This interview is with Andrew Loia, a a master of architecture candidate at the University of Oregon with an expected graduation date of June 2018. We recently spoke with him about his experience within his program and what he's planning to do with his professional future.
What influenced you to pursue a degree in architecture?
I’ve always been interested in building design, but during my formative years I was encouraged to explore the related field of civil engineering. I earned my bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering, focusing on structural design. After graduation I worked professionally for eight years, but my work focus shifted primarily to the design of site infrastructure and utilities. I loved my office and was reasonably happy with my work, but my focus was slowly moving further and further from my real passion in buildings. So after some lengthy internal debate, I felt the time was now or never for me to pursue that passion and I began to apply to architecture schools.
What has your experience been like at University of Oregon?
I just finished my first year and I’ve been thrilled with my decision to come back to school, and particularly at the University of Oregon. The instructors are passionate, inspiring, and supportive, and even at a school as large as this they’ve always made themselves available to students outside of class. The program really focuses on environmental stewardship, so whether you are learning design fundamentals or more in-depth technical concepts, the overarching theme of environmental consciousness is present throughout. There are also countless student groups, committees, or organizations to join, and I’ve been fortunate enough to earn a research position at an Energy Studies lab within the department, which has been a real highlight for me.
Were there other schools you were considering, and if so, why did you choose this one?
I did apply to many schools, but the University of Oregon was always my first choice. For financial reasons the final decision between my top two schools was difficult, but UO’s focus on environmental design, along with my experience with the faculty during the application process really sold it for me. Alison Kwok, who is the Director of Graduate Studies in addition to being a professor, went above and beyond to help me, and also put me in touch with other faculty to help answer any questions that I had. Seeing how the school treated me as a perspective student I knew that as a full-time student I would have an even better experience, and I’m happy that my expectations have even been exceeded.
What is your favorite class so far, and why?
I love the design studios. The professors always come up with unique, challenging, and interesting problems, and you have an opportunity to take the technical content you’re learning in your other courses and apply them in a purely creative way to come up with a solution. Being able to apply that knowledge and synthesize concepts from different classes really helps to reinforce what you’ve learned.
What has been the most challenging aspect of this area of study, and was this something you had originally anticipated?
The program is incredibly demanding from a time management perspective, but this was something I was prepared for. One of the biggest challenges for me has been shifting from an engineering mindset, where there is generally a “correct answer” to be found, to an architectural one, where there are infinite answers to a problem, and the solutions can always be improved. Because the work can always be better, it’s important to make decisions and quickly evaluate the work, and to keep progressing forward.
Is there anything you wish you had known about this major ahead of time before choosing this career path or anything else you would like to share?
I was informed of it by friends who had gone through the experience of architecture school before me, but it’s important for those considering it to be aware of the time commitment and workload that is expected of architecture students. Studio hours, while always fun, are long and demanding, and there is always additional course work on top.
What are the best ways to network with your peers within your major?
I’ve been fortunate that the architecture student body at UO has a strong community feel to it. Because the program is so demanding, there is an “all in it together” attitude within the program. I’ve heard rumors of other schools being more cutthroat and competitive between students, but Oregon does a great job of encouraging collaboration and support amongst students. Bouncing ideas off of each other in studio, working on projects together, and seeking advice of those whose work you admire are all great ways to build your network while also improving your own work.
Have you participated in any internships?
I have not participated in any architecture internships to date, but I intend to pursue internships in the coming year, particularly next summer. The process for me starts with research of companies whose work I admire and for whom I’d like to work. If I’m lucky, they may attend the career fair that UO puts on and I’d try to introduce myself there. If not though, I would try to find alternative ways to contact the company and express my interest, and to submit a resume and portfolio. The architecture school also has a professional development office that is a great resource for students looking for employment. They can provide support with all aspects of a job search, from resume and portfolio reviews, to networking advice, to finding available positions, all the way through to the application and interview process.
What are your future career plans and aspirations?
At the moment I’m trying to build as strong of a technical foundation as I can, and I’d like to continue building it at the start of my career. Like many architecture students, I’d like to enter the working world in a design position. Once I have that strong foundation, I’d ultimately like to become an architect who positively impacts communities and the environment through my work. Whether that happens through work at a firm, or if it means starting my own someday remains to be seen, but having a consistent positive impact would be a dream come true.
What is the best piece of advice related to your field of study that you have received?
Give yourself enough time to prepare a presentation properly. You may have an amazing idea and have worked incredibly hard and it, but if you don’t allot enough time for communicating that idea in a clean and compelling way, the work and the quality won’t show.
What advice would you give someone else trying to break into this field?
Work hard, stay organized, and manage your time effectively. Architecture school projects can be a big time-suck, and you need to prioritize well and work efficiently to make sure you get it all done with a quality that you’re proud of. I’d also say not to underestimate how much you can get done in 15 minutes. If you have a 15-minute break, use it to knock something off your list, or improve a project even slightly. Taking advantage of small windows of time can be incredibly useful.
How are you financing your education, and what are your most helpful online resources or tools?
I’m financing my education with student loans and a small scholarship. Through my research position at the school I was also able to reduce my tuition and offset some daily living expenses. It may be to my detriment, but at the moment I’m not taking advantage of any online financial tools outside of my banking and student loan websites.
What resources or information would you like to help you think about your career that you're not currently getting?
I’ll be taking courses in professional practice later in my tenure at UO, but learning more about the business and professional side of the field of architecture would always be helpful. Learning design concepts are always the most fun parts of school, and it’s difficult to squeeze the professional or business courses in with so many technical classes needed to meet degree requirements, but understanding the business side is extremely practical and valuable.
Andrew's Reading List:
- Sun, Wind, and Light, by G.Z. Brown -- This is a phenomenal reference tool for designing energy efficient buildings
- Inquiry by Design, by John Zeisel -- This is an excellent book because it can either affirm your approach to the design process, or present you with new ways of thinking about it.
- Twenty-five Buildings Every Architect Should Understand, by Simon Unwin -- This was a great introductory book to the field, showing how different architectural elements have been and can be used.
- Oh, and any book by Francis D.K. Ching will always be valuable, and beautiful.