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Institute of Continuing Education (ICE)

Sofia Singler

Dr Sofia Singler

Course Tutor, Master of Studies (MSt) in Architecture (Degree Apprenticeship)

Why should people study your subject?

Architecture offers its students and practitioners a humbling opportunity to contribute to the interpretation, creation, criticism, and adaptation of the built environment. Its simplicity belies endless complexity: architecture is nothing more or less than building—using materials, structures, masses and voids to create space—yet it is impacted by, and impacts, fields ranging from land use to sociology, and from structural engineering to aesthetic theory. 

What is your academic or professional background? 

I trained as an architect at the University of Cambridge and the Yale School of Architecture. I took up my first job as an architect in Boston, Massachusetts, where I focused on educational buildings and infrastructural projects. I returned to Cambridge for my PhD, for which I studied Nordic modernism as a Gates Cambridge Scholar.

How is your subject relevant to our current world? 

Architecture is always relevant, since it endows places and spaces with identity, and has done so for millennia. But it is particularly relevant in the twenty-first century also in light of sustainability. Building is a material, energy and labour intensive practice that has contributed to the climate crisis directly. Now, it carries the responsibility—and opportunity—to respond to the crisis, and to re-cast itself as an endeavour that protects rather than pillages natural resources. 

What books have you published? 

I have just finished writing a monograph titled “The Religious Architecture of Alvar Aalto,” which will be published by Lund Humphries in 2023. The book interrogates the churches, chapels, and cemeteries designed by the Aalto atelier in the twentieth century, suggesting that their architecture embodies a critique directed both at religious dogmatism and the orthodoxies of modern architecture itself.

Who or what has inspired you? 

In Finland, where I grew up, I attended after-school classes in architecture under the supervision of a local architect-builder, Ilpo Vuorela, who ran (and still runs) a one-man design practice on a small island. I remain indebted to him for sparking my curiosity in architecture and for laying the groundwork for my subsequent professional engagement with it. For Ilpo, architecture was both a serious endeavour and a playground for fun; it was about technical expertise and a commitment to construction quality as much as play and intuition.

What's the most rewarding part of teaching?

Teaching is about manifold encounters: encountering students as individuals, encountering texts or buildings together with students, encountering the work of students as a trusted critic, and so on. Some of the most memorable encounters are those that occur far after students have left, that is, when alumni get in touch with updates on their professional paths post-graduation. Whether just to say hi, or to share delayed Eureka moments, it’s always precious to hear from them. A student I hadn’t been in touch with for five years recently wrote: “I finally understood what you said about columns and walls that term!”

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Master of Studies (MSt) in Architecture (Degree Apprenticeship)

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