The Journey from Hartford to Los Angeles.
Life is a marathon. Being the first one out of the gate does not guarantee your victory. This is the reality of life and hurdles and falls along the path. Young millennials fear the transition from school to the workforce because it has been portrayed to be a difficulty that will manifest itself overtime. As a first generation student however, this divide that is created between academia and the professional world in my opinion represents a farce that is only present to enable fear in the relatively inexperienced. The mentality that academia and professional conditions do not transfer to one another defeats the point that school is all about preparation for taking risk. It begs the question, how is $100,000 worth of education not a real world condition? The late hours of work overtime, the expectations laden by superiors, and criticism from instructors who are supposed to be much more experienced than you are all conditions of what makes professional settings volatile. The ability to build your comfort zone through practicing actions of being uncomfortable will allow you to navigate the unseen or unheard thresholds that create new hurdles in life daily. This embodies my one-way ticket move to Los Angeles.
Designing in Color represented a means for arriving in the city but at the time was not a guarantee to getting a job. With a 100 page portfolio and a leap of faith to move across the country with the understanding that God has a path ready for me to venture, I felt motivated to start this new journey. My one true objective while going on interviews and office visits was to represent my work and beliefs about blackness in architecture thoughtfully and provocatively. In all of the ten offices I visited, I did not shy away from stating what my work intended to do and what the objective of working in the mediums I chose to were. I spoke in a tone that was confident and represented my personality as someone who is proud to be a young Jamaican-American black male who aspires to practice architecture that defines repressing normative conditions of social oppression.
In all of the conversations I had with architecture offices in LA from boutique offices to the corporate giants which include the likes of ZGF (my current employer), Michael Rotondi, Bestor Architecture, Andrew Zago, Cannon Design, Patrick Tighe, Kevin Daly, and more, the conversations around issues of cultural attitudes in architecture were all very engaging. As someone who deeply believes that the issues of race, class, gender, religion, and more in architecture are deeply embedded in the discourse of academia or practice, this was a pleasant surprise to me. The project Streaming Blackness set the tone for most of the conversations and represents a risk where the work does not explicitly discuss vernacular of architecture but instead uses it as a tool to talk about black culture. It was eye opening to hear people tell me how impressive the work was and how the intensity of it is missing in architecture. All of these firms have vastly different ways of working but the one constant between them all was the shared interest in bringing in work that diversifies the profession. The process of the job hunt was a stressful process but a necessary barometer to experience what exactly our profession is lacking in diversity. Even though I only received two job offers, I learned that the best asset to any young architect are the key skills that make you irreplaceable and hard to find. And while I do question how the tone of the work ultimately affects how employers make a final decision on hiring, I do not second guess the effect thoughtful and deeply provocative work can have on people. Nothing is more important than knowing the value of your work.
Christopher is now employed as a designer at ZGF in LA.