St James’s 1983 Leaver

Malvern Alumnae 100 Lesley Lokko

I arrived from the blistering heat of Ghana in September 1981 with only a vague idea of how cold England might be. It took me about ten minutes to work out that most of my first term would be spent carrying my duvet around. Westminster House (as the Lower Sixth boarding house was called in those days) was probably fairly well heated but I remember getting out of a warm bed on winter mornings as being the hardest thing I’d ever done.

I left Malvern two years later for Oxford University to study languages (Hebrew and Arabic) but switched to Sociology and moved to the US instead. Five years later, after wondering what on earth to do with a degree in Sociology, I applied to University College London to study Architecture, not realising at the time that it was a seven-year process! And of course, as soon as I’d finished, I became a novelist.

People often comment on the rather drastic career switches I’ve made, particularly from architect to novelist, but in fact, they’re simply different facets of the same interest: a deep and abiding curiosity about the world around us; how we relate to one other; the relationships we form, both with each other and with our built and imagined environments. For the past twenty years, I’ve been teaching architecture rather than practising and I’m still astounded by our capacity to imagine a different and better world, whether at the scale of a house or a city.

Architecture is a wonderfully maddening and exhilarating discipline. I’ve been an architect for nearly thirty years and it still has the power to surprise and excite me, which is a wonderful thing to say about anything, never mind your job! Now that I run a school of architecture, I have less time than I’d like to teach, which still remains the most important thing I’ve ever done. Students are endlessly inspiring. I really do believe that.

What does success look like?

Having choices (no matter what those choices are).

What is your best piece of advice?

Work hard and be prepared to listen. Trust the process, not the outcome. And remember there’s very little ‘social’ about social media.