School of Architecture College of Design

Six Truths I Learned in Architecture School: Sara Marquardt Reflects on Her Time in Graduate School

Six Truths I Learned in Architecture School

Sara Marquardt Reflects on her time in graduate school after graduation.


“Wherever you go next, be sure to find strong designers who will pour into you,” a mentor of mine wisely told me recently. Her words have me reflecting on the critical importance of having mentors who foster both professional and personal growth. Throughout my graduate education, I have been strongly affected by the intentional outpouring of wisdom and knowledge that has been gifted to me by the faculty in the School of Architecture. Finding much of this wisdom to have larger truth, I’d like to share with you six life lessons I’ve learned through treasured mentors in Architecture School.


One: Keep all the plates spinning. - Professor Sharon Roe

The analogy goes like this: A performer begins by taking a pole and spinning a plate on one of its ends. Once enough force has been built up, the performer sets down the pole, plate still spinning, and picks up another pole to spin a plate on. The pattern continues until the performer has quite a field of spinning plates around him or her. And soon, the performer needs to go back to the first plate and give it another spin to keep it going. This is design, Professor Roe told me. You find yourself in a field of spinning plates, never letting any fall, but allowing your attention to shift and grow over time.




Two: Do it again, simply better. - Professor Andrezj Piotrowski

A message I’ve strongly received throughout my graduate education is the need to both produce a volume of work and also quality of thought. The do it again, simply better principle speaks to testing ideas through iteration. It is the highest praise: there is something right here; keep going.




Three: Three trees, three columns, and a wall. - Professor Gunter Dittmar

In years past, a student of his had made a beautiful model, Professor Dittmar told our class. The model was simple: there was a row of three trees, followed by a row of three columns, and then a wall. It was such a lovely model that Professor Dittmar had asked to keep it for his records. But, the student had by this time thrown the model away. “No problem,” the student told Professor Dittmar, “I can just make it again.” And so, the student made it just the same: three trees, three columns, and a wall. But, when Professor Dittmar saw it, he exclaimed, “No, no, this is not the same at all.” While physically the same, there was a tangible difference in this remade model. The intuition and discovery that was so present in the original had died. From this parable, we learn the necessity to see, recognize, and celebrate the early origins of ideas.




Four: Go Home. - Professor Lance Lavine

All too many times, I have pushed my body past a productive tension, accumulating stress paired with sleep deprivation and, perhaps, one too many lattes. On one of these days, Professor Lavine came to my studio desk only to find me with red eyes and a sniffly nose. Go home, Sara, was the gift he gave me. At times, the best thing we can do for ourselves, and the quality of our work, is to step away and recharge.




Five: What's in the cross-hairs? What's in the periphery? - Professor Gayla Lindt

As a distracted person strong in ideation, the gift Professor Lindt has given me is to focus and define my attention. The periphery ideas can recede into the background, still present but faded, while cross-hairs of the question at hand become increasingly defined. The power in this strategy is learning to define a focal question, name a method, and reflect on the takeaway.





And finally, to end with wisdom number six, as told to me by Professor Roe, and borrowed from the author Nora Ephron: “As long as you are writing the story, you are the heroine.”

And so, onto the next chapter we go.


Above: Class of 2016 after Reviews









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