Congratulations, Rebecca Johnson (M.Arch., 2014)!
The Import of Experience
As Soren Kierkegaard once said, “life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” As eager freshman entering a new and exciting world these words are most likely lost on us. After seven years in college, however, it would seem as if no truer words have never been spoken. Every course taken, homework assignment completed, grade received, mistake made, and friendship forged is a testament to the utter truth of this statement. The major we have chosen is challenging, so challenging at times that it can be difficult to discern the purpose of our efforts or force us to question if our efforts are being misplaced. We are challenged to work harder, think harder, and perform better than we perhaps ever have been before. At times fatigue and frustration can begin to cloud our vision and stunt our creativity or motivation. But as the fog of the undergraduate years begins to dissipate, it becomes abundantly clear that the keystone of our education is the experience with which we have been blessed.
If anyone knows the extreme value of experience its Thomas Edison. When questioned about his failures in developing the light bulb Edison is said to have responded, “…why would I ever feel like a failure? Why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.” As students of architecture we are all too familiar with the feeling of trying over and over again to get something right, or as we like to call it: iterations. We rework floor plans, we rethink elevations, and we realize that our structural grid is physically impossible. Each iteration is teaching us how not to do things and bringing us that much closer to success. Every model we build is teaching us the importance of craft, precision, and tectonics. Each presentation we give is teaching us to be assertive, professional, and invested in the work that we produce. Every computer program we struggle to learn is teaching us to be patient, thoughtful, and prepared for the future. This process has been tried and tested, and patience and the acceptance of this process is truly of the utmost importance.
Experience in architecture is truly vital. But one cannot learn without first doing. Experience can, after all, be defined as the “conscious events that make up an individual life.” Though at times our work seems fruitless, the fact that we are working and exposing ourselves to different experiences is what is shaping our future. When we get to the end of our careers and are able to reflect on the entirety of our work may we all be able to say that we now understand, that we ran the race, and that -with experience- we have finished well.
“We often forget that the struggle is an opportunity to make us stronger.”
These were the words spoken to us by former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, at our recent World Leader’s Forum. As I consider this year’s theme of experience I realize that her words basically describe what experience is: opportunities that make us stronger. It is the experiences, the combination of struggles and accomplishments that grow us into the people we are today. Experience is an invaluable tool through which we learn so much. Through our experiences we gain insight and a better understanding not only of the world around us but also of ourselves.
When I reflect on my past four years at Judson and all the experiences I have had here I realize how different I am from when I first came. I remember a time where I seriously debated if I should attend Judson; after all it was a school so far away from home, in an area I had never been and far from everyone that I knew. But I took the risk and came realizing now it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The decision to attend Judson opened up so many doors to new experiences. I was able to tour Europe last summer, join an amazing tennis team, and of course expand my knowledge of architectural design. But my experiences were not always easy. I was challenged mentally, physically, and spiritually during my time at Judson but it was through these challenges I grew into a person with much more confidence than when I arrived.
As I prepare for my graduation from Judson, I am again standing at the edge of an uncertain part of my life. But when I look back at the experiences I have had at Judson, my struggles and achievements I realize how much I have grown and how much I have learned. Although I don’t quite yet feel ready, I do know that I am prepared to graduate. There will be many more risks to take and challenges to face in the future but, these experiences will grow me as a person because as Condoleezza Rice said, they are opportunities to make us stronger.
Experience and Architecture
Experience is exposure to life. It is the sum of all the moments from which we learn and draw meaning. We are influenced by the people around us, by context, by history and, perhaps most importantly, by our own choices. For the aspiring architect, every study of precedent, every experimental iteration, and every challenging critique is an opportunity to gain experience. It is through this process – through trial and error, success and failure – that we gain wisdom.
Wisdom derived from experience is a hard-won possession. Only through extensive and varied participation in the realm of architecture can a designer obtain a complete perspective on all that the profession entails. The experience gained is well worth the effort: the more the architect learns, the better he or she can serve others. Experience grants the architect an instinct towards what is proper, successful, right, or beautiful. It grants a fullness to his or her thinking, allowing the architect to better understand and address the variety of problems he or she may encounter.
Every choice and every action both derives from and contributes to one’s experience. There is no real division between where schooling ends and experience begins; the experiences gathered from architecture school are merely the first steps in a lifelong education. As I reflect on all that my time at Judson University has taught me, I am grateful for each opportunity I have had to learn, both about architecture and about myself. I look forward with excitement to the ways in these lessons will continue to inspire my architectural experience.
Rarely do we think of this. We “experience” struggle, and we want out of it. We “experience” difficultly, and we want the answer. We “experience” hardship, and we want to idle.
After seventeen years of education, four of them collegiate, I have realized this is the greatest thing I lack. Experience. Yes I have learned. Yes I have absorbed. I have read the theory and done the work. But have I experienced
In any science class there is two parts. There is book learning and there is lab. One is about obtaining knowledge. The other about experience. The former is growing to understand concepts and learning from the past. But it is followed by lab. It is followed by experience.
Experience is what gives us life. If we do not experience, we do not live. My time at Judson has offered many chances to experience. A six-week trip across Europe led to an experience of a lifetime. Projects that continual challenge my mental and physical capacity. And history exams that challenged my spelling fortitude. Every one of these was an experience. Experiences that affected me profoundly.
But Aldous Huxley says, “Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.” So while all these experiences affected me deeply, they all occurred in the framework of a collegiate education. They were part of the curriculum. They were mandated by the school. They were predetermined by the system. I did not create them. But experience is not what happens to me, it is what I do with what happens to me.
Experience is true. Experience is real. But what we do with that experience is what shapes us. It shows our truest colors. It makes us who we are.
Albert Einstein said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” Einstein’s quote can take on two different definitions: learning from your mistakes and experiencing something new. Albert Einstein’s quote can seem like an ultimatum, but what he’s saying is that experience has a wide range of definitions and everyone can take a different view. He’s saying that as long as you grow from it, succeeding or failing does not matter. It’s a matter of learning something new and doing something you’ve never done before. Challenge yourself to be the best and to take each task just a little bit farther.
In the working world, learning from your mistakes can be terrifying. I am terrified of failure, but through working in a firm and experiencing an internship, I’ve learned that failure is one of the best ways to learn. I’ve heard it said many times that you learn from your mistakes. This is why the internship world is such a great place for a student or recent graduate to be in: failure is expected. The best intern will work hard, show up before everyone else, and ultimately not be afraid to make mistakes. This is no excuse though, grace cannot always be expected and yelling and ripping paper will become common sounds. It’s terrifying and hard, but in the many forms it can take, nobody can skip this stage.
I was in Belize for a mission trip over spring break and on our way to see the Lamanai Mayan ruins (on the bumpiest bus ride of my life), my team and I passed a Mennonite civilization. This particular civilization fled from America and made a pact with the Belizean government that if they were granted the ability to live free from Belizean laws, they wouldn’t bother anyone. Throughout their life, Mennonites do not leave the small community they live in. They drive a horse and buggy and reject new technology. The men work all day and the women stay inside the house. Gender roles are huge in this community and the women are not allowed to talk to anyone unless their husband is present. This kind of community is intense and hard to live in. The chances of a Mennonite seeing anything other than their small community is zero to none. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them because of how much I know they were missing. But ignorance is bliss, right? If I stay on the topic of the working world, ignorance will get you nowhere. Experiencing new cultures is one of the best courses someone can take (thank you Judson University for the summer Europe trip). Don’t be afraid of the new.
I am not the most experienced person in the world, coffee runs, running errands, and alphabetizing files are still in my near future, but I do know that without experience there’s no way I can get out of this ripped paper stage. There are still many things that I need to experience and that’s pretty exciting. I intend to keep making mistakes, trying new things, and in that odd chance, being successful. If I don’t, then how else will I gain the knowledge I need to become successful? The only way to do that is through experience.
On Tuesday, March 25, twelve new members were inducted into the Gamma Xi chapter. Thanks to present-day officers Alana Coy, Emily Fiedler, Jon Oberheim, Kendall Oliver and Kaity Puffer for organizing the event–including the acquisition of the architecturally-themed cake (below) that delighted everyone.