Since finishing my Master’s degree at Stanford this past June, I have been hard at work planning the next chapter of my life: my professional career. I knew as early as my undergraduate years that I would not be heading down the corporate path (“The Man” as I watched so burn on the playa), and perhaps as early as my high school years spent reading The Fountainhead in AP Calculus that the only person I ever wanted to work for was myself. That ambition has taken the form of Cloud Arch Studio, a design practice based in California but extending collaborative arms to Europe and beyond. Since forming in 2014 my colleagues around the world and I have worked on diverse projects with the London Festival of Architecture, the San Francisco Planning Commission and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and Google, and I’m excited to watch the company grow in 2016.
But I also knew by the end of graduate school that my departure from the academic setting would be in no way absolute. The saying that wisdom is discovering how little you know could not have been more deeply ingrained in me by my humbling experiences leading Stanford’s first-ever entry in the Solar Decathlon. In fact, I learned from my time building Acabee, a kind of Stanford-focused Khan Academy, with my roommate Abi during our sophomore year in FroSoCo that the best way to learn something is to teach it. I took that joyous experience to heart and ended up spending a significant part of my time at Stanford organizing student-initiated courses, TA-ing studios, and developing a project-based learning course in urban development that ultimately became the module I was hired as a part-time lecturer to build as a pilot for a future sustainable urban systems graduate program in the CEE Department.
There’s yet another thread to my professional career that began in earnest after the Solar Decathlon, when I took a gap year to travel for nine months through twenty-three countries in Europe with my best friend Dylan. At the same time, a few colleagues from the Solar Decathlon team and I began realizing that the CORE concept we had developed was more impactful if re-engineered for the developing world. Getting out of the Silicon Valley bubble and seeing poverty with my own eyes was the start of my commitment to social good, and in the last year I have been invited to travel to Santiago, San Salvador, and other developing areas, and have begun to build an international network of collaborators on low-income, energy-efficient housing models for millions of impoverished families.
What excites me the most is the opportunity to develop a hybrid model for my design practice, with a for-profit studio providing high-value solutions to the biggest clients of the first world, and a for-purpose lab turning that money into high-impact solutions for the biggest problems of the third world, hand-in-hand with local communities and leaders. It’s perhaps the stupidest ambition I’ve had to try to build such a non-profit organization within months of getting a for-profit out of the red, but I’ve been known to stumble through on what I foolishly pursue. What would help is to gain the patronage of some of the role model philanthropists I’ve met in the Bay Area for a sort of matching model program on what I myself give to my for-purpose projects.
And so my sort of personal manifesto has taken shape (a moral CV as Dylan and I like to call it), to each day strive for five basic acts: to Learn, to Teach, to Make, to Give, to Love.
In the last few weeks, a new opportunity has arisen which falls right in line with my mission. I am excited to join the The Nueva School faculty at the Bay Meadows campus as a part-time architecture instructor for the upcoming academic year. Teaching the founding class at Nueva’s new high school the fundamentals of design and engineering will complement my urban development course at Stanford, as well as refine my own process at Cloud. I am proud of my university, but I have also learned that the most critical modes of thinking and doing are developed long before college. I have also learned that the state of architecture education throughout the country is seriously crippled to prepare students for the challenges which face the built environment in the coming century. Through my time at Nueva, I hope to build the foundation of a new way of teaching design and engineering which will one day shape the way we all learn, teach, give, make, and love.