Six Months, Six Strings

11 years ago, I was a 13 year old boy with a brand new, speedy internet connection (which didn’t make these noises anymore) and an awful lot of free time that was spent lurking the vast depths of the internet. The internet was a marvelous, marvelous thing and it had a huge impact on my life.

I think it’s also safe to say that it’s the reason as to why I have grown to become a dedicated music aficionado and aspiring guitarist. That, and why I constantly have hard disk space issues. Continue reading

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The Graduation Gauntlet: Part 4

To spice up my dormant writing life as of late, here’s something a little different: a collaborative piece between me and the eloquent Nada. Graduation is often considered as one of those milestones that people reach in life yet it’s not particularly reflected on or spoken about very much. Tertiary education itself is quite an intense experience, especially in the Middle East I believe, where young men and women get their first taste of life. A few late-night conversations later, we decided it’d be a good idea to write about our university experiences and our perspectives on it and graduation. Doubly so given how we’re on opposite fences: I’m a graduate while Nada’s in her last semester.

When not collaborating with me, Nada runs a fantastic blog on Libyan politics, society and architecture over at Brave New Libya. You can find my version on her blog, or right here.

This post is from Nada’s perspective and is the fourth part of a series of four. The first part can be found here, the second here and the third here.

Enjoy.

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Year 4 | The Unknown

Okay, yeah, I talk big for someone still on the lowly side of graduation. But it’s easier to puff up your feathers and strut than to divulge fears and insecurities. I face graduation with the same apprehension and starry-eyed wonder as when I first entered university. Some would say I’ve come full circle. But my star and I know better.

What really opened my eyes to the possibilities facing me outside of school was a summer of interning. Not sure what I was expecting (certain that I wouldn’t have to deal with jumbo sized projects like airports and schools), I found myself designing houses. And houses. And more houses.

“People need a place to live more than they need any other type of building,” was the exasperated answer I got, as though this insanely obviously fact did not occur to me.

I learned that projects varied by company, with the bigger companies getting the bigger projects. But there were no public parks, urban revivals or any other kind of public design project that would improve our city. Hell, half the projects in the books violated some law or other.

I also realized that I had to throw out all the great new design strategies I learned in school. Even the basic stuff had complications. Arches were too expensive, domes required professional construction workers that we didn’t have, outdoor furniture couldn’t be easily imported.

Everything that isn’t limited by money is affected by either a) office politics b) a stubborn client or c) lack of resources. They never taught us anything like this at university.

I took it for granted that architecture was a powerful tool used by architects to improve living spaces. What I saw was greed, arrogance and self-importance. But it didn’t change my beliefs.

And here, reader, we reach the crutch of the matter. In school, endlessly learning tricks that future architects might never use, is pointless. Architecture school is, in its current form, redundant and in some cases, harmful. It’s not a matter of improving the curriculum but changing the status quo. Not to get all revolutionary or anything, but there does need to be a change to suit the reality of the profession.

I don’t know what will happen when I graduate, but I know I won’t be sitting at home waiting for a job to land in my lap. Nor do I particularly want the current jobs that are available. I went into architecture school with a certain mindset, and while I faced many challenges, the fundamentals of my belief system have not.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful for the time I spent at university. I wouldn’t be the architect or the person I am today if it wasn’t for these 5 years. Whether it was learning software programs from the older students or exploring our own potential as designers, there has been some useful life lessons we’ve picked up. University life after the 2011 Libyan revolution has a different flavour, with public events organized by the department and more opportunities for students.

But it means nothing if we go through reality-shock the moment we walk out those doors and find ourselves in repetitive, dead-end jobs. I know that’s being optimistic, as many of us will probably remained unemployed until we can get a government job with a pension, but those are few and far inbetween, and corruption can ensure that you probably won’t get one unless you have a “wasta” (connections). This is all the more reason why we need to start tailoring jobs to meet our needs as a developing country for better architecture.

I’ll enter the workforce with the same determination as when I entered university. If that institute has taught me anything, it’s that any situation can be altered and conquered for the better.
Does that sound too narcissistic and arrogant? Well, duh, I’m an architect.

The Graduation Gauntlet: Part 3

To spice up my dormant writing life as of late, here’s something a little different: a collaborative piece between me and the eloquent Nada. Graduation is often considered as one of those milestones that people reach in life yet it’s not particularly reflected on or spoken about very much. Tertiary education itself is quite an intense experience, especially in the Middle East I believe, where young men and women get their first taste of life. A few late-night conversations later, we decided it’d be a good idea to write about our university experiences and our perspectives on it and graduation. Doubly so given how we’re on opposite fences: I’m a graduate while Nada’s in her last semester.

When not collaborating with me, Nada runs a fantastic blog on Libyan politics, society and architecture over at Brave New Libya. You can find my version on her blog, or right here.

This post is from Nada’s perspective and is the third part of a series of four. The first part can be found here and the second here.

Enjoy.

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Part 3 | Biding My Time

I never realized that talking about the present situation, standing at the final hurdle and getting ready to leave, would be the most difficult part to talk about, even though it is the freshest in my memory.

I don’t want this to slowly descend into a sappy memoir about my regrets of the past and hopes for the future. I know what I want to do and what kind of person I want to be. I’m not waiting for life to throw me a bone, and I don’t regret the path that I’ve taken so far.

It’s the penultimate semester, and the last time my group and I will be united by common classes. Each of us will choose our supervisors and focus on our graduation projects. This project is supposed to be our finale, the work that defines who we are as architects and reflects on what we’ve learned in these past 5 years. You’d think we’d be more dedicated to it, but no. We just want to get the hell out.

Due to the hostility of the previous semesters, we are more divided now than we ever were before, both literally and figuratively. The stress and politics of the department had brought out the worst in us. And yet, other students know us as that group. Our fierce competition and determination to out-design each other has actually sharpened our abilities and skills.

While many have told us to relish these years at university, to make the most of the experience and other gems of wisdom unwittingly plagiarized from a Hallmark card, enough is enough. We are sick of deadlines and the pressure to stay in the game and the horrible sleepless nights. Seeing recent graduates practically waltz in the department from time to time, well rested and emotionally intact, makes things all the harder. Isn’t there a quote about how you feel the most exhausted once you see the finish line? There must be, because that’s how we feel.

I also believe that, to a certain extent, we all know what we want to do after graduation. Those who are engaged will get married, those who have a job waiting for them will start the cyclic drudgery of life immediately.

And then there are those of us who genuinely want to practice architecture, and who actually want to make a difference in our aesthetically challenged city. We will not only strive to change but also be forced to improve whatever horrors the phony architects of our generation commit.

It’s a challenge some of us look forward to, some hope to exploit, and some of us will be avoiding it altogether. But all these thoughts take a back seat to the single-minded pursuit of graduating.

Are we looking forward to a glitzy occasion, a large hall festooned with banners that celebrate our survival through the fashionable hell of architecture school? To hear our names called and to preen in front of the not-yet-graduated, reaching a milestone in our lives?

Not really, no. We just want that piece of paper that declares us to be of some value to potential employers, and more importantly, that we don’t have to take another goddamn test ever again. Oh, and the bragging rights, of course.

The Graduation Gauntlet: Part 2

To spice up my dormant writing life as of late, here’s something a little different: a collaborative piece between me and the eloquent Nada. Graduation is often considered as one of those milestones that people reach in life yet it’s not particularly reflected on or spoken about very much. Tertiary education itself is quite an intense experience, especially in the Middle East I believe, where young men and women get their first taste of life. A few late-night conversations later, we decided it’d be a good idea to write about our university experiences and our perspectives on it and graduation. Doubly so given how we’re on opposite fences: I’m a graduate while Nada’s in her last semester.

When not collaborating with me, Nada runs a fantastic blog on Libyan politics, society and architecture over at Brave New Libya. You can find my version on her blog, or right here.

This post is from Nada’s perspective and is the second part of a series of four. The first part can be found here.

Enjoy.

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Part 2 | The Rat Race

I had successfully traveled across the learning curve and settled myself into a comfortable cycle. Begin semester – make small talk – focus single-mindedly on design – try to ignore external annoyances (like the students) – finish semester in a haze of sleep deprivation – repeat. I learned to ignore the strong fumes of craft glue and had made new friends named Coffee and Energy Drink.

Arabic no longer became a challenge for me. And what I had first perceived as an obstacle was actually a problem that all the students were dealing with; an outdated and tedious curriculum. It wasn’t that I couldn’t grasp the language well, but that, even in English, the course material was dull and uninspiring. The eras of Islamic architecture, the many features of neo-classicism, the myriad buildings in Libyan cities built during the Ottoman era, none of this interested us.

What we really wanted to learn was how to emulate Norman Foster, how to effortlessly draw deft curves like Zaha Hadid. We had an overabundance of creative energy, but design class proved to be a limited outlet due to the different design philosophies of the professors. In hindsight, the professors mainly focused on getting us to design realistic buildings, a skill we could carry into the real world. But we didn’t care about the real world. We were young and wanted to design flashy, exciting buildings.

I wish I could give a better description of what life on campus was like. But architecture school means that you rarely see the outside of your studio. We were like phantasms to other students. “Whoa, is that an architecture student? I’ve never seen one in daylight before!”

Okay, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But it’s true that our social lives became nonexistent, giving hasty excuses to friends and family who asked about us. Aside from the occasional excursions to the cafeteria or library, we stayed holed up in our studios. This isolation is what gave us some semblance of unity, and softened our otherwise arrogant behaviour. Unlike the other departments, architecture was like one (often dysfunctional) family.

Those middle years were quite tolerable because, at that point, everyone had gotten used to each other’s idiosyncrasies. We figured out the dynamic of classes and exams (which, we discovered, differed considerably from high school), and we were starting to build up our architectural personalities and develop our own styles. It becomes so distinct that we could tell each other’s work apart without having to look at the name tag. We constantly worked on improving our skills as architects and designers, as well as starting to determine where our strengths and weaknesses lie. This would pave the way for what careers we’d have in the future.

Each of us found ourselves gravitating towards a certain aspect of architecture. There were the History nerd, the Landscape enthusiasts, the Structure geeks, and the Modeling & Render jocks. In a way, it was exactly like high school. We had formed cliques, and the social circles we had abandoned when we entered the department were recreated by the students. While it was amusing at first, it quickly got irritating.

One activity we enjoy doing during our limited free time is discussing how we would teach future students, if given the chance to become professors. “I’d outlaw exams completely,” declared one student, while another rattled off a list of subjects he’d eliminate because, to him, they were useless. A lot of us felt that way about certain subjects.

The further we progressed through school, the more we dreamt of what we were going to do when we finally graduated. And, as in the bane of all university students, thinking of the future meant that we were getting bored with the present.

The Graduation Gauntlet: Part 1

To spice up my dormant writing life as of late, here’s something a little different: a collaborative piece between me and the eloquent Nada. Graduation is often considered as one of those milestones that people reach in life yet it’s not particularly reflected on or spoken about very much. Tertiary education itself is quite an intense experience, especially in the Middle East I believe, where young men and women get their first taste of life. A few late-night conversations later, we decided it’d be a good idea to write about our university experiences and our perspectives on it and graduation. Doubly so given how we’re on opposite fences: I’m a graduate while Nada’s in her last semester.

When not collaborating with me, Nada runs a fantastic blog on Libyan politics, society and architecture over at Brave New Libya. You can find my version on her blog, or right here.

This post is Nada’s perspective and the is the first part of a series of four.

Enjoy.

__________________________________________________________________

Part 1 | Beginnings

I was both ecstatic and hesitant about starting university. I was finally going to study something I was interested in, to actually focus my efforts on a practical education instead of the bland, directionless subjects at high school (History of Pakistan, anyone?).

I guess the image of the apprehensive and starry-eyed freshman is accurate no matter where you go. University meant that you were no longer a ‘Child’ and had started on the path towards the coveted ‘Adulthood’.

But of course, what happens after depends on so many factors. The university you choose, the major you want, even the society you live in. I was born under a sarcastic star, because everyone around me, students and professors alike, were my antithesis. While I was passionate, enthusiastic and eager to learn, the people around me were either bored out of their brains or did not take the institute seriously.

The one thing that saved me from hypothetical suicide was the field I was studying. Architecture is a dynamic major. There was so much to learn, and a lot of room to experiment. It also opened the door to a wide-range of future careers.

If I’m completely honest, I probably wouldn’t have gotten through that first year of university if it wasn’t for the help of the other students. My own language disability, combined with my general high school education (as opposed to an engineering-specific one like the rest of the students had), made me candidate for Weakest Student in Class.

I genuinely considered dropping out. I was depressed, frustrated, and in those horrible moments it seemed like everyone was out to ruin my life. Okay, so maybe the residual teenage angst can be blamed for that. But I had this idealistic vision of university as a place that would transform me, and that vision certainly didn’t include having to learn a language in order to understand the curriculum.

But I buckled down, determined not to let Arabic defeat me from pursuing my passion, and with the aid of everyone around me I managed to pass that first semester.

The Godzilla Principle

Achoo!

Woah, it’s 2014 already! It’s been a long time since I posted anything so I figure it’s time to dust off the cobwebs and give this space a kick in the rear. For those of you wondering why I haven’t been posting, it’s because I have been awfully busy…. with important…. things. Things like juvenile laughing at this, looking for the right soundtrack for a particular day, pontificating various mysteries of life with friends or trying to find a job post-graduation. But I was mostly busy being too lazy to write anything.

Luckily, all that time spent being too lazy to write didn’t go to waste per-se. I had the fortune of ample time to read nice books, watch great shows and actually think what to write here. For today, let’s talk some film and television, shall we?

Continue reading

A Quick Afterthought

I think it’s a universal trait within Humankind to reflect on past decisions and situations be it in the form of hindsight, ‘what if’ scenarios or a particularly bad case of “L’esprit de l’escalier” .

Reflecting on the past is beneficial for the future as long as one does not dwell on it endlessly, but you don’t need me to tell you that. However, I’ve come to an interesting realization when thinking about the past. Continue reading