Even though I graduated Barnard with a major in Political Science, the focus of my academic career was really (and oxymoronically) in “dabbling”. I took courses in most anything that sounded interesting and was taught by a well-reviewed professor. When I was registering for classes in the second semester of my junior year, architecture studio was one such course that came up.
Nevermind that my design experience until that point had been confined to the digital realm – websites and graphics, nothing pen or paper or even remotely involving a ruler. And all I knew about architecture was that I liked looking at buildings and that I had found a friend’s summer program intriguing.
I signed up, and showed up to class with the requisite supplies – lead 2mms, T-bar, and all manner of materials I found foreign and delighting. The professor handed us our first assignment – to visualize and create a three dimensional map, where New York City would be represented through our choice of neighborhood-specific data. I remember staring at that piece of paper with my mind running – not away but in all the directions I wasn’t normally challenged to think in. And I knew I had come to the right place.
What followed was an art school-like experience in which projects were assigned, ideas sketched on paper, discussed, revised, exacto-ed into cardboard, physically grappled with, taken apart and reassembled in a series of caffeine-fueled nights of seemingly endless cut and glue (and cut and glue), creating prototypes that were just well-formed enough to present on the next morning, in critique sessions where people alternately questioned and wondered aloud, inspiring each other and the next round.
The most important thing I carried away from all this was something so fundamental it’s almost laughable. I learned that I could make things with my own two hands. That yes, if I needed a box, I could easily take some scissors and cardboard and make myself one. Maybe I had managed to overlook this ability of mine in all of my twenty-or-so years of life, but somehow I suspect that this society of ours enables us to simply buy whatever we don’t have. So we are rich because we never have to improvise for something we lack, but by the same token we are poor because we never get to create what we want or need.
Once I learned that I had this creating-ability, and the unadulterated joy that came in exercising it, I was almost wistful that I had not considered art school, where I could have lived this architecture studio experience full-time. But without Barnard and its Nine – no, infinite – Ways of Knowing, I never would have discovered this. That in a society of consumers, I could be a maker.