say yes to more opportunities that UU provides, and it can take you places you never expected.

My course has given me opportunities to travel to many different countries, it has given me opportunities for employment, it has given me the opportunity to write a training manual on techniques to prevent climate change and sit in a room with the Lord Mayor of Belfast and head of the NI Housing Executive to discuss the future of Belfast as a climate resilient city, all of which could easily have passed me by had I not put my hand up and got involved.

Building skills and lifelong friendships

My experience at UU has been fantastic.

Architecture is a notoriously long course and sitting as a first year, the seven long years of study between me and qualification seemed incredibly daunting. Now, sitting in my fifth and final year at Ulster, with six of my seven years almost complete, I can honestly that time went by in a flash.

The course has been challenging but extremely rewarding, and I have been lucky enough to continuously pursue my own individual interests through my studies. I have also been lucky enough to have been part of the ‘studio culture’ that comes with studying architecture, a culture that produces close friendships and connections.

I have graduated with, travelled with, and lived with those who I have met through my time at Ulster, and those are friendships I know will last long after our time at UU.

Why study at Ulster? Because of all the above - the people you will meet, the places you will see, the opportunities that are available to you, and the experiences you will have when you get involved. I have had a great time at Ulster so far and I’m positive you will too.

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