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Study Abroad Alumni: Madina Masimova on becoming a spatial designer

A person in a white coat on a street corner
A person in a white coat on a street corner

Written by
Jieying Shao
Published date
16 February 2022

Madina Masimova studied Interior and Spatial Design at Chelsea College of Arts during the summer of 2019 and joined the 2020 Integrated Study Abroad program to study BA (Hons) Interior and Spatial Design at Camberwell College of Arts.

Originally from Azerbaijan State Art Academy, Madina is now studying for her MFA degree at the Parsons School of Design in New York City. Coming from a small country with a big vision, Madina has been following her dream since childhood. Here she shares her journey with you.

A model of a building

“I've always had a passion towards art and design but at the early stages of my journey I was called untalented and lacking in imagination. However, I never gave up and discovered that talent is working hard on something you want passionately with perseverance.”

Why did you choose to become a designer?

I always had a strong feeling inside me, a feeling of becoming a creator. I started my journey at 5 years old by expressing myself through painting with bright colours, trying various mediums and techniques alongside studying science. As I was growing up, I paid more attention to spaces and the way they evoke various feelings in different people. I experimented with modeling whimsical furniture and places. Since then, I have never stopped questioning everything around me and pushing the limits…

While studying for my bachelor’s in Interior Design, I investigated the notion of interiority. My questions led me to the exploration of patterns, locating interior design within a broader logic: spatial design. Space is ubiquitous and brings design, science, art, and technology together forming a constellation comprising sustainability and social justice. This is what makes me a spatial designer.

Being from Azerbaijan, what journey did you take to get to where you are now, and how did you overcome any setbacks?

Since I started my journey at an early age, I have encountered numerous rejections and hardships. I've always had a passion towards art and design but at the early stages of my journey I was called untalented and lacking in imagination. However, I never gave up and discovered that talent is working hard on something you want passionately with perseverance. I felt like giving up a lot of times but I never did - and my parents’ role in supporting my passion and me was great. As I was growing in my journey, I felt that I couldn’t fully express myself as a designer at home and wanted to explore the world, challenging the notion of design and its representation. My dream was to be a designer in big cities like London and New York and I have started realizing it.

A person in a white dress on a street

Why did you choose to study with UAL Study Abroad?

I remember searching for the top universities in the world in art and design for my study abroad and UAL being second on the list. During my course searches, my attention was caught by Interior and Spatial Design. Here I encountered the spatial design term for the first time and started to research the discipline.

How was the application process, do you have any advice for people who want to apply?

The application process was different for summer and integrated study abroad programmes. BA(Hons) Interior and Spatial Design Integrated Study Abroad comprised, a design portfolio, the IELTS exam, reference letter, and personal statement. I would advise including the process in the portfolio, as it to demonstrates experimentation and your way of thinking. Be brave and follow your dreams!

What were your first impressions of London and UAL / specific colleges?

For me, coming to London to study design at UAL was a dream come true. I was amazed by the resources available at UAL and the opportunities London opened up to me. I was exposed to a big city for the first time and met a lot of like-minded creatives.

What did you most enjoy about your classes?

What I enjoyed the most in all my classes were the opportunities for self-expression and development, support in creative endeavors, critical feedback and discussions with classmates and professors.

A picture containing person, indoor, window

Tell us about your favorite project.

Welcome to the Cone Ground, where the only limit is imagination! I would like to talk about my recent project: The Secret Lives of Senses.

So, I invite you on a journey, where touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste are activated and intertwined through multiple interactions. The Secret Lives of Senses questions risk and safety, materials and ideologies embedded into play and toys as an intervention into the Bleecker Playground in New York City, ameliorating children’s post-Covid interactions with peers and parents. It comprised a lot of experimentations including, but not limited to, numerous site visits and analysis, children’s and parents’ psychology research, huge and miniature storyboards, models, 1:1 prototype,  hours in metal and wood workshops, personal expression. My design proposals started with small touches to the playground: shelves under the benches for storing shoes during sandpit play, musical cones activating multiple senses and types of play, some soft tiles and steps added on stone surfaces.

Diagram of The Secret Lives of Senses.

As my project was developing, I explored and mapped sound using salt and sand for the experience provided by the musical cones. Then, through animation, I focused on altering the scale of my design proposals. Eureka! Cones in various scales were revealed to me from a different perspective and became ubiquitous in the playground. My Playground transformed into the Cone Ground!

A picture containing outdoor, ground, way, sidewalk. A person leaning against a white cylinder

Tell us more about the London-based work you’ve done. How is it different to your creations from back home or New York?

When I arrived in London, I felt that my design approach was more appreciated and supported there, than back home. As I study my masters degree in New York, my experience is again different. If London helped me to understand who I am as a designer, New York created an opportunity for me to dive into a brand-new environment, realize myself and experiment more with my ideas and approaches, while learning a lot every day from my professors and peers.

I did two study abroad programmes in London. In summer 2019 I worked on The Melody of Nature project, which is the architectural intervention to the Barcelona Pavilion inspired by elements of Gaudi’s work. I applied geometrical forms and organic shapes drawn from nature to the pavilion by creating a sense of landscape in the space.

dancing female in front of a  building

During my 2020 study abroad I worked on Esmeralda and Inflatable Shed projects. Esmeralda is based on Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’ book describing fantastical cities involving various themes: desire, time, death, trade, and memory. Esmeralda, the trading city, catches attention by its spatial complexity, zigzag routes, and similarity to mathematical dilemmas. I visualized Esmeralda through transforming eternity, adventure, and secret into spaces.

A model of a house

Inflatable Shed is a response to garden shed hacking in the area of Camberwell College of Arts. It transforms a pent shed into a Performance Art Space for degree shows and performative experiences. Located between the road and university, based on social, human and environmental sustainability, it unites the Camberwell community with university creatives.

Inflatable Shed

How do you find the situation with Covid-19? Has it changed your art practice?

Covid-19 has brought significant spatial modifications into our lives. The pandemic has accelerated the development of extended realities (XR) creating brand-new spatial experiences. The situation has informed my bachelor’s graduate project in 2021: Covid-19 and Spatial Modifications. The project is based on my own observations and is a response to spatial changes happening around the world and specifically me.

Although the pandemic caused significant challenges in our lives, it also informed spatial movement towards virtual environments, creating opportunities for human connection and creation all around the world. This is how I met the Digital Maker Collective (DMC) at UAL after my 2020 study abroad and joined them through their shift to VR meetings. When I joined this collective, I was beginning to develop my graduation project, which also inspired me to dive more into XR. Later, in summer 2021, I organized a virtual event at the London Festival of Architecture inspired by my graduate collection featuring my friends from the Digital Maker Collective as guests.

purple bridge with sky and sea as a background

How did studying with us help you?

Studying at UAL introduced me to the notion of spatial design. After studying my first programme in the summer of 2019 and finding myself in this creative community, I decided to come back in 2020 to discover more about spatial design - and myself. I felt with all my heart that I was meant to be a spatial designer.

Madina Masimova is a Spatial Designer committed to exploring space and creating whilst questioning its character. Her practice focuses on creating and designing spaces and environments in the conjunction of technology, art, and science. Being always occupied by a space, she is interested in its full investigation, including design in the outer space and metaverse. In her process, Madina explores materials and their sustainability greatly inspired by the Materials & Performance course at the Parsons School of Design. She is a co-founder of KiyMadLin Studios, a collaborative architectural and spatial design studio, created with the mission to educate while participating in design competitions

Find out more about Madina

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