Natalie’s MAD internship in Beijing

Natalie has incorporated a lot of travel into her studies, heading to the Northern Territory, the Netherlands, and most recently travelling to Beijing to complete a six-month internship at MAD Architects funded by the Macdonald Scholarship. We caught up with her to find out about her experiences so far.

Natalie Keynton
Natalie and colleagues at MAD Architecture in Beijing.

What was your favourite subject in the Master of Architecture program to date and why?
I am a second year Master of Architecture student and so far I have been very lucky to participate in two studios which gave me a totally new perspective on architecture and collaborative design. Bower Studio involved traveling to the remote Northern Territory to work with a local community to actually build an extension to their arts and culture centre. And in Opportunistic Urbanism we travelled to the Netherlands and explored the challenges of architecture with an urban design lens. These immersive experiences were challenging and fascinating. They also provided greatly contrasting contexts for architectural design.

What are the most valuable skills that you have learnt?
Through studios I have learnt how to use design to solve problems. Construction and history subjects have also given me a good grasp of practical knowledge which has been helpful during my internship at MAD Architects. However, I am most grateful to the tutors who have taught me that it is okay to not know all the answers and have shown me how to find them.

You received the Macdonald Scholarship, which involved funding to complete an overseas internship. What first inspired you to apply for the Macdonald Scholarship?
The Macdonald Scholarship was advertised in the student newsletter. I was itching to see another country and experience an international practice from the inside. The scholarship meant I could expand my horizons, live in a place that was unfamiliar to me, and learn from renowned architects - it was too good an opportunity to miss!

Why did you choose to do your internship at MAD Architects?
Having read MAD's manifesto during 21st Century Architecture, I felt that our design philosophies aligned but with vastly different approaches. I was interested to experience a style so different from the one I was cultivating. I was also keen to live in Beijing, a thriving metropolis with a culture so different to my own, and to try to learn Mandarin.

What projects did you work on at MAD?
During my time at MAD I was lucky to work on one international competition from start to finish, seeing the whole design and competition process, as well as on a variety of projects internationally and locally in China. I've found it especially interesting to compare the projects between countries and see how the projects are managed differently according to their location.

I worked on one competition in Paris, which required researching French regulations and building codes to ensure that our design was appropriate for the context. The competition also demanded a more advanced proposal, whereas the competitions for local projects are much more conceptual.

Interestingly, the project I am currently working on in China has a mere six month turnaround time from the project commission to breaking ground! This means that concept design, design development and construction drawings must all be completed within four or five months - a crazily short time frame for any architectural project. The architectural scene in China is moving much faster and is far more ambitious. It feels like there are fewer regulations around what you can and can't build, leading to some truly extraordinary projects with unbelievably short timelines, making it a stimulating place to practice.

Was it easy to transition from studying to working at MAD?
I was very pleased to find that learning doesn't stop when you start work, so in a way it's not hard to transition. Beijing's demanding work culture however, is very different from working in Australia, but living in a new environment and working in an international team is a very rewarding challenge.

What are you doing or planning to do when you have completed your studies at Melbourne?
Once I graduate I will begin working towards my registration and then hopefully continue to travel with work and experience a range of practices and cultures.

What advice do you have for other students thinking of studying here?
I could never have imagined that there would be so many incredible possibilities for developing my skills and knowledge. The University of Melbourne is overflowing with opportunities, so make sure you get out there and find them! Apply for everything, because you never know where it will take you.

Dean's Honours Awards
Natalie Keynton receives the Macdonald Scholarship alongside Rick Macdonald and Prof Donald Bates.