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.
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.