Making of an Architect

I remember this scene well.  probably too well…

The year was 1998, and I was sitting at one of those big study tables flipping through stacks of architecture books at the Columbia University Architecture School Library.  I took this photo during my recent trip to New York City, visiting the architecture school and trying to relive the moments I had as a student. 

Although my graduate education at Columbia spans only a year and half, it was an indelible time of my life.  There were many skills, both analytical and technical I acquired during the time which prepared me well for the life of an architect I lead now.



As an interviewer for Cornell University Architecture School admission, I often get “How to prepare for architecture education?” question a lot.  Looking back at my architecture educations (both Columbia and Cornell University), or even before that time, I am not sure one can really “prepare” for what to expect at the schools. Typical qualities such as interest in arts, design, aptitude in math and science could be beneficial; however I don’t completely accept the argument of having those qualities would guarantee the success at the architecture schools, or the life of an architect.  I discovered from my years of architecture education  that schools teach you to THINK! Learning to think about the problems and issues at hands, whether they happen to be designing a  building or even resolving the surrounding conditions for the building itself.  In addition, not only learning to think from examining my own thoughts, I also gained knowledge from my classmates, and their different approach to same issues.  I would have to say that has been one of the single greatest training I received from my education. (At architecture school, students not only working on design, but they constantly have to present those ideas /get feedback (usually bad) to the professors, as well as from the classmates.

Spending days at the library like the students in the photo, I devoted many hours reading and researching different ideas so that I can come to MY OWN decision about tacking the design issues that I was dealing with at the moment.   People tend to think of design ideas as something “you just whip it up” out of blue, however it is starting with the methodical approach(research, think, research some more) to creative process which can trigger the unique design ideas all your own.

Running my own architecture firm

Now I am running my own architecture practice, Studio Jonah in Toronto; I am aware of the  professional foundation the education contributed.  There are many things to do in a day as an architect, however, I always start with the same approach I developed back at the architecture schools; create one page of notes, diagrams, etc. to let my THINKING process to start while researching on related topics.  With this seemingly “random approach” to my work, I somehow arrive at the final decision point, whether they are about designing buildings, or writing a proposal to clients.  I have to admit it is not always a comfortable feeling to start the work this way, however, allowing myself to look at the tasks from many different angles conceives a fresh new design approach every time!

What have you gained from your education?

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