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And over here on our left is where your soul will die...
by Katy Purviance on 09/27/09 @ 06:35:34 am
Categories: Applying to Grad School, Grad School | 662 words | 1912 views

I got an email from my alma mater the other day. A student there is going on a grad school tour and wants to meet up with some alumni who have made it into the top architecture schools.

I am, by nature, a very helpful person. I immediately wrote to him, offering to show him around the GSD and introduce him to people.

As soon as I hit Send, I thought, Dear God, what will I tell him? (And: should I scare him off before it is too late?)

Will I be like our Peer Advisor during Orientation last Fall who told us that the stair wells were really good places to go cry after a review?

Will I be like my friend who acted as a Peer Advisor to this year’s incoming students, who heard herself telling them, “Be really careful when you go home at 4 AM: there have been a lot of robberies lately.”

Will I show him around the trays, overgrown with models and former models, a big PR-friendly smile on my face, saying “And over here on our left is where your soul will die…”

Will I warn him? Will I say that, you don’t know it yet, but you will probably lose all your non-architecture friends because you will no longer have time for them? That you can easily spend $100 in one week on sandwiches from Darwin’s because you never have time to cook? That you will discover that the real reason why architects wear all black is because we’re too sleep deprived to match colors properly?

Or will I be like I was early in the fall semester, back when I was still naive and full of love for the GSD, when I regalled prospective students with tales of our fierce camaraderie? The same camaraderie that, a year later, is the only item on the pro side of my list of pros and cons for the place.

The email from my alma mater has caused, first, a lot of introspection on how I came to Harvard, and second, a bit of depression about the enormous debt (both financially and emotionally) I have accrued here.

Who was I? Who was I when I believed with all my heart and soul that I was going to “change the world” with my architecture? When I proclaimed to everyone who would listen that my ideas for regenerative design would eliminate people’s utility bills? And make people happy?

Whoever that person was, I’m sorry.

What I discovered, slowly, was that we were being trained for the corporate side of architecture, the 80-hour-weeks of staring at computers, going blind drawing redundancy into construction docs to ward off the potential lawsuits, spending precious months making pretty pictures to please corporate clients.

My William McDonough dreams and my Nader Khalili fantasies have no place here. And the memory of last semester’s critic who laughed when we confided in her that in school we didn’t focus our time on the things that drew us to architecture, who replied, “You will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars before you get to do what you want to do,” that is the scene that I wish someone had painted for me way back last year when I was still young and hopeful. Before Harvard had beaten the joy out of me.

To everyone I wish to offer the message from an architecture friend of mine in Pasadena: if all you want to do is single family homes, forget the years and expense of a master’s degree. Forget the years and expense of the licensure nightmare. Travel and discover what moves you, like Todao Ando did. Read copious amounts of architecture books. Practice drawing plans and sections of the structures that make you catch your breath.

Just design. Design without bearing the impossible yoke of ideologies that your academic masters would love to place upon you.

(And then, of course, have a structural engineer sign off on your drawings.)

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places where you could probably learn more about designing and building in just a few days than I did after a year of grad school

Know of some others I can add here? Let me know. Have you already visited some of these places...or planning on it? Let me know and I will feature your story and your photos here!

I am starting a new kind of architecture school. Unlike most architecture schools, you wouldn't have to submit GRE scores or good grades or letters of recommendation. You wouldn't have to put the rest of your life on hold for 3 to 5 years. You wouldn't have to accrue tens of thousands of dollars in debt. At my architecture school, anyone could come for a few weeks and learn how to build a house with their own two hands. My teachers would take skills and concepts from some of these other workshops I've listed above... except classes would be held year-round to make it easy to fit into your schedule. I would have a number of different campuses around the country that would teach building designs appropriate to the local climate. And I need your help. Can you donate land for a campus? Can you dotate books for a library? Can you teach a workshop? Can you provide start-up capital? Let me know.

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