In the fall of 2020 I applied to graduate school for architecture. Disillusioned with engineering, after many calls with alumni and working professionals, I decided to go ahead and take the leap.
After facing a string of rejections from fellowships and jobs, I cast a wide net - applying at 13 schools in total. I was fortunate enough to be accepted to every single school except one. Here are a couple of the essays from my application.
Harvard: What is your reaction to the phrase, "Less is More," an aphorism found in many disciplines?
From Niemeyer and Costa’s vision for a reinvented Brazil manifested in Brasília to Corbusier’s commemoration of India’s newfound independence through Chandigarh, “Less is More” heralded the era of post-war modernism. Rejecting unnecessary ornamentation and embracing the beauty of simplicity, modernism was a symbol of progress and rite-of-passage for emerging countries vying for the world stage.
However, as development practices around the world homogenized toward monoliths of steel, concrete, and glass, they abandoned cultural traditions, such as vernacular building techniques developed over generations to coexist with the environment.
With the deification of western ideals of progress came practices of land grabbing, architectural exclusion, and the marginalization of Indigenous communities and people of Color. And now, the world is facing the consequences. Whether from devastating fires in Australia, Brazil, and California, or flooding in the coastal United States and Southeast Asia, BIPOC communities often bear the brunt of the climate crisis.
I want to study the buildings sidelined by modernism — the vernacular architecture of overlooked and marginalized communities, specifically adapted to their environments over generations of experimentation and innovation. Alongside the Critical Landscapes Design Lab at the GSD, I hope to research vernacular design possibilities under a critical analysis of western canons of knowledge to preserve and celebrate cultural heritage. By marrying vernacular and contemporary innovations, I aim to craft a future of architecture that coexists with nature.
In a 2013 lecture at the GSD, Janine Benyus introduces nature as the true minimalist, using only five polymers to create the entire diversity of life. Our buildings and constructs should draw ideas from both nature as well as the cultures that have adapted to it. It’s time to ask more of our buildings and civilization as a whole. Less was more. And now it’s time for us to pick up the slack.
Harvard: Please tell us about a work of architecture or an experience in the built environment that you find engaging and why.
In a Norwegian tundra, home to Europe’s last wild reindeer herds, sits the Tverrfjellhytta Reindeer Pavilion. Its patinated metal sheets drape over a frame of steel, encasing a rippled timber core that resembles entire tree-trunks that have been carved and weathered by time. A glass wall faces out over the tundra, reflecting the rolling clouds of fog and mist.
Cold air seeped into my bones as I made my way up the winding gravel trail. With other members of Dartmouth’s photography club in tow, we cut through the empty landscape — chatting and laughing all the way to the pavilion. But upon entering, expressions changed, conversations stopped, and eyes began searching in earnest.
As other visitors filtered in, filling the remaining space, the atmosphere gradually changed from hoping, wanting to catch a glimpse, to wondering. With her nose pressed against the glass, a child looked up to her mother and asked if reindeer were really still out there.
I stood before the glass wall gazing out, waiting for signs of movement. As my eyes scanned across the terrain, I started to notice life: the moss, lichen, and other alpine vegetation surrounding us, filling the seemingly desolate land — fighting for their existence in an unforgiving world. The pavilion acted as a lens, focusing our gaze to the life we overlook and transforming the barren landscape into a place of reverence. Hiking back, our once haphazardly-placed feet now fell gingerly on the trail, avoiding the patches of flora.
This experience showed me that architecture can change the way we interact with the world. While engineering attempts to address the climate crisis through technological innovations, true sustainability cannot be achieved without engaging people. By integrating design with engineering, I hope to create spaces that address climate change and reconnect people to nature.
Yale: Please describe a significant experience, idea, passion, or pursuit that has led you to apply to the Yale School of Architecture.
As a child I never played with legos; rather, my version of fun was hiking through endless trails that wound through old-growth forests and sprawling out on sleeping pads, watching the stars while my father snored beside me.
In college, I was shocked to learn that many of my peers grew up experiencing nature as concrete-walled city parks instead of never-ending forest expanses. In order to help them find a sense of place in the outdoors, I founded Dartmouth’s photography club, planning and leading trips to introduce them to the wilderness. During an astrophotography workshop, one member revealed that he had never seen the Milky Way before due to light pollution at home. Another brought up an anecdote about her 5-year-old sibling who drew chicken tenders from Trader Joe’s as his crayon rendition of a chicken. We laughed, but there was no denying the truth ― with resources such as water, electricity, and food available at the press of a button, nature becomes something to exploit rather than an entity with stories, meaning, and life worth protecting.
My junior year, I worked with a team of engineers to install a micro-hydroelectric generator for the Inian Islands Institute, an ecological field school in Alaska. During the back-aching hours of removing the rusty old generator, I heard accounts of family fishing businesses shuttered by ocean acidification, forced migration from rising sea levels, and the gradual erasure of culture and ways of life. As I sat there, tightening the bolts on the shiny new generator, I felt trapped: that new generator allows the institute to run fossil-free, but it is still part of the system of consumption and modernization that contributes to climate change and disconnects people from nature.
I hoped to change the world through engineering, but continuing down that path would only propagate unsustainable frameworks of building. I want to integrate design with engineering to create spaces that challenge the conventions of the built environment and reconnect people to nature. At Yale, I hope to work with the Center for Ecosystems in Architecture to repair our natural environments and revitalize our urban fabric. I admire their work on the Nairobi Ecological Pavilion, and I want to mirror their efforts toward creating spaces that address global environmental and human crises. With Yale as the starting point, I aim to create spaces that restore nature, celebrate cultures, and change the way we fundamentally interact with the world.