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Second year graduate student Shirlo Selvam on her belief that architecture can change the world for a better future, and why she feels that coming to ISoA (The Illinois School of Architecture) was the best decision she made in her life

Why did you choose ISoA to study architecture?  How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?

Back in India, when I was looking for an opportunity to pursue Masters in Architecture abroad, I came across the ISoA’s website, which had a ton of information with student portfolios, faculty information and facilities. I realised that being a part of ISoA will be the next major step in my life and will definitely enhance the architectural education that I had in India. Also looking into digital fabrication units, facilities, and studios, I was sure that ISoA could provide me a wide spectrum of opportunities to improve my design capabilities, processes, with more hands on experience.  Fellow Architects and my professors from India encouraged my wish to study Architecture in ISoA since they also believed that the school would support and help me broaden my vision towards Architecture.

Are you glad that you did?

This is the best decision I made in my life. True to my dreams, the school is all that I hoped for and even more. From a more conventional education I had, this was a great breakthrough for me. I am able to explore many ideas and design processes that were not exactly encouraged in my Bachelor’s education. It almost feels like I met the people who speak my language in Architecture. The sense of freedom I have when I design is something I have been yearning for. The support from the faculty and fellow students and the resources I have here is the backbone of my new and developed design capabilities.

Is there a particular area/topic of architecture that you’re interested in?

I am usually more inclined to Architecture that plays a diagnostic role in its urban context. Our cities are far too urbanized and there are many opportunities for Architects to make their proposals play a role in many fields such as community engagement, environmental stability, ecosystem replenishment.

What did you do this past summer?

I am involved with two residential projects under construction in India and a new residential project, which is just starting up. I was developing drawings for these projects. My father’s construction firm is helping me complete two of the projects since they started right before I left India. As for the new project, I had to spend time with the clients with over video calls to get to know them for over a month to conclude about their needs and wishes. It was a lot of exchange of information and a long process with time zone change, but fruitfully, the project is soon to be on ground.

Other than that, I did some travelling mostly around Illinois.

Do you feel like ISoA is preparing you for a career in architecture?

From my observation over the year and interactions with past year students who are successfully practicing in reputable offices, I definitely know that ISoA is moving me through my ladder up in my career.  ISoA provides great opportunities for students to come across professionals and collaborators to help students understand and explore their fields of interest for their career path. It creates a great platform for improving our skills that are demanded in the field.

If you could change one thing about your architecture education, what would it be?

During my Bachelors studies, I wish I had more exposure to Architectural theory to shape my philosophical ideas and digital fabrication to push my limits through my designs. However, the knowledge from India usually strengthens my design thoughts and claims most of the time. So I would not trade one for another even if I am time travelling. ISoA is providing me all the opportunities I missed out and my design approach has evolved to different levels after being exposed the studios and lectures involving a great deal of fabrication.

What part of the country/world would you like to work once you graduate?

As of now, I am fantasizing about making sustainable communities for India and Mexico. However, these thoughts change every season. On a general thought, I would like to work on regions with tensions due to socio- economical, political reasons. Like the famous self-taught Architect Tadao Ando, I also believe that ‘The way people live can be directed a little by Architecture’.

What one piece of advice would you give to current freshman architecture student? What do you wish you knew that you know now?

Every person you come across in this school is a resource. Be bold to express your ideas and designs to anyone who comes across. They might surprise you with the tiniest detail that you may have never thought of.

What one thing would you recommend that would improve the life of being a student in the school of architecture?

Discover and Rediscover your passion and love for Architecture as a student. Finding your purpose in this field will help you chose better career paths.  I chose Architecture because I believed the field is going to help me change people’s lives for better. Being a part of this field, enhanced my personal values and my design ideas and skills always revolved around those values.

Did you have a favorite professor from a previous semester? 

I have too many favourites. I am thankful to all my professors who have been instrumental in shaping me as an Architect for the future. Starting with Prof. Eric Hemmingway in the first semester for the LAKA competition, I was able to extend my concepts and ideas to the ‘the dark side of the moon’ as he calls it. It was a great start for being a student again from practice, to be myself and express myself in my designs. In the spring, Professor Kevin Hinders gave me the freedom to explore few structural concepts of tensegrity for the ACSA steel competition with a great deal of support from Professor Sudharshan Krishnan. This fall I am in the Maker/Thinker studio with Professor Thérèse Tierney. In just two months, I can see myself at a different level in exploring and expressing my ideas. Exposed to 3d printing and program modelling, I can see my design capabilities shifting gears for the better. Professor Tierney supports my ideas and theories about Architecture being a wholesome entity, playing a complimentary role in a large scale by enfolding the urban context that it is established in.

Anything else you’d like us to know about you?

I believe that Architecture can change the world for a better future, which gives me more reasons to indulge in it every second of my life. I like exploiting my capabilities and time for it than anything else since I believe I have an opportunity to make the future a better one for many. I am inclined towards preserving nature and all its resources because I know and have experienced the difference it makes with its presence and absence. My designs usually revolve around bringing back the Arcadia in the Utopian context. I plan on adapting ‘Zero waste lifestyle’ someday in the future.