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Ashley Mbithe Liku
For Ashley, graduating from ECA presented the opportunity to showcase the vast array of skills she acquired during her time studying. Reflecting on her work, like she did at university, to ensure she is able to continue to evolve her design skills and processes.

Since graduating, despite the global pandemic, Ashley has continued to find work in the interior design field. The pandemic has required her to be creative with the design process due to the change in methods of communication between the client and suppliers, a lot of which she learnt during her time at ECA.

Why I chose to study an MA at ECA

I selected ECA because of its renowned array of programmes in various fields of art and design. I took time to research the college and discovered it had a rich background in various fields such as Music and Architecture. This was one factor that convinced me that this was the right choice for me.

With the University of Edinburgh being a top university internationally and having merged with ECA several years before, I felt confident that the school would provide an excellent learning space with the availability of research material, quality in the learning programmes, and diversity in the student body and lecturers I would engage with. The location of ECA was another factor that persuaded my selection. I was keen to live in a city with such a vast and deep history that I had only come across in books and other materials. The opportunity to live and experience this city and its rich history first hand was exhilarating.

My time at ECA

The first project we undertook as a class was the ‘reimagining and reuse' of the Playfair Library at the heart of Old College. The library had been designed by Scottish architect William Playfair in 1832. The University has worked to preserve the space in its original form. The library, however, is rarely accessed by students and staff, and is mainly used to host events. Our task was to create within it a new function that would have a university community use which would allow it to be used rather than having it sit as a mausoleum. The challenging questions posed by our lecturers enabled us to push design beyond what we considered the norm.

This was better represented in the work I did for the second project, when we worked on the Talbot Rice Gallery. The aim and concept of this project was to help the gallery gain a presence in the university community, who knew little about it. This task was challenging but very interesting to undertake, and I had the opportunity to share and learn from my classmates and see different perspectives and approaches to tackling a similar challenge.

In this one year, I challenged myself to take on extra courses offered at the University. I took up developmental psychology and a philosophy class on reason and passion. These were courses that I had personal interest in and had never had the opportunity and access to in my undergraduate studies back home in Kenya. The mode/method of teaching as well as its content were new and exciting to undertake. These broadened my perspective, not only in my studies but a general life view, and diversified my social interactions.

My final project at ECA was to tie together the entire experience of the year and write this in an academic format – the dissertation. I opted to tell a story through my projects highlighting the challenges and achievements I had undertaken. In one of the classes we took, I learned that design can be expressed in writing, and not always pictorial. This showed me that communication is key in the work I produce. However, this is not linear, and there are various ways of disseminating the work I produce.

"The challenging questions posed by our lecturers enabled us to push design beyond what we considered the norm."

Ashley Mbithe Liku

Interior, Architectural and Spatial Design - MA alumna

My experiences since graduating

I was overjoyed to have completed the programme with work I was proud of, mostly my dissertation and graduating with a merit honour. It was a great reminder that the long evenings of work and various other activities had paid off. It also dawned on me that I would soon be leaving the city of Edinburgh, a place that I had grown to love, appreciate and call home.

I was not sure of what direction my career would take after returning to Kenya. One thing that I did promise myself was that I would not return to work as usual. I was keen to emulate and showcase all the different ideologies and perspectives I had picked up along the way. I promised myself to always make time to reflect on my work every so often to review any growth, disparity, or divergence from my projection of my career.

Covid-19 was the first shocker after returning back home. Just as I was settling and making many grand plans, work in general was brought to a standstill. Being the busy-body that I am, I struggled to stay home, and it took a while to adjust to this new way of living. Thankfully I was able to get a few new projects to work on. This also helped me to appreciate the design process even more, because with a change to our mode of interaction with the client and suppliers, I had to devise different ways of working, a lot of which I credit my courses at ECA for.

One of the joyous projects I am happy to have undertaken was the design of two very different retail stores. The spaces being very small, I had to use concepts that attracted footfall and at the same time ensure the tiny spaces felt vast - lessons picked up from designing the Playfair Library.

My advice to new and current students

Walk in with an open mind. The aim of the programme is to broaden one’s perspective through the various interactions with the people and the material you come across.

Be courageous. Do not fear questioning your lecturers, they do not have a monopoly of knowledge and the interactions and conversations are ways to breed new ideologies and concepts.

Leaving ECA and starting out in the ‘real’ world and not a conceptual one like in school can be quite scary. Very often you may doubt yourself and your work but the key is to keep pushing and trusting that your work will be appreciated.

The one thing I did not learn in school, both undergraduate and postgraduate, was how to manage clients, their temperaments as well as their expectations. This takes time to understand but keep a keen eye and always observe how a project runs along. Time and patience become your teacher here.

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