University of Brighton Alumni Association

Picture of Joel Wallace Erabu

Importance of community spirit at Brighton and beyond

Architecture graduate Joel Wallace Erabu shares how his experience at the University of Brighton has led him to help disadvantaged communities and inspire the next generation of architects. 

The Brighton Effect is all about community, and how we are all connected by that ripple of energy from our time at the University of Brighton. Joel Wallace Erabu shares how his experience of not only the university, but the city itself, gave him a powerful sense of community – and how he has applied this to his own international career and principles.

Now working for the University of Calgary and the City of Calgary, he also talks about how some of the connections he made during his time at the university have gone on to be important career contacts.

In addition to the multiple impressive industry recognitions he has received, he also donates a lot of time to mentoring future architects and has spent time working on charitable projects to help disadvantaged communities back home in sub-Saharan Africa.

Sense of community at the University of Brighton

“For me, the University of Brighton is all about the power of community, the strength in numbers and the beauty of arts and culture. Brighton has a large international community that diversifies the experience of living and working there. I found it amazing to connect with people from different parts of the world, different walks of life and hearing their stories.

“Such experiences make a huge difference because we get to learn so much more through other people’s lived memories. Furthermore, many of the people I met early on in Brighton have stayed strong connections for my career moving forward.

“Designers in the UK have projects all over the world, so I thought it would be best to gain this knowledge and experience first-hand. While educational grounding is essential, I think that nothing beats the knowledge and experience you get from venturing out of your comfort zone into the unknown.”

Memories of the city of Brighton and his first taste of success

“I often spent my evening hours basking in the golden hour sun by the West Pier. To me, I found this spot rather iconic, it brings back many memories of the good and the bad times at Brighton. This place sparked my passion for photography, I would take a photo each day in my journal and that was my way of re-living the memories of yesterday.

“In 2017, The Royal Institute of British Architects commissioned a photography competition with Scott Brownrigg, and there I was, an amateur photographer submitting my proposal of a photo of the West Pier, a photo that was very personal to me because of the memories and emotions it evoked. A few weeks later I got notified that I was one of the award winners with my West Pier photo – a submission I did not because I expected to win it, but rather because I genuinely love this spot.”

Career after graduating and inspiring future architects through mentoring

“After graduating from Brighton, I landed a job with an architecture firm in London, BACA, doing large-scale commercial projects as well as bespoke community projects in England, Australia and Ghana. In the summer of 2021, I travelled to Ghana to work on a mass housing project on an island near the capital. During this trip, I was able to engage with the community, explore the landscape, go through planning with the authorities, and explore the West African culture.

“I currently work for the University of Calgary and City of Calgary doing research into technologies for building resilient cities of the future.”

“I have inspired many students through social media, where I share about my work and awards I receive. Many students as a result, have reached out to me for mentorship.”

His work with disadvantaged communities

“I have occasionally participated in charity missions with the United Nations and the Prince Charles Foundation – Enterprise Uganda, training the less fortunate in rural areas of the country on business and economic life skills. Furthermore, I have observed first-hand some of the amazing work done by UN-Habitat to better the lives of those living in dire settlements in the country where most people live below the poverty line. These experiences have shaped my view of the world and sparked my enthusiasm to improve the lives of these communities.

“In Brighton, I gained new knowledge on advanced design techniques, and exposure to various types of projects at different scales and stages. This passion for charity and my commitment to philanthropic work, also led me to merge my architecture design and fashion – henceforth I worked with a UK design company to sell branded designer clothes and all the proceeds were sent to my village back in Uganda, where we support child education and renovate homes.

“Success to me would be uplifting the lives of my people back home in Sub-Saharan Africa, more specifically East Africa. There is so much potential in this region and I feel like the exposure I’ve got from my travels would be invaluable knowledge to bestow upon those communities. Giving back to the less fortunate fills my heart with joy, and to bring a smile to one helpless child would be success to me.”

Industry recognition and impressive accolades

“My master’s project secured the top position in Dezeen‘s compilation of the ten most captivating projects of the Virtual Design Festival 2020. The editorial team at Dezeen acknowledged the project for its consistently inclusive and collaborative approach. It stood out for demonstrating how positive design can contribute to and enhance the world.

“In the year 2020, I received a nomination for the esteemed Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Students Silver Medal. This prestigious award is bestowed annually to recognize the most exceptional design project crafted by an individual student or a collective effort of students.

“I also assumed the role of an ambassador for RIBA Future Architects’ campaign, a platform designed to showcase exemplary work from emerging student and graduate architects and my master’s thesis was the main feature across the social channels of RIBA, inspiring future architects.

“I was honoured to be invited to speak for the RIBA Class of 2021/22 welcome series, which was published on YouTube and across RIBA’s social media platforms.

“In 2022, I was invited to join a panel for a fireside chat at the Kaplan International Conference (who run the university’s international pathway college). This was an amazing opportunity to speak about my time at the University of Brighton and also inspire many future leaders.

“My work also received an honourable mention in the Urban Land Institute Hines competition 2023. This is the biggest Urban Design competition in North America with a prize of $50,000 for the winning team. I was part of a team of 5 that ended 7th in the competition, we topped the entire Canada region, only beaten by Harvard, Virginia, Berkley, Cornell and Texas A&M. I worked on the Landscape architecture potion of our team’s submission, and this was a major highlight of the work.”

Advice for the next generation of students

“Never get comfortable with where you are now. Keep seeking challenges, explore different fields outside your own because that is the best way, and you’ll find out what truly is your purpose on this earth.

“Keep an open mind, what you study is not necessarily where you’ll end up, but rather use the university experience as a launch pad to a journey filled with adventure and loads of character.”

AlumniArchitecturebrighton effectgraduateinternationalUniversity of Brighton

Alex Petrovic • March 7, 2024

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