Adelina Koleva stands in front of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Photo by Tom Medwell

London — there’s nothing quite like it. Nine million people, stretching 600 square miles and nearly 2,000 years of history. I first arrived in 2014 to complete the one-year internship requirement for Rice’s architecture degree. Though that year was a difficult adjustment, it was like the world was at my doorstep. Following my graduation in 2016, I received a job opportunity and decided to return.

I am currently working at AFK Studios, an Australian practice that established its London outfit a few years ago. The project I am working on is a boutique office building in Shoreditch, near the new Amazon headquarters. Since the destruction of the area in 1940 by German bombing, East London is still attracting new development today.

For an architect, it’s extraordinary how comfortable London is being both a historic site and a 21st-century metropolis. My home — a plain but agreeable tower block from the 1960s — seems entirely at peace with its stylish Victorian neighbors. Even a monument like the Victoria and Albert Museum can be the subject of bold contemporary additions.

London taught me that an intelligent design recognizes building tradition, and in doing so takes a more precise position on if, and how, to depart from it.

Though I enjoy architectural practice, my intention is to enter graduate school in a few years’ time. Last summer, in an inspired attempt to revisit academia, I enrolled in a program with the Architectural Association Visiting School. During the course, I moved to the Dorset countryside to learn advanced timber fabrication techniques such as steam bending, which is normally used in wooden boats and barrels. We applied this knowledge to the construction of a small library sited in the middle of the campus forest, currently underway. Outside of the city, I became more familiar with English people and culture. As a foreigner in London, I more often run into other foreigners, so it is difficult to meet local people. Thankfully, I have now made some English acquaintances who can laugh at me when I ask them what Marmite is.

I find myself wondering where I’m headed and how this one decision — based almost entirely on sentiment and a weakness for adventure — will alter the course of my life. If that’s what they call a personal journey, then I’m definitely on one while living in London.

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