Empowered by Education
I still remember the Spider-Man lunchbox, blue shorts and vest, and nicely pressed white shirt I wore to primary school everyday while my family and I lived in Abuja, Nigeria. In Nigeria, education is highly valued and seen as one of the only ways to achieve a better life, so school starts much earlier for children at just four years of age. Shortly after turning five in 1998, my life changed when my parents decided to immigrate to the United States, leaving behind friends and family to start a new life and ministry. To be honest, my sister and I were both scared and excited to embark on this adventure filled with many new sights and sounds. We got to fly in an airplane, see the ocean beneath us, and be amazed by the sheer height of the buildings in New York once we landed Stateside.
Drawing and math have always come easily to me and both emerged as strengths as I focused on excelling in my classes. After public elementary and middle school, my parents enrolled me at a private all-boys school, Montgomery Bell Academy (MBA). Transitioning from public to private school proved difficult and I had to work twice as hard to catch up in my studies and athletic pursuits. I realized that the only factor that differentiated public and private schools was the exposure to resources. I truly believe that as a society, we should work to provide this level of access to all schools.
During my time at MBA, I gained a greater appreciation for mathematics and the fine arts. This led me to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in architecture at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. In my design studios and elective courses, I learned of the many factors that affect a building with each design move having urban, economic, social, and environmental consequences. A growing passion of mine became the marriage of ecology and ecosystems with the built environment and technology. This passion drove my Master’s degree path of landscape architecture which allowed me to further learn how to utilize the landscape as a design tool for true sustainability.
Design today should not negatively affect future generations and should work in concert with our planetary ecosystems.
With degrees in both architecture and landscape architecture, I was able to land my current position at the Chicago office of the prestigious architectural, urban planning, and engineering firm, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), as a junior urban designer. At SOM, I am working on a variety of projects at multiple scales thinking about the interactions and intersections of buildings, public open spaces, land uses, and the environment. There are many details in the built environment that must be considered whether designing a development into an existing urban fabric or when designing a city from scratch.
One of the aspects of the profession of architecture and design that I love most is its vast opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and learning. Architects, once licensed, are required to participate in Continued Education Unit (CEU) events to keep their skills sharp and up to date. As the student in college that everyone went to for help on specific software tips or design ideas, I wanted to continue helping others improve their skill sets by launching a workflow and skillshare tutorial series called ‘You’re Doing It Wrong’ in the Fall of 2016. The goal of this series and webinar is to help designers work smarter by optimizing and integrating their software workflows. Each hour and a half long session covers a different topic or software ranging from programs in Adobe Creative Cloud to CAD programs. Each session is live streamed, recorded, and uploaded to YouTube for free viewing afterwards. As a co-chair of the Illinois Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (I-NOMA) Professional Development Committee, I am in a unique position to give back to the communities that have given so much to me by providing the exposure to resources that many need to succeed. Internally at SOM, I am a part of a research initiative on Design Computation and Digital Fabrication, called Blackbox, that holds tutorials and workshops. The first session I had the opportunity to run involved creating a parametric scripting tool, in a program called Grasshopper for Rhino, for rapid creation of city roads, buildings, and parks allowing for flexible edits to save time and energy. I am always looking for ways to better my skills sets and share what I have learned to everyone. My ultimate goal is to take all that I have learned back to Nigeria, find new ways to educate, and help design and build a better future for my people. Whether that goal is through SOM or under my own practice is yet to be seen. Stay tuned.