Jennifer Laffan - Master of Architecture Stage 6

Image from Master's Architect, Jennifer Laffan to show a lido
As an international open water swimmer, who’s swum the English Channel and competed for Team Ireland in Ice Swimming, winning medals and a 10th place ranking in the world for 500metre freestyle, Jennifer draws on her love of the open water as inspiration for her master’s project, creating an outdoor lido on South Uist.

An injury whilst pursuing a career as a dancer, compelled 26 year-old Jennifer from Galway, Ireland,  to re-consider her career choices and turn to architecture.

The facilities at the Scott’s School of Architecture & Built Environment were a big attraction. She was impressed with the stunning campus and the structure of the undergraduate course which included both Part 1 and Part 2. She also wanted to do a BSc undergraduate course as opposed to an arts one, so that she could have a science based architectural education.

For her master’s project, Jennifer focuses on the Atlantic Fringe and Outer Hebrides, reaching out to islanders on the island of South Uist to find out their needs.  She’s created a Lido with the hope of boosting the island economy through tourism.

As an internationally ranked cold water swimmer and winner of two age group bronze medals and an age group silver in this year’s International Ice Swimming Association World Championships, Jennifer’s inspiration comes from her love of open water swimming. She regularly trains at Aberdeen Beach and the River Dee. This prepares her for competitive ice swimming in water under 5 degrees where she can only wear a standard swim costume, cap and goggles.

Beyond her own personal love of wild swimming, Jennifer also realised how popular open water or wild swimming became during the pandemic. She noticed the rise in 'swim holidays' and books about lidos and different wild swimming spots.  

For her lido, Jennifer creates a built suggestion and design that’s free from some of the constraints, regulations and funding issues you experience in real life.

“I hope people enjoy looking at the drawings and the designs and consider if open water swimming is something they could try or, if they'd visit South Uist - or even better - both!

“I’ve taken an artistic and theoretical approach and developed postcards and posters to "sell" the experience to potential users. This has come through exploring postmodern theories and learnings from an iconic architecture book, "Learning from Las Vegas", that focuses on designs for leisure and tourism facilities in a rural setting. It all links back to this initial idea of boosting tourism to support the economy. That's what's so great about studying architecture, your work can take so many directions and is never boring because of this.”

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Reflecting on her time at RGU and success at combining academic studies with her competitive swimming career, which includes a solo swim of the English Channel in 14 hours and 27 minutes, Jennifer says:

“I will look back on my 6 years at RGU very fondly, although I will remember all the hard work, particularly in the lead up to my English Channel swim. I remember getting in the pool for 6am, swimming for 3 hours then heading to a full day of studio.

“I am proud of the dedication and hard work I showed to maintain training and a university course. I'll remember bringing my swimsuit and squeezing in a quick swim in the River Dee at lunchtime before returning to my coursework. I'll remember the support the lecturers gave me and the excitement when a photo of me popped up on the front page of the P&J paper.

“I have said that being an English Channel swimmer is probably the thing I am most proud of but it is also more than that. It reminded me on the tough days of the course or when deadlines were coming up, that I was able to swim to France in a day so I can get this essay or that set of drawings done on time!”

“I'm very proud of this achievement and happy every time I think of it. I've learned a lot about myself, about how I work, trying to fit in a lot into a busy schedule and the importance of good support and asking for help.”

Jennifer highlights the many pre Covid study trips at Scotts and the support from lecturers particularly during the early years when she was learning about the built environment, styles and histories of architecture. She says the studio days were great and RGU’s architecture society, 57'10, which hosts a lecture series featuring different architects each week, were brilliant.

As to what next, Jennifer says she hopes to catch up on some sleep and missed social opportunities. She’s keen to work on her portfolio and apply to practices to complete her Part 3 so she can become a licenced architect. She’s considering working on onsite projects or pursuing a career in construction management, potentially studying RGU's Master's in Construction Management. 

“That's another good thing The School of Architecture and Built Environment. You learn about other disciplines and the potentials they hold. RGU offers a online learning Master's in Construction Management so I may consider that in the future.  

“I’ve learnt how to create real life, practical designs at Scotts. There’s an emphasis on 'realistic' proposals, buildings that are practical and which focus on sustainability and environmental design. These are skills that practices need and which will be a real asset as I build a career as an architect." 

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