Lian (Harvard GSD M.Arch.I)

I graduated in 2013, but still blog here once in a while.

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    Live Blog - GSD Alternative Careers Panel

    By Lian Chikako Chang
    Feb 22, '13 6:38 PM EST

    Hi Archinect!

    6:35 pm. Judy Sue Fulton and Lauren Kim, two M.Arch.I students in my class, are hosting a panel on alternative design careers. There will be short introductions and then some conversation with individual panelists around tables.

    Bryan Boyer: says he's a "confused" professional. "I'm interested in how we can make government work more effectively." He believes that an iterative design process can really work in this space--but he just left his job at Sitra so is a bit at loose ends.

    Rosamond Fletcher: Transportation and urban life at the Design Trust.

    Dr. Beth Altringer: the intersection of psychology and design. "Designing for people who design for people," and expanding our understanding of this beyond the sole-innovator model. How do groups collaborate?

    Evan Sharp: One of the co-founders of Pinterest. He was at GSAPP doing an M.Arch., and dropped out to work at Facebook, "so technically I'm not sure if I'm qualified to be on this panel, though I worked at a lot of architecture firms."

    Teman Evans and Teran Evans.Teman: We have a company that we call DIOSCURI, which they started while working on their thesis. "The logo appeared all over my thesis drawings, I was a little obsessed." They work at the intersection of product design, brand strategy, and popular culture. Teran: A degree in architecture is a degree in three-dimensional problem-solving. To that end, those skills could be applied to a number of problems, not just at the scale of a building.

    Douglas Diaz: Associate Partner at "Client Engagement." Two degrees in architecture. When he graduated from Columbia, you could work for an architecture firm, work for the hot world of 3D movie modeling (half his colleagues ended up working for Jurassic Park 2 or Tron), teach, or work in the internet. So he did animations, got bored, and was asked to teach--and eventually left that for his current work.

    Marika Shiori-Clark: Graduated from the GSD in 2011 with an M.Arch. Was a co-founder of MASS Design Group, which came out of several friends feeling that there wasn't enough opportunity to do design work that worked with clients in very resource-limited (non-profit, low-income) settings. Had a fellowship at IDEO, then moved to Cleveland where she has her own practice, working quite a bit with the Nike Foundation in Nigeria and Ethiopia.

    6:51: Lauren: What was going through your head in your last semester? Were these alternative careers a second choice or your main plan, etc.?

    Teran Evans: I was in a mood. By the time I was in my thesis semester, I realized...I don't want to do this. Wish I had figured that out $150 000 ago. Was very aware what I did NOT want to do, and used that to explore the other things.

    Teman Evans: One time when Rem came for a lecture and took us out for dinner, he said that "it's strange to me that you're all educated as architects, your skill set is so broad, and yet when you graduate you all kill each other to do the exact same thing."

    Teran Evans: I thought, why the hell are YOU saying that?

    Teman Evans: Six of us here applied to the business school from the GSD. They rejected all of us. But...the idea is to explore and do that without trepidation.

    Douglas Diaz: Not to sound old, but one of the things that was fascinating about being at Columbia at the time was the internet. There was a contagious attitude that it was a new frontier that you had to explore. It was less about making money than...finding a method to approach it. Architecture is a way of looking at the world.

    Rosamond Fletcher: When I graduated from Yale I was lucky to be working an exhibition project, but it wasn't full-time, so I proposed to teach at RISD. All those experiences came together; don't be afraid to piece it together without a full-time job.

    Judy Fulton: What about the risk, financial and otherwise?

    Evan Sharp: When Facebook emailed, I just saw an insanely divergent future for myself. Ultimately the reason I left architecture wasn't that I don't like it--I love it--but...

    Rosamond Fletcher: It's interesting that you saw architecture as the risk. [laughter]

    Bryan Boyer: Architecture is not a way to have a successful, blossoming bank account. Architecture is a big risk, it's a shit business to be in, in the US. And I can say that because I still do some architecture work on the side; it's intensely grueling for the return you get. But the best time to take a risk is while you're still in school. You don't have to pay off your loans yet, so start taking your risks now.

    Teman Evans: We were terrified when we started, because we had no idea what we were doing....We were lucky to get a loan from our parents. And we made mistakes--at one point we accidentally sold 15% of our company. But we got it back! You'll always take doubts to bed every night, you just have to live with that.

    Teran Evans: You're all over-achievers, that's why you're here. So failure is not something we normally have in our vocabulary. But there's also a life on the other side of failure, so you can put those doubts aside and go for it. You guys are lucky; if you're here, you're thinking about this now. Lots of people don't think about this until 10 years in, when they have more responsibilities.

    Marika Shiori-Clark: We were only able to start MASS because we were still in school, and able to take advantage of various Harvard fellowships and support to take the trips to Rwanda and work there. That funded us for the first years. So it can be less scary to start something while you're here.

    Beth Altringer: I started with work in South Africa on the World Cup preparations. All I knew at the end [of my degree] was that I didn't want to do this. I thought: can I convince myself that I care about buildings? If not, there are a lot of other design problems to work on. How much do I care about autonomy? What is my risk profile, really? How much do I care about making money--a little or a lot of money? It helps if you can be honest with yourself on this without judgment. For me, I want to be able to change projects every few months, and I've been able to find that.

    Rosamond Fletcher: That's so important; similarly, I couldn't imagine working on the same project for 5 to 7 years.

    Judy Fulton: What about this question of not being the lone hero: how did you find the people you ended up working with?

    Evan Sharp: In San Fransisco, I realized people there were similar to me: they liked to build things, they weren't motivated by money or fame. I found my co-founder in NY. We're the same Myers-Briggs, introverted, weird...but he's from the Midwest, so he has this self-destructive bent to improve himself. His skill set is very different from mine and that's what has allowed us to succeed.

    Teran Evans: Toshiko and Peter Rowe pushed us to work together on our thesis. We got through it with only a mild amount of bloodshed. Many of us have found our co-conspirators in the trays--the design community is small, so you'll never shake each other.

    Douglas Diaz: I haven't gotten a job that didn't have a direct link back to Columbia; the networks here and the people you meet are the most important thing.

    Teman Evans: The worst thing you can do is to be that genius in the trays who is pumping out the work sitting at your desk. Yes, you'll get your high pass but it's all about the network.

    Marika Shiori-Clark: Everything at the GSD is individual, but after you leave, you'll never do anything alone again; everything is teams. Whether you get along with the people you're working with is the most important thing, even more important than the project itself, because you can make a project exciting with the right people.

    Bryan Boyer: I'd add to the comments about working with people on the trays: extend that to the other schools. Because when you graduate from a design school, you can't talk to other people. Or not as well as you'd need to, to be really effective. So the more effectively you can communicate with people in other fields, the better. I'm motivated by being in the minority, because I'm a smart-ass, so I like being the smart architect in a group of non-architect. Part of this means being able to entertain what you might think are dumb questions. If someone says "what do you mean by space?" You answer them.

    Question from the audience: Now that you've reached some stability, what are the things you've built into your life to keep yourself focused?

    Douglas Diaz: The questions don't change, they're still hard, you just have more skills to deal with them.

    Evan Sharp: Pinterest has grown; we're over 100 now. But (a friend) taught me that the best companies are values-driven. That could seem boring or interesting. We did that at Pinterest. But then I also did that as an individual, which is really painful, but really helpful because now I have a framework.

    Teman Evans: We want to keep things messy and speculative; we love the schizophrenia of that, and not everything has to be meet a specific benchmark of success. It means we can try teaching, or collaborating with the White House, or different things that we never thought we'd do.

    Marika Shiori-Clark: I did a list of values too, and it really helps you to say no to things that come up and sound cool, but may not be really what you want to do.

    Judy Fulton: On that note, we'll switch over to the second half of the night, which is everyone splitting up at tables and you can find whoever you'd like to speak with.

    Evan Sharp of Pinterest.

    The Evans brothers, Dioscuri.

    Thanks for reading!


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About this Blog

This blog was most active from 2009-2013. Writing about my experiences and life at Harvard GSD started out as a way for me to process my experiences as an M.Arch.I student, and evolved into a record of the intellectual and cultural life of the Cambridge architecture (and to a lesser extent, design/technology) community, through live-blogs. These days, I work as a data storyteller (and blogger at in San Francisco, and still post here once in a while.

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