Aside from 4 years of experiences which provide me with a unique understanding of the built world, one experience stands out. In my senior year in the architecture program, I volunteered to assist with interviews of prospective design school applicants. I was paired with another student and Professor George Bireline. We would interview prospective students then submit our recommendations. It was both tedious and fascinating.
After a long day of interviews, the next applicant to be interviewed was a young innocent looking male high school senior appearing anxious and excited, probably just the way I looked just four years earlier. But something immediately looked just a bit different if not strange. Just as the young man was entering the interview room, we noticed that his mother was struggling to bring in three large pieces of 3/4″ plywood sheets that measured about three feet by 4 feet in size. Initially we could not tell what these boards were or what they were for, until the young man said they were his portfolio. As the mother, still struggling to bring these boards into the room started to turn them around, I could see the eyes rolling and slight laughter building in my fellow interviewers and maybe a little in myself.
The interview questions began, and I could see that the questions yielded responses of someone who probably was not cut out for the program at the college of design. I suddenly felt bad for him, that maybe he was unable to express his true interest in what he wanted to do or why he brought the string art. I mean string art was popular at the time but generally seen as a rote household craft. I also looked at his mother and sensed the deep love she had for her son in doing everything she probably knew to do to help her son achieve his dreams even if it meant carrying these massive heavy boards with tons of nails and woven string.
As he seemed to start to realize that his string art was not impressing the interviewers, but rather almost being laughed at I launched into asking him questions from a different perspective. In executing the string art did he have a love for math, geometry, and / patterns that repeat or morph into sub-forms not unlike music. He immediately lit up and found his words, how he liked classical music, especially how composers can write a line of music then explore the many variations of that composition, JUST LIKE HE ENJOYS hammering in a pattern of nails into a board and guiding the string around the nails in varying patterns to see the beauty of color and pattern. And just like that a NO went to a YES where the interviewers’ consensus subsequently was to offer him acceptance into the school of design.
As a senior, I never saw him again. I never knew whether he accepted the offer, but I hope he did, and I hope he did well. I hope his education was as rewarding as mine. Imagine how that one moment may have changed his life.
It was a lesson to me to listen closely and compassionately as we all experience and appreciate design through different media and in different ways, as no matter our IQ, we all sometimes need a little help and tolerance in expressing what we are doing and what we are experiencing. That moment taught me volumes in what it means to truly be a designer.