Curiosity and the Uptown Theatre

Uptown Theatre (Source)

Last semester in my Studio course, we studied neighborhoods.

How can we discover what a neighborhood needs?
How can architecture respond to a neighborhood's needs? 

Each student was assigned a specific neighborhood. I was assigned Uptown. Even though I was born and raised in Chicago and have lived here all my life, I had just only heard of the Uptown area and knew nothing about it. Terrible, I know.

Ever since I found out about the Uptown Theatre, I have to admit, I became pretty enthralled with the idea of reusing the Theatre for something more than it is now, which is just an empty deteriorating structure with so much potential.

Grand Lobby (Source)
After researching the Uptown neighborhood, I learned how diverse it was, not only ethnically but also in the various talents and skills people had. There are so many cool photography studios, art studios, music venues, restaurants, and so much more in the area. I thought, "Why not use the the extra spaces in the theatre for an informal space that allows people like you and I to teach and learn skills from each other?" Like a real life lynda.com. It would be an exhibition of the Uptown neighborhood's wonderful skills in a magnificent building. I came up with this idea after studying the neighborhood as much as I could in the time period I had before the deadline, but I submitted a question to WBEZ's Curious City to see if I could get more Uptown residents and business owners to share their opinions of what should become of the Uptown Theatre. I was so happy when people voted for my question, because I felt like I didn't have enough suggestions from the Uptown community for my project...until now.

Detail of a conceptual collage I created to illustrate the diversity of skills and talents in the Uptown neighborhood. Each piece of cloth represented a different business with a different skill. (Video)
When WBEZ reporter, Odette Yousef, contacted me to help her answer my question, I was excited to be a part of the process. We surveyed people in front of the Theatre and she also created an online survey for people to submit their ideas for the building's future. Now, I'm super excited to continue working on my project and transforming it to support the community's vision for the building. Even though it's a hypothetical project that probably won't come to life (it would be awesome if it did), I feel better knowing that it can now respond to what people actually imagine for the beautiful space that sits there waiting for people to experience it. I know, I'm such a nerd, but it's exciting!

Listen to the segment on WBEZ 91.5FM today at 3:00pm and 6:00pm and again on Saturday at 8:20pm. The podcast is also online here and below:


Photography Event at IIT

Chicago folks!

If you're interested in photography, join us at IIT for a presentation and tutorial by Audrey Simper. She is a super talented photographer and I invited her to speak at IIT for iitExposure. Everyone is welcome to attend. You don't have to be an IIT student. It's going to take place on Friday, September 19, 2014 and Friday, September 26, 2014 at 6:30pm in Crown Hall Lower Core. I hope to see new faces. It's going to be a fantastic talk!


Intuition, risks, and the ACE Mentor Program

I submitted an essay to the ACE Mentor Program for their Fifth Annual Alumni Scholarship program. Alhamdulilah I was chosen as the recipient of the scholarship and wanted to share my essay, as I truly feel the ACE Mentor Program helped me learn so much about Architecture even before I started at IIT. Shoutout to the wonderful folks who wrote recommendation letters for me and helped me in any way!


“Follow your intuition and good will come of it.”

This is what Stanley Tigerman said to me as I sat next to him during a lunch at The Art Institute of Chicago Modern Wing a few days before his exhibition opened at the museum. As an intern at the museum’s Department of Architecture and Design, I was so honored to have sat with him to discuss his work. He shared many stories of his travels and experiences, but that one word stuck with me after our meeting.


I believe intuition drove me to develop a curiosity for architecture. Intuition is what prompted me to take an architecture course at Lane Tech High School. It is what made me raise my hand in class when my teacher asked if anyone was interested in joining a mentoring program for students interested in architecture. It is why I was able to develop a true passion for what I study today at the Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture. 

Article from the Lane Warrior (newspaper at Lane Tech High School) about the Newhouse Competition and ACE Mentor Program, May 2009
During my time in high school, I never said no to any opportunity that came my way. When Mr. Berlanga, my architecture teacher at Lane Tech, mentioned any events open to high school students interested in architecture, I was the first to sign up. I took workshops at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, attended ACE Mentor meetings, won awards through the Newhouse Architecture Competition, and attended lectures by renowned architects throughout the city. I felt that if these opportunities existed for high school students to learn more about a field they were interested in, then why would I not take part in them?

The ACE Mentor Program was one of the first programs I signed up for during my journey to learn more about architecture. When I walked into Gensler’s office during the first meeting, I was filled with excitement and curiosity. As the program moved forward, I always took on tasks in our team that I found to be challenging. This allowed me to gain the most from this program that I found to be extremely beneficial as I began college. Thanks to the ACE Mentor Program, I had experienced a glimpse of the design process and the skills required to fulfill that process at an early stage. I developed an advanced understanding of architecture through the numerous hands-on activities and field trips I took with my ACE Mentor team.

Through the ACE Mentor Program, I also developed strong relationships with my mentors that lasted even after the program had ended. They were there for me during my time in college, always ready to share advice and support my journey as an architecture student. Even until this day, as I complete my final year at IIT, I reflect upon the dedication my mentors had to helping me learn about the field of architecture. They took time out from their busy schedules to share their passion with me, which in turn, inspired me to share my passion with other people.

For the past two years, I have been invited to Lane Tech High School’s Professional Day event to give a short speech to students. All of the other speakers who are invited to this event have been professionals in their field for numerous years, while I am the youngest speaker that has ever been invited. The hosts of this event explained to me that I could relate to the high school students by sharing my journey of discovering what I wanted to pursue at a young age. I always mention the ACE Mentor Program as one of the key reasons I stuck to architecture and developed a deep understanding and love for the field. I always say, “Whether you want to study architecture, engineering, construction, law, medicine, or something else, there is a program out there for you with mentors waiting to teach you, guide you, and share their love for the same field. I strongly believe this, because this program I was a part of prepared me immensely and I feel that there should be such a program for every discipline out there.” I was also invited to the Chicago Architecture Foundation Newhouse Architecture Competition Awards Ceremony as a keynote speaker. I used it as another opportunity to share the advice I was given as a high school student to attain success in the field of architecture.

As I look back at what intuition has allowed me to accomplish, I feel certain that it will continue helping me move forward in my career even after college. During those moments in my life that I had been uncertain if I was the person for the job, if I would benefit from the opportunity, or if I could even fit it into my schedule, I followed my intuition. I followed the voice inside of my head that said I would never get this chance again.

Was I the person for the job as an intern at Studio Gang Architects?

Would I truly benefit from studying thousands of miles abroad in Scandinavia?

Could I fit an internship in the Department of Architecture and Design at The Art Institute of Chicago in my busy school schedule?

This is what I ask myself when these doors of fresh experiences, unforgettable moments, and wonderful opportunities open in my life. In the end, I always thank intuition. I thank the gut feeling that pushed me to say yes and the voice that told me the best time was now. This instinct is the one that motivated me to raise my hand to learn more about the ACE Mentor Program, walk through the doors of Gensler on the first day, and take risks.


If you're a high school student with an interest in architecture, construction, or engineering, learn more about the ACE Mentor Program by clicking here.


Long weekends mean experiencing architecture and nature.

Yes, I am alive, folks.

I know I haven't blogged in so long and I feel terrible about it, but everyone gets busy every now and then. What the heck have I been up to? Probably too much to explain in a blog post, but I will share a brief update.

Summer vacation was fun, but quick. I took a summer studio at IIT, so that kept me busy for a while. In between summer studio madness, I visited Georgia, which was fun. I also visited Philadelphia for a wedding, which was nice. A friend of mine asked me to take her wedding photographs for her in Chicago, so that was also an exciting experience. More recently, I visited the Farnsworth House and Starved Rock State Park. I basically did a little bit of everything...and more. (See what I did there?)

I visited the Farnsworth House a couple of years ago with my first-year studio, but with so many students running around everywhere, I didn't feel the calmness and beauty of the building and its surroundings until I went with a small group. On the way back, Afroz and I realized we were so close to Starved Rock State Park, so we decided to do some hiking. It was funny, because I took him somewhere I had been and loved and he took me somewhere he had really enjoyed a few years back. It made for a fantastic Labor Day weekend and I am so glad we took the spontaneous road trip Alhamdulilah. I wonder where we'll go next!

The Farnsworth House was built between 1945 and 1951 for Dr. Farnsworth in Plano, Illinois
It is an entirely open glass pavilion meant to serve as a weekend getaway house on a
secluded wooded site near the Fox River.
The house is built with eight I-shaped steel columns to support the roof and floor frameworks. 

When we visited Starved Rock State Park, we decided not to bring our cameras. We really wanted to hike and just take in the beautiful views. I just captured a couple photos with my phone, because I couldn't resist. The park is just one of those places where you need to walk into a quiet area with a few people and just listen to the sound of water dripping after a light rain, along with the the birds chirping. It was absolutely beautiful and I am so glad we stopped there. I highly recommend everyone to wear some comfy shoes and take a long hike at Starved Rock, because it felt amazing afterward.

Love the way the light was shining through these crevices.