Architecture: A School of Thought for Survivors

Life-Lesson #10

“Who We Are”

Countless times I have sat at my desk in the design studio and thought to myself, “What am I doing?”

Usually, I mean this question literally, as on some occasions in studio when the delirium has hit me like a ton of bricks and the model I am working on begins to resemble Duchamp’s Fountain, 1917. Today, I am thinking of this question more figuratively.

So far, the toughest years of my life have been the ones I’ve spent in architecture school. The long hours, the sleepless nights, the brutal critiques… Oddly, the number of times I have thought about quitting architecture school has only been more than a few: once during the spring of my freshman year with the worst professor I had ever had, second, my sophomore year when I had been working on a final project in Design Studio III, and now, my junior year, finishing my first semester of graduate school (as I am in an accelerated masters program).

It’s funny, all design students share a common “secret:” if you haven’t thought about quitting architecture at least more than once, you’re insane. We all (design students) walk around with the weight of our schoolwork on our backs – some of us literally carrying our plexi glass and matte board! At the end of the day, I think all design students want to be architects; whether or not we get there is the insurmountable foe that we dream does not exist.

As architecture students, I think we all carry the concern that, even though we will have worked our chops off in school, we are somehow pitifully destined to become “CAD monkeys.” Twenty-somethings that sit behind a desk all day at a computer, drafting floor-plans for a firm, using one of the most basic design softwares called Auto CAD, working from 9am to 5pm. On the flip-side, we also worry that we will become highly successful, depressed architects that have no time for their families or friends, and are instead consumed by the mundane repitition of clients, deadlines, and projects.

Projects…

Pretty depressing stuff, right? Well, recently, I have thought of quitting. In my head, I constantly calculate my future, weighing pros and cons that really only seem like cons: I either become a “CAD monkey” or a really successful, yet pitifully bitter architect. I think the only thing that has kept me going is one simple concept:

WHO. WE. ARE.

Those three words make up the ending of a sentence told to me when I was literally at my whit’s end. Only a few weeks ago, during the crunch-time of my first final in my graduate design studio, I had a real melt-down. Sitting on the bed in my brother’s apartment during Thanksgiving break, the night before my flight back to Miami, I thought to myself,

“I cannot do this. I cannot continue to work this hard, be this exhausted, be this drained. I can’t do this anymore.”

That’s when I reached for the phone.

“Renzo, I am so sick of all the work we have to do. Please tell me not to give up,” was the text that I sent. A classmate of mine, taking the same studio that I was, I reached out to Renzo because he was a friend. While waiting for him to respond, I texted Jasmin, another close friend of mine telling her, “I don’t want to wake up tomorrow.” The last person I texted that night was a very close friend of mine named Franchesca, asking her to pray for me.

While waiting for Renzo’s response, I remember feeling hopeless, scared that I would not be able to complete all of my work for the upcoming deadline, and entirely spent. His response to me was, “Danyealah, you cannot quit. That is not who we are.” I remember looking at my phone and feeling baffled. “How could he possibly know who I am? A quitter? Was that even what I had meant?” Then, with hot tears rolling down my face, a light-bulb went off in my head.

That is not who I am.

The next thing I said to myself was: “Who am I?”

Befuddled with a myriad of thoughts, I was unable to answer this question at the time. Now that the semester has ended and winter-break has begun, I have had a some time to give this question some true thought. So far, I have started by reflecting on the parts of myself that I know: I am a dancer. I am a singer. I am a caring friend. I am a poet. I am a Christian. Fair enough! Now, for the soul-searching… I have decided I am not a quitter. It is not who I am. I determine the person I am willing to be, and at this point in my life, I am most certainly not a quitter. What I am is a survivor. I would be lying through my teeth if I were to tell you that graduate school is cake – it’s not. Architecture school, in general, is just one of those things I have to push through in order to get to the position I desire. That position is definitely not behind a desk in the back of someone’s office, punching in codes from 9am-5pm. The position I desire to be in, is a position from which I can help other people. After all, that is my understanding of what architects do – we help people. We provide the opportunity for an enhanced quality of life through the means of design. That is who I am – a person willing to go through the fire, to come out with a degree that allows me to pursue a passion of helping other people.

All in all, it is the simple things in life that sometimes pave the way for a much broader understanding of who we are. In my case, it took my friend Renzo simply telling me that I was not a quitter, to nudge me toward a more hopeful frame of mind. Indeed, I have learned to persevere. What I offer to you, my reader, is to never give up. As my grandmother would say, “Keep on keepin’ on.” And as my friend Renzo would say,

“Never give up. That is not who we are.”

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