Interview with Rima Tarar, architecture student

Rima Tarar was born in Paris in the early 1990s, where she attended nursery and primary school.  One year into her secondary education, with very little English, she moved to London and was enrolled in a state secondary school in Hackney.  Rima is currently studying interior architecture at London Metropolitan University and considering a number of career options, including architecture.

Tell me about your first school.

I really remember my nursery school, actually.  My nursery school: it was the best time!  It was very little, like four large classrooms and a large playground. That was the school.  And we used to have plays once a week as well.

Tell me what it looked like when you were inside the school.. and more, what it felt like, when you were inside the school.

It had a very comfortable atmosphere.  It was very warm and welcoming.  It was very colourful as well.  I can’t really remember the outside, that’s all I can say, but I just remember colours, the children playing …

Did you learn to read at nursery school?

Yes I remember learning to read at nursery school.  I remember sitting down in the reading area in the classroom with our teachers.   They were first teaching us the letters, how you pronounce, how you say the letters, how it sounds.  And then they would bring those really easy books with just a few words on every page and they would just sit with you and encourage you.

Did you have little desks?

No, it was on the floor, we had little, like cushions and tiny benches and books around us.  It was very, what is the word I’m looking for?  I want to say open, it wasn’t like a structured, typical classroom.  It was mainly on the floor, cushions as I said.

And what about children who found it more difficult to learn?  Would they be taken somewhere else to learn?

No, the teachers wouldn’t separate us, they would put us together so we could all learn together.  And the ones who found it harder, they would usually put them with the good students so they could work together.

And at primary school (in Paris) did the children who were struggling academically have a special place to learn?

Of course they would have extra care, but no, as I said, they wouldn’t have a special place where they would go separately although in secondary they had separate classes.

Where was your favourite place in your primary school, a place with a good memories for you?

OK, we had a massive playground and right at the back of the playground we had this floor that was slightly, er … (gestures with hands) …  um yes, it was a bit raised upwards and we would go and sit there with our friends  and sometimes our parents would just … because it was right next to the gate and fences … and sometimes our parents would just pass and you know, that place was just a place where you could be at school and with your parents at the same time.  So it was very nice.

Did it have a homely feel to it or did it feel very much like a school?

It was very homely.  The teachers were amazingly good with the children so that’s my memory.

And how old when you when you came to London?

Thirteen, I think, thirteen or fourteen.

So you came to a London secondary school with not very good English?

No English.  I just knew enough to introduce myself, say my name, age and ask how people are.

So what were your first impressions of that school?

I cried.  Actually, the school I came to wasn’t bad. It was just the transformation of the way the teachers teach, the way the class was structured, you know, everything.  And I didn’t speak the language either, so it was very difficult.  And also, schools in France are very good schools but they’re very strict, very very strict compared to London.  We had (in London) students eating in the classroom, doing their make-up, listening to music and that was very difficult to watch, you know.  And I did cry in the classroom …

And you felt quite isolated?

I did.

And is there anything that could have been done to make that transition easier and (at the time) did you just have to get over it?

(Nods)  I just had to get over it.  I did have to get over it because the students, the children, are brought up in a different way so you can’t just change everyone just because you’re not happy with it so I was the one who had to get over it.

So what prompted you … you got in touch with a firm of architects to ask for work experience when you were only fourteen, what prompted you to do that?

Um … ever since I was little my mum … my parents always encouraged me to go towards interior architecture and I was always interested in that because I am very interested in art.  And when I was at secondary school my English teacher told me about SCABAL architects (the architects Rima contacted to ask for work experience) and she actually introduced me to them.  I just emailed SCABAL and they invited me over …

Can you see a connection between the environments you saw in school and what you wanted to do with your design, or architecture?  I’m interested in how people transform spaces … maybe something from France?

I think there is a connection because, as I said, when I was in France, my best memories of school was my nursery school because it had this really comfortable and warm environment.  So it was like home; it wasn’t a structured, typical classroom, but whereas other schools, like secondary schools, colleges and universities are just tables and chairs, and I don’t really like it.  But when I came to London and, for example, when I  went to Haggerston school we had classrooms, tables, chairs.  But then we had this one room that only one specific lesson would use.  It had colourful lights and it had big beans (bean-bags) and we would sit on the floor and listen to music it was just our own world and I think that brought me back to the memory of my nursery school and it made me feel like home …

I’m just thinking about that nursery experience and how it influenced your path in interior design …

Yes, I think that’s what I want to bring back to schools, you know, I want students to feel, if I was to design schools, I would just want them to feel, not that they were ‘at school’ – of course they are there to learn – but they have to enjoy their learning.  Now I walk past schools and see everyone sitting down listening to their teachers but (then) the room was ours and we were learning with passion and I think that’s what I’d bring back.

That’s such a shame that doesn’t happen, but do you think it’s the design of the spaces that stops that from happening, is it because of the spaces or something else, some mentality that we have to have desks …

Well of course we have to have desks, but I think it’s also to do with … (pauses)  I think I’m going to bring colours into this.  I think colours have a big effect.  Because each colour brings a different mood.  Because classrooms are usually greyish and that’s a boring colour.  But whereas if it was, like, with white walls and colourful furniture that would just bring vividness.  And I think that’s what affects most, I think that’s what I believe most affects students ….

So you think that would have a positive effect?  

Yes.  Because I remember classrooms were very dull. There was not much sunlight, it was just artificial light and we had beige walls with grey curtains.

Do you think it’s more to do with feeling valued that someone’s put a lot into a design and made it beautiful or do you think it’s more because it lifts your spirits to be in a beautiful place?

It’s a bit of both, because you know that the one who designed the classroom or the one who made it cares for you, so it’s a nice feeling.  But it’s also uplifting.

So if you could change one thing about schools it would be that?

It would definitely be that.

And how do you think that you could get a better communication between the people who have the money to build schools and people like you who could be designing (the interior of) schools … is there a way to have a conversation about that?

I have actually been part of something very similar because my friend opened a boarding school and of course they needed help from other people because they didn’t get help from the government.

This is a difficult question.  Of course they would have to work together.

And what if the teachers don’t think like that?

This generation is changing and people have to get used to it.  And so, I would also encourage the teachers to get used to the change because, I think, it’s the children who are trying to learn and teachers being good at it does help a lot.  But if we do whatever the teachers tell us, it may go against what a child needs.  I think schools should mainly be about the children because they are the ones who need the attention.

This interview with Rima Tarar was recorded at on 20th May 2015 in Clerkenwell, London.

Interview with Rima Tarar, architecture student, London Metropolitan University.

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