Pride, Without Prejudice

No matter where you are in this process that I affectionately refer to as “a path,” it probably goes without saying that you’ve already realized that a career in architecture is a crazy one.  It’s incredibly demanding and labor-intensive.  The hours can be long and the work difficult.  The rewards are often few and far-between.

My office specializes in higher-education work, and for the past two years I’ve been working on a handful of projects for Penn State.  I’ve probably mentioned that I’m a Penn Stater, and I’ve never been ashamed to admit it (even though the events of the past year — during which you would have had to have been living under a rock to not know what I’m referring to — have tested that resolve a little).  One of those projects — the Wellness Center, a 3,800-square-foot addition to the Gymnasium building at the Beaver campus — officially opened last week.  The campus held a formal Dedication Ceremony, and an article about it ran in today’s edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  It was a modest affair, but done right — over a hundred people attended, including Penn State’s president Rodney Erickson, who was on-hand for some celebratory remarks.

Somewhere in the middle of the pomp and circumstance, listening to Dr. Erickson talk of bright spots that otherwise could have been overshadowed in this difficult year, I started to feel an overwhelming sense of pride.  Pride in my alma mater, for sure, but also pride in the work that I had done in the service of it.  Functionally, it’s a brand-new fitness center… architecturally, it’s steel, brick, and glass… but metaphorically, the Wellness Center represents a new beginning, one that I had a hand in making a reality.

I’ll admit it — I sometimes get lost in the day-to-day minutiae, so much so that the enormity of what I do is lost on me.  The project has affected the students, the campus, the community, and, by extension, the entire university.  I realized that I have not only been working to create a wonderful new facility, I’ve also been helping Penn State take steps forward into its future.  It’s times like these when I am truly humbled by this great profession that I’ve chosen to serve.  I can think of no greater reward.


I was cleaning out the old hard drive the other night (and that’s not a euphemism!) when I came across some old Word documents, one of which was some advice for a family friend who was about to start her first year of architecture at Penn State.  Surprisingly, even though I wrote this nearly ten years ago, it holds up pretty well.  Classes at PSU start on Monday, so in honor of all of our returning students, I figured that this was a good time to dust this off and share.

y someone who’s been there… and lived to tell about it)

  1. Try and meet as many people as you can as soon as you can.  Don’t be surprised, though, when the first friends that you make in studio turn out to be the last people that you want to talk to by the end of the year (or the semester).
  2. Don’t be afraid to go to your professors for help.  They have office hours – that’s what they’re for.  You’ll benefit by getting answers AND by coming across as someone who cares about the quality of your work.
  3. Remember that sometimes other students can be the best teachers.  Find the “good” people in your class and get friendly with them.  Observe what they do on their projects.
  4. Don’t pull an all-nighter just to do it.  Use the time to get ahead on your work.  If your work isn’t going to benefit from those few hours, go home and go to bed.
  5. Unless there’s a project due on Monday, never spend the entire weekend in studio.  Go to sporting events and scream your head off.  Learn the words to the fight songs (ESPECIALLY the alma mater). Get ice cream from the Creamery. There’s more to college life than work.  Get out there and enjoy it ‘cuz it’ll be over before you know it.
  6. Remember that you are a student and you’re there to learn.  You don’t have to know all the answers.  You’re there to LEARN the answers.
  7. Don’t eat the London Broil in the dining commons.  You’ll thank me later.
  8. Make every effort to get together with your friends over the summers.  Don’t lose track of them.  Besides your degree, your circle of friends will be the best thing that you’ll take away with you after college is over.
  9. No project is worth crying over.  But if you NEED to cry over one of your projects, do so.  Just don’t let anybody else see you doing it.
  10. Get to know some people in the years ahead of you.  The things that you’ll be going through in studio are the same things that they went through before you.  They got through it.  So will you.
  11. Don’t resent anyone for knowing more or less than you do (or think that you do). Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.  The quicker that you get to know yours will determine your comfort level in studio (as well as life in general).
  12. Remember that the word “roommate” and the word “friend” are not always interchangeable (some roommates will never be friends, some friends should never be roommates)
  13. Keep good records of your work.  Save each course syllabus, handouts, and notes.  Keep copies of papers that you write and exams that are returned to you.  I still have all of mine.
  14. Don’t ever sell any of your architecture textbooks.  Don’t throw away your class notes.  You never know what you’re going to need later.
  15.  Remember that there will always be someone who has nicer tools, can produce better drawings, build nicer models, or give better presentations.  Don’t let that get you down.  Just concentrate on doing the best work that you possibly can.
  16. Keep a sketchbook with you at all times and use it as like you would a journal.
  17. Don’t feel as if you have to spend enormous amounts of money on expensive materials for your models and drawings.  If the quality of the work is there, it won’t matter whether it’s drawn on newsprint or carved into marble.
  18. Remember that studio grades are subjective, and that sometimes your GPA doesn’t always reflect your true abilities.
  19. Don’t be afraid to take risks.  No one ever did anything memorable by always following the rules.

AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST… if you’re ever stuck, without any idea of what you’re doing or why you’re even doing it, drop me a line.  I’ll be here for you if you would ever need to talk about anything.

Best wishes and good luck…!