So you’re graduating from architecture school…

There's a story here...
There’s a story here…

Many young people do not have a meaning and purpose to their life. They’re looking to say, does my life matter? Do I have a unique contribution to make… when you recognize that you have a real mission, an indispensable contribution to make, then you embrace life, you celebrate life in a completely different way. – Anna Halpine, The Human Experience

I was right in the middle of my thesis while obtaining my Master of Architecture degree, at the interstice of theoretical research, experimentation, and real (” “) design.

It was wintertime last year that I dedicated a good Saturday afternoon to post-graduate endeavors.

A few things I knew were certain:

  1. I was about to have substantial debt to deal with.
  2. I needed the direction and expertise of an established firm before considering supporting myself financially through my own endeavors.
  3. I couldn’t shake the inevitable wanderlust that was ever present since my first taste of independence in undergrad.

To be reasonable, I knew becoming a vagabond architect was only accomplished by a few, and I question whether these individuals had student loans.  I decided my best plan at this point, seeing a full-time architecture job in my (hopefully) close future, aka becoming a responsible adult, and I wanted to intervene, as a sort of ‘bachelorette party’ before the commitment came.

There has been this constant struggle between seeking professional development and investing in my future through travel and adventure.  Whether it is while I am the project manager at an influential firm, or while I am old and feeble waiting for my grandkids to visit, I will always be able to remember the stunning moonlight in Alghero, the rolling hills of Ireland, joining the free-spirits traipsing the American Southwest, and drinking butter tea with Buddhist monks.  My understanding of spatial complexities, histories, and order, as well as what to make of our current state and direction of development, are reflective of theories and studies in class as well as tunneling through Old Delhi, driving in Tijuana, Mexico, and venturing around Basel, Switzerland with the help of a nice, elderly Chinese woman.

To state the obvious, I needed more adventure before settling into a job.  Not directionless, finding-myself-sort-of travel, but rather a structured experience where I could use my skills and passions, while continually learning through new surroundings, people, and customs.

So while enjoying some fair trade coffee in the new-age café on Ludlow, I delved into my post-graduate plans.  While I decided a volunteer project abroad was the best choice, I also was looking for an organization that aligned with my religious values, so I will first present a few of these findings.

  • EMI – Engineering Ministries International – this is where I received a position as an intern architect for a seven week project in India.  Several individuals I contacted pointed me in the direction of EMI, as they know the organization’s widespread experience or have worked with them in the past.  An account of these adventures can be found earlier on this blog, or on my other blog, Meghazine.
  • Other Christian NGOs – I went through a mega list and the ones I inquired of who responded well and promptly includes Team World, Global Outreach Mission, Teen Mania – Global Expeditions, and ACTS (Africa Community Technical Service).
  • 100FoldStudio – I actually did not know about this non-profit design firm until a good friend told me of her great experience working here.  I also hope to learn more about them and keep them on my radar.

This post on Arch Record, “Humanitarian Design: Fellowships” is an excellent resource to start researching ‘alternative’ options of utilizing your architecture skills in a meaningful way.  For some fellowship, such as the Design Impact Fellowship and GSD Loeb Fellowship an individual must be a visionary with a degree of contacts and resources for a successful proposal.

Others, such as Americorps, which I know from experience (my blog entries regarding such begin here), involve joining an existing NGO, Habitat for Humanity in my case, and learning from working together toward their vision.

There is something to be said for a growing interest in Public Interest Design arguably surpassing other trendy “-isms” amongst students in architecture today.  It provides a vibrancy of digging into the unknown, using our skills in creative ways that directly impact others’ lives, and providing a level of fulfillment difficult to find by society’s standards (see documentary The Human Experience).

Please contact me for more information concerning EMI, Americorps, or Habitat for Humanity.

And please feel free to share your adventures off the beaten path.  How have they added value to your professional career?


Author: Meg C

Meghan is a recent Master of Architecture graduate from the University of Cincinnati. She is interested in all aspects of sustainability, finding the most pertinent ways it relates to the built environment including social justice in terms of material choice, implementation, and life-cycle. While pragmatic concerns are ever-present, she constantly explores the inexplicable beauty to be found in the intersection of order and the poetics of space.

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