How Erasmus designed several new careers for this Canadian architecture grad

Universidad Europea de Madrid
Being surrounded by various types of high-density urbanisms widened his creative flow. Source: Michael Yoshimura

Michael Yoshimura had the incredible chance to experience life abroad at Universidad Europea de Madrid in Spain under the Erasmus study programme. Here, he spent six months learning about engineering and design while taking in all Madrid had to offer: architecture, food and warm weather. 

“I’ve always been deeply interested in design ever since a young age — I think the genesis was constructing children’s building block kits,” Yoshimura says about his passion for design. Today, his work has been commissioned for Star Wars, BMW Series 2, among others. One of his short films — using science-fiction to address the potential of architecture to narrate the contemporary notion of “Shinto techno animism” — were featured in several film festivals, includingToronto Society of Architects Playlist Festival and AFFR Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam.

Could he imagine his creativity and knowledge as it is now if he hadn’t travelled to Spain to immerse himself in a new world? Below we speak to this Canadian designer on his experience abroad and how it made a difference to his career:

Where does your love of design stem from?

I would always follow the instructions to make the children’s building block kits when I was younger and then deconstruct it. In between this process, I’d try to either add or improve on its original design. 

I think this process of constructing and deconstructing made me very curious about how individual things are put together to create a whole and how design can be iterated upon by changing parameters. Creating things with a spatial aspect to them always kept me curious about the built environment and its design. 

The simple idea that you could build something which started from an idea in your head, then later inhabitat that same space in reality really fascinated me. This spatial aspect of creating was what eventually led me into studying architecture in university.

What made you apply for the Erasmus programme at Universidad Europea de Madrid?

My bachelor’s in architecture at Carleton University in Canada allows for Erasmus study in the third year of the programme. From speaking with students in the year above me who had been abroad, I knew this was an opportunity that I wanted to have. 

Universidad Europea de Madrid

One of his projects called “Waterworld” where the concept is a future post-apocalyptic world covered in water. Source: Michael Yoshimura

As a young architect, it’s important to physically experience architecture so I applied to the Erasmus programme at Universidad Europea de Madrid. I was fortunate to have been granted an amazing opportunity to study in Madrid for six months.

What difference do you think it would have made if you didn’t study at Universidad Europea de Madrid under the Erasmus programme?

Studying architecture in Canada was overall an amazing experience. However, in my opinion, one aspect of an architectural education which cannot be offered in North America are the various types of high-density urbanisms found in Europe and Asia. 

The availability to experience large amounts of architectural projects in person can’t be ignored. In this sense, having the chance to study in Spain had a vastly positive impact on my education. I believe if I hadn’t spent those six months in Madrid, I would have a very different outlook on architecture and design today.

Tell us more about your career trajectory now as a designer and artist.

As in any professional field, I believe that you learn the most while working on the job. However, the journey of a designer and creative is not linear. Becoming a designer and finding your creative voice simply takes a huge amount of time along with trial and error in order to hone your craft. 

I have been fortunate to work for many amazing offices. To also work alongside extremely talented people has contributed to the designer that I am today. My first job in the architectural industry was at AGATHOM Co., a design-oriented office that specialises in residential projects. 

Universidad Europea de Madrid

“The simple idea that you could build something which started from an idea in your head, then later inhabitat that same space in reality really fascinated me,” he says. Source: Michael Yoshimura

The 12-month internship was an amazing learning experience and I feel that a lot of how I think about spatial design in general can be attributed to my time at their office. I have also worked in Tokyo, at Atsushi Kitagawara Architects. Working in Japan opened my mind as to what the endless possibilities that design could be. 

In Japan, there are little to no preconceived notions of “western” ideologies. So, design is approached from a very different perspective. I have also worked for Dialog Design and Denegri Bessai Studio, both located in Toronto. During my time there, I was particularly interested in computational design and architectural visualisation. After I completed my master’s, I began freelancing as a computer graphics (CG) artist. 

While all my work experiences have been beneficial to contributing to how I think about design, I think my personal passions have most influenced the direction of my career. My muses of science-fiction, computer-generated imagery (CGI), film and cinematography have all led me to becoming a CG artist. This led me to desire a career as a Concept Artist in the film and video game industry.

Walk us through your art on your website. Where do you draw inspiration from and do you have any tips for “artist’s block”?

My website is straightforward in the sense that it simply showcases my personal and professional projects. All of the personal projects showcased are all inspired by things from my childhood, films or current muses. 

At the moment, I am inspired most by cinema. Sometimes I watch a movie and there could be a certain moment which can spark a whole new narrative that I want to explore. I might be paraphrasing but I remember reading a quote by Pablo Picasso: “Inspiration exists but it finds me already at work,” he says.

YAVIN 4 HANGAR from M Yoshimura on Vimeo.

I really believe that there really isn’t such a thing as “inspiration” but rather, to manifest any great idea, it takes time and a lot of trial and error. I usually have two to three personal passion projects going on at all times. This helps me level up my skills and experiment with new techniques. 

If I am feeling stuck on one project, I take a break from it and work on other ones. I almost always find that I can borrow solutions from one project and apply them to another. This is once again important: always testing out new ideas.

What skills or knowledge do you wish you learned more during uni?

I don’t have any particular regrets of wishing I had learned more during uni, but if I could pick one thing it would have been to dive into the world of CG a bit earlier. I think it would have been nice to get a headstart with those technical skills. At the end of the day, creative fundamentals are much more important to learn and master.

What advice do you have for international students who are planning to enroll in the same course as yourself?

I would highly recommend giving yourself the opportunity to study abroad. It was such an amazing and positive growing experience!

List your three favourite things about Madrid. Also, what’s one thing you miss from there and how did you substitute it?

Tough question. There are so many amazing things about Madrid I love, but my top three: the architecture and urbanism, the food, and the warm weather. I love when cities have a certain density about them. For me, Madrid is tightly knit and walkable. 

I enjoy cities where you can just wander the streets and discover something — Madrid has that charm. I’m actually not a fan of cold weather (even though I’m Canadian) so being in Spain in winter was a great step-up from back home. 

One thing I miss from Madrid is going to the “mercado” (market) and picking up a fresh “empanada” (pasty pastry usually filled with ground beef). Unfortunately, there is no substitute — nothing beats the taste you can get in Spain!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I’m lucky in the sense that for what I do, there is no need to be tied down to a single location. It’s truly international. That being said, I would love to head back to Madrid and Tokyo to live in both of those locations again.

I’m also very blessed in that I love what I’m doing now, but one goal which I would like to achieve is to be an art director in either my own studio or another company in the film or video game industry.

Follow his artwork here: MYoshimura, Instagram, Vimeo and Youtube.