Working out of the Box is a series of features presenting architects who have applied their architecture backgrounds to alternative career paths.
In this installment, we're talking with Larraine Henning. Larraine graduated with a Master in Architecture degree, but has opted for a non-traditional career as a nomadic, independent designer / illustrator / photographer. Larraine is currently seeking funding for A Practical Guide to Squatting on Indiegogo.
Are you an architect working out of the box? Do you know of someone that has changed careers and has an interesting story to share? If you would like to suggest an (ex-)architect, please send us a message.
Where did you study architecture?
I received an Bachelor of Environmental Design from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and a Master in Architecture from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
At what point in your life did you decide to pursue architecture?
As a child I was relentlessly preoccupied with being an adult, being someone important and making buckets of money. I wanted to be an architect for as long as I can remember, and as it turns out my childish naïvety brought me neither money nor stature, and the adult part is questionable. I moved around a great deal, even now, but especially as a child. Often we moved to places that were less than ideal. My mother would always let me do whatever I wanted to my room to spruce it up, from dark royal blue paint, ceiling and all, to fabric covered wall panels. Before I even knew (thought I knew) what architecture was, it was a way I could better my environment.
I sunk my teeth into the gallant notions of design and did anything and everything I could to bring me closer to that coveted profession. When I was 17 I went door-to-door to architecture offices I found out of the phone book, asking for work, any work, making coffee if that’s all they had for me.
I decided that I would rather pursue my architectural agenda, tangential as it may seem, outside of the conventions of an office.
When did you decide to stop pursuing architecture? Why?
I did my M.Arch thesis on squatting and informal housing. My project took the form of an illustrated how-to guide and the various tactical problems one might need if they were squatting. My thesis made a suggestion of architecture but did not attempt to prescribe one. After all that would negate the ‘informal’ part of the informal housing. I think the role of the architect is changing, it is not a discrete entity that it once was. I decided that I would rather pursue my architectural agenda, tangential as it may seem, outside of the conventions of an office. I missed the immediacy of real objects, the models and drawings that architecture school offered. And rather than the yield of my efforts becoming merely the by-product of an actualized built project years down the road, I opted instead to make that by-product the sole ambition.
Describe your current job.
My work and lifestyle is contingent on whim and necessity, and subject to constant change. In the last year I have worked as a cattle drover, apple packer, tree remover and onion picker, just to name a few. Ultimately my day-to-day is akin with the ethos of my thesis, and when time permits I piece together my own design practice. Waxcastle is my ‘paper’ company that is working up steam to get off the page. The best way I can describe it, is an enterprise of passion bent on creating tangible and meaningful works of craft. I make photographic and illustrated prints and traditional hand crafts, with no defined extents to what I will take on next. Riding the coat-tails of domestic craftwork of centuries past, Waxcastle seeks to further legitimise and promote the work of pleasure seekers, professionals, novices and the like.
In the last year I have worked as a cattle drover, apple packer, tree remover and onion picker, just to name a few.
What skills did you gain from architecture school, or working in the architecture industry, that have contributed to your success in your current career?
I think the most valuable thing architecture school bestowed upon me was tolerance and persistence.
Those of us who endured the program will recall the relentless and seemingly arbitrary critiques. It’s no small thing to stand up in front of a crowd of peers, practitioners and academics to defend work you lost many nights of sleep over. If school was fair, your work wasn’t always received with roaring applause and enthusiasm. Sometimes bringing you to silent tears, cursing the whole establishment or at least having yet another moment on the brink of quitting the whole damn thing. But most of us didn’t, or at least I didn’t. I got back up the next week and the week after that and tried again. School taught me to bear conviction and purpose with whatever project I take on, to be earnest and to take judgement in stride.
Do you have an interest in returning to architecture?
Studying and practising architecture helped me to uncover what it is that I enjoy filling my days with. Often in practice I would have to work on projects that I didn’t believe in because that was my job. I love architecture and it will always be a part of how I evaluate the world around me, but I have resigned to do work that is on my terms. Perhaps I am being obtuse, but I would rather spend my days picking fruit than tendering my talents on architecture that is indifferent.