The Blank Page by John Abbott

When my two kids were in middle and high school, I always volunteered on Career Day and shared with the students my work as an architect. I don’t think my arrival in the classroom was ever met with quite the anticipation of the police officer or firefighter who were by far the most popular presenters.

But I had cool props: scale models, renderings, 3-D drawings and great photographs of buildings. Over the years I have fine-tuned the presentation to talk less about architecture and more about the creative process. I still like to show how a rough sketch can actually become a building; how an idea can become reality. My favorite example is a little yellow pad of Post-It-Notes, one of the most useful, successful and sustainable inventions ever, born from the collaboration of an engineer and a marketeer. The Wright Brothers made an airplane out of bicycle parts. Picasso didn’t paint a wine bottle or a guitar or a woman’s face. He painted them all differently.

Have a simple, elegant idea and make it happen.

So, one afternoon I took this message to a group of middle school students at the Stewart Center, Fortunately, other props for this discussion walk right through the door with the audience. I point out a handbag, an I-phone, a printed tee shirt, a backpack, a bracelet- all of which first required an idea- a newer idea, a different idea- and the wear-with-all to make it happen. I show them the tools of architect’s creative process: some sketches, scale models, drawings and photographs of built work.

They have good questions about being an architect

Do you have to know a lot of math? Yes. Basic math, geometry, physics and thermodynamics are fundamental cornerstones of architectural and engineering design and building construction. (They slump a little)

What about literature and writing? You have to be skilled in communicating and marketing your ideas to others who can help you make those ideas become real. (A few grimaces.)

How long does it take to become an architect? Five or six years of college, three years of internship and a seven-part registration exam. (Man, that’s a long time.)

How much money do you make? Enough. (No help there.)

At this age, the students are allured by the prospect of making a lot of money – quickly. I suspect this notion is propagated by the big dollars paid the stars of the sports and entertainment industries.

The students at the Stewart Center have ambition, dreams, big ideas: fashion designer, virtual game designer, writer, veterinarian, nurse, owner of a Five Guys. I stress imagination and invention coupled with hard work, patience and persistence. Never give up. There are a lot failures in between the successes.

I close my presentation by showing them a blank page in my sketchbook. They see a blank page. I see opportunity and a chance for a fresh idea to be put to paper, considered, tested, refined and built. The page isn’t empty. It’s full.

They get it.

John Abbott

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