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Rafael Alao

Rafael Alão

Artist Statement

Everything is connected, and everything has a story, if you only take the time to look and listen closely enough.

When Rafael was a small child, the only way his mother could reliably keep him occupied was by handing him a pad of paper and a bundle of pens or pencils. Whether he found subjects in trains, houses, or dragons, he would surely be entertained in drawing for hours at a time.

As he grew in Lisbon, he found a fascination with the indescribable magic of historical places. He holds many fond memories of visits to the city's many churches, the ruins of the Convento do Carmo (Carmo Convent), the Castelo de São Jorge (St George's Castle) and the archaeological site under the Sé de Lisboa (Lisbon Cathedral). This attraction was not just to the rich background of these places, but also to the mystical qualities of spaces which had existed for hundreds of years and whose original functions were invisible today save for markings on stone.


Discontent with the abundant poverty and homelessness in his home city, Rafael decided he would dedicate his life to helping people — and in turn, the world — through housing. At this point he didn't yet know the role of architects in the process of construction, instead looking up to Bob the Builder as an inspiration, but he was sure that creating habitable spaces accessible to all was the way to go about this mission.

After he left Lisbon on his 9th birthday to live in England with his mother, his world was quickly expanded to include a whole country beyond his birthplace of Portugal which he had barely started to discover. Initially shocked by a barrier of language and culture, he quickly adapted to his new life and continued to excel in school. He was accepted to Chestnut Grove Academy in South-West London on the basis of an art scholarship, and his calling to architecture as a profession began solidifying.

Throughout high school Rafael took a broad interest in design and technology, going on to experiment with web design, programming, woodworking, sculpture, and of course, architectural model-making. The beginning of his A-Levels marked a particular point of formation in Rafael's identity. His coursework-heavy study of 3D Design pushed him to try out new creative techniques, make independent field trips to London's museums and urban environments, and seek out knowledge that interested him through lectures and exhibitions. He also became an avid student of Mathematics and Economics, wanting to understand the logic that silently underpins all the colourful facets of life.

During this period, he developed a personal soft spot for Japanese culture, immersing himself in their artwork and music, as well as learning the language (albeit at a very relaxed amateur pace). Though you might have called this semi-obsession a 'phase' of teenagehood — which in truth, did begin with Japanese animation — he still holds the same fascination for Japan today and has found new ways to appreciate their history, technology, and architecture.

After he began his undergraduate study in architecture at Oxford Brookes University, his understanding of design deepened through rigorous exercises in design iteration. He is grateful that academia forced him to experiment and evolve beyond his failures by developing a refined analytical thought process which challenges assumptions and seeks to find the most optimal solution for any given problem without losing the artistry of the imperfect human hand. He graduated in 2021 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and a portfolio in which he holds great pride and sentimentality.

Today, Rafael is putting his RIBA Part I accreditation to use in a local architecture practice based in East Sussex and specialising in high-quality design which seeks to respect site and context as integral parts in the process of creation. As part of a small team, Rafael gets involved in all stages of projects and all types of tasks, ranging from creating accurate digital models and drawings, to communicating with contractors and clients.

Looking forward, Rafael is highly optimistic about his potential in serving society to create a better world — the kind which he has dreamt of for so long.

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