For my final project in Studio/Seminar, I chose a myth, wrote a personal narrative inspired by that myth, and then created a work of art that somehow related to the story I wrote. My story “Ivory Tower” draws inspiration from a biblical tale in Genesis colloquially known as The Tower of Babel.
“Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves” Genesis 11:4
You study your ass off in high school. You get into Pratt and decide to study architecture. You make models and blueprints at hours you should be asleep. The work hurts, but you graduate top of your class. You have the best professors write your rec letters for grad. You ace the GRE, get into Columbia, positive cycle repeats for grad school.
You’re out of grad school. You spent years studying what’s wrong with architecture today. You know what you want to do to fix it, what needs to change. You feel invincible. You’re eager to start life and impact the world—the world doesn’t care.
You don’t land at any of the firms you wanted. Perkins + Will, Skidmore Owens, Foster + Partners, none of them bat an eye. So, you resort to your backups. You interview with smaller firms and try to keep your spirits high. They flip through your portfolio, sift through your resume—uninspired. No one wants you. A Columbia grad. A well-spoken scholar. An innovator. The same clinical, apathetic phrases cycle through the end of every interview.
We’ll be in touch.
We really appreciate your time.
Alright, we’ll let you know.
You’re frustrated and confused. You call up your friends from school, assuming their job prospects fair the same—they don’t. Suzy tells you it’s just a bad time and a bad market while she sits in her posh office at Gensler. Ryan says you just need to re-word your resume objective—to give it more power, then you’re sure to land a job like his.
You feel yourself burning out in the city, so you leave. You side with Suzy and conclude that you were just job hunting at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Suzy and Ryan got lucky.
Things should be better back home—they’re not.
Dallas firms treat you the same. You begin with the same branches of the top firms you wanted in New York. You’re not surprised when the outcome’s the same. Your revised, more powerful objective makes no difference. Your bold strategy and innovative approach are deductively neither bold nor innovative to your employers. At this point, you’re so desperate for anything that when your high school friend mentions that her dad runs a small firm out in the suburbs, you beg her to get you a job.
You get the job—a job. It’s not what you wanted, but it’s something. You don’t really do much there, and your pay is commensurate. But you finally have your foot in the field. Maybe in some abstract way, your revised window measurements and fenestration ratios will revolutionize suburbia and, eventually, the world.
Three weeks in, that motivation dissipates. The sight of McMansion blueprints and neighborhood masterplans make you sick. You hate yourself for contributing to the building designs you scoffed at in college. You don’t know what you’ve become, neither do your friends from home. After ten weeks, you’re entirely despondent. No friends, no motivation. Just rhythm. You work to live. You work because you live.
The busy work makes you feel worthless—or perhaps reminds you of your worthlessness. At eight months, you’re still grabbing coffee for people who graduated from lesser institutions and monotonously looking over measurements that taunt your creative potential. Your design expertise is nonexistent to them—years in school garner nothing.
Re-measure this floor plan.
Check on that grout order.
Get us some more tracing paper.
6 years in college for this.
At month nine, the firm wins a public bid for a project in the south of Texas. No one really makes a big fuss about, but your boss shares a link about it in the work email thread.
You read the email:
Our newest project just made the news! Check out the article—pretty cool.
North Texas Daily. You laugh, the news. A pang of jealousy overwhelms you as you think about your classmates up in the city working on projects that actually make headlines. You learn from the article that the firm is building a wall. A really long one.
The next week, your boss remembers that you minored in urban design. He decides to send you down to Houston to collect data, measurements, and material research on the new wall project. You don’t protest. Your parents are sick of you living with them, and you need some scene change.
All your other work is canceled, and by the weekend, you’re taking a bus down to Houston with a suitcase filled with crumpled clothes and a drafting board.
The firm pays for a room at a Hilton Garden two blocks away from the factory where you’ll spend most of your time. You check-in, take the elevator up to the eleventh floor, unpack your bag in room 114, drink two mini bottles of vodka from the fridge, and fall asleep over the covers. The next morning you rush to get ready for your first meeting. You put on a wrinkled white shirt and those pants that fit a size too small and rush out of the room, shirt half untucked.
You drive your Kia rental recklessly and ignore a few stop signs. You check into the factory at the front gate and speed walk to the office portion of the complex. When you arrive, the receptionist asks you to take a seat while Clark finishes his phone call. You take a seat on a pair of dull, pink chairs—the type you see in schools or the DMV—and run through your talking notes in your head. Clark eventually gestures you in from his glass door. You walk in and converse politely for a few minutes before jumping into meeting details.
Concrete. Aggregate. Cement. Hour three of the meeting hits you hard. Grits, colors, textures, weather resistance—the meaningless details kill you. You decide to cut the session short, blaming your stomach. You get some food at a Wendy’s and go back to the hotel. You get in bed and get out your laptop—you figure you might as well relay what you discussed at the meeting to your boss, so you pull up your email.
Before you have a chance to compose it, a notification grabs your attention. It’s a message from Suzy.
Hi Noah, Please Add me to your LinkedIn Network.
You click on the link in the email… It directs you to Suzy’s LinkedIn profile. As you scroll through her page, you turn numb reading about all the projects she’s working on—the projects you should be working on. You pedantically look through the rest of her profile and go to bed when there’s nothing left to brood about. You write your email to your boss the next morning.
By week two in Houston, your hotel room is a hell hole. Piles of fast-food bags, tracing paper, and dirty clothes scatter your floor. You pity the maid who comes in every day to make your bed. Your daily routine becomes invariable. Commute, meeting, email, food, bed. You don’t question it. This is your life, will be your life. Meetings recirculate the same concerns. Virtually nothing changes. Concrete is concrete is concrete. Progress hits a wall unironically.
On your last week, lines of protestors surround the wire fence to the factory entrance. As the crowd reluctantly clears way for your car to enter, you read a few of their signs to see what’s going on.
Build a wall around Washington.
Hate has no place in Texas.
Make peace, not walls.
You quickly remember the central objective of your project. In some odd way, the protest gives you validation. You’re doing something. Something that goes against your liberal disposition, but something. You’re not bothered by your conflicting ideals. How you think and how you live have long since parted ways.
By 5:00 that same day, your meeting ends. The firm decides over skype to send you back home early in light of all the protests and buzz. As you drive out of the factory gate for the final time, a woman taps your window. You don’t bother rolling it down, but you still hear what she screams exacerbated.
How can you live with what you’re doing?
You just do. And because you do, you don’t question. Acceptance is bliss.
By the next morning, you’ve packed your things, returned your rental car, and boarded a bus back to Dallas. The bus ride is slow. You think deeply about nothing. The shape of grass blades. The texture of traffic cones. And that unavoidable concrete— perpetually poured, dried, used, demolished, and replaced.
My final Studio piece “Unresolved Anxieties Grounded in a Bed of Misjudgment” manifests the anxiety I have from becoming the main character in my myth but also references the winding tower from which my story draws inspiration. The piece is made from plywood that I laser cut, laminated, and sanded down into form. I then applied polyurethane to further reveal all of the layers and planes of the piece. In the same way my writing style stacks up and builds narration on a repeated 2nd person, my sculpture uses repeated planes of plywood to develop shape.
I think my final piece was a success. I’m satisfied with all of the questions and themes that the work imbued the class with during critique, and I effectively created something that non-objectively conveys some of my internal struggles as an insecure human aware of my privileged disconnect from the real world.