Re-discovering Self in Architecture

We’ve all faced tough situations and problems in our lives and the past year or so has been incredibly difficult yet looking back, the solitude and clarity may have been exactly what we needed. Such is the topic of our guest post this week, something slightly more personal. Radhika talks about her journey so far in architecture as well as overcoming self-doubt and taking the time to reflect on her path. Hopefully, this could give you an insight into a new perspective or just remind you that it’s okay to not know, it’s okay to find yourself in the most unexpected situations and that architecture doesn’t need to be the be-all, end-all for us.

silhouette of road signage during golden hour

This year, like for most of you, has been a pretty intense year for me. Three major events happened that led me to re-discovering myself.

  1. I turned 30 in January at the very beginning of the year
  2. Had a major burn out in mid-February 2020
  3. The pandemic took full effect in March 2020

Hi, my name is Radhika. I find myself between architecture and management. I am trained as an architect by profession and have worked in established firms in India and the Netherlands. Currently, I work as a studio manager for an architectural model making studio based in Amsterdam. I am a curious person, willing to learn and grow. In my free time, you would find me baking, painting, or writing.

Starting with the first event, turning 30 made me feel grown-up, I am not sure if it’s the number or the belief but I started questioning everything I was doing, if I had the right job, am I in the right place and time? Have I achieved enough?

Being trained as an architect and working as a manager, I was struggling between making a choice whether to pursue architecture or management as a career path. Being brought up in a family where all the uncles are architects, I was fascinated by their work and my goal was to become an architect. My father supported this idea very much. While pursuing architecture, I enjoyed the process of learning but never enjoyed the “stress” it created. I was always seeking a more peaceful and balanced way of working. However, I never found this balance till I graduated. I wanted to take a break and think for myself but the idea of pursuing architecture kept nagging me.

Then came the burnout. This was just before the pandemic hit. I still remember the day when I was ready to go to work and I was unable to move and I was asked to stay home and not go to work. In Dutch they call it “overspannen”. I was like, “Really, it took a while to absorb”. My dictionary never had such terms. For a week or two, I still went to work but for lesser hours. When I think back now, it was probably because I pushed myself too far. Depending on how you see it, unfortunately, or fortunately, we were in the pandemic.

I was asked to work from home (like the rest of the world).

Usually, I have things planned like short trips, getaways on weekends or going to museums or visiting friends. But now, life was just home – work – groceries. This kind of routine gave me a lot of time to be with myself and it made me think more deeply about myself. I spent more time cycling and walking in the woods. This was when the major thought processes began and my mind was working its way through rediscovering myself.

The struggling thought/question was there in the back of my mind almost every day for a few months. What should I do next? I wanted to come to a decision so badly. I talked to people around me, asking what I should be doing, or how I should be doing it etc etc. I wanted to validate everything I did so that I am doing everything “PERFECTLY RIGHT”. This helped to a degree. It helped because I was conscious of my thoughts while talking to others. And it didn’t help because some people started imposing their thoughts. So, finally, I decided to focus on my thoughts and let the brain do the talking, reacting and responding.

There were two sides of my brain:

  1. Some days it said, “Hey, you struggled hard to become an architect, you should pursue architecture”
  2. The other side said, “Hey, do something that you are really good at”

At some point, I realised that the first time I thought of pursuing architecture came from external forces which were more other people’s thoughts and ideas for me. Once I realised this, the path became slightly clearer and I thought to myself, “just do something you are good at’. Management comes to me naturally be it even a small task, I take up the complete responsibility and deliver the best. Still, it did take a while to absorb and to agree to this thought.

This was also the time that reminded me of what we learn in architecture school:

“Design is a process” in the same way “Thinking is a process”. The process took its time and I am happy to have gone through this process or facing my inner desires. The end result is satisfying because then it becomes only about you, getting rid of influences and noise from elsewhere.

Working as a studio manager for the same company where I started as an intern model maker, gives me confidence and satisfaction. I love my work and the way I do it. And I am grateful to people around me, who saw my abilities and supported me. To all the students of architecture or fresh graduates, I would say – the field of architecture teaches us much more. In my opinion, it teaches us “ways to think from a different perspective”

My interest in design/ art and architecture still persists. I paint, bake, read, write in my free time. It makes me happy. This phase of being with myself, feeling myself, I rediscovered myself. In the end, some philosophies/myths I heard, made me believe in them and they are:

  1. Age is just a number
  2. There is always a way when you are clear
  3. Every negative has a positive

There is always much to explore, learn, discover and follow the path where you feel yourself every day. Good luck, stay healthy and positive.

Cheers,

Radhika

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