Life as an Archi-Torture Survivor

Once upon a time, a group of young women graduated in 1997 from Orange High School in Pepper Pike, Ohio. They were involved in many extracurricular activities, played Junior Varsity tennis and volunteered for many non-profit events such as face painting at children’s hospitals and entering holiday window painting contests. Also, they could not find anything better to do than taking the Rapid downtown to watch Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez play ball at the Jake and have kosher hot dogs during those hot summer days.

They then hailed to The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor as Wolverines, despite the fact that their parents were the original Ohio State Buckeyes. FYI: The Wolverines went all the way to the Rose Bowl during the women’s freshman and senior years. These young women lived in the dorms, rushed sorority row, and experienced living life on their own. They started out as freshmen in The School of Art & Design. After going through the fundamental classes of Wire Framing, Metal Sculptures, Painting, and Graphic Design, their siblings convinced them that transferring into Architecture would be a wise choice for their future.

Year 1999, their Architectural days began. These young women from Pepper Pike dropped out of their sororities, shared apartments with roommates, and walked into studio the first day of class. Their professor said… “YOUR LIVES WILL BE CHANGED AFTER THIS SEMESTER.” The women were “advised” to re-arrange their lifestyles. They had to break out their savings account to buy tool boxes filled with exacto blades of all thicknesses, knives of every size and weight, and sandpaper of all coarses… Their social lives were automatically confined within the studios. The classmates became their best friends. The dating scene was very limited. Every student had no choice but to date only the “CHOSEN FEW”.

While these young women were going through withdrawal, they also had to endure a grueling week before final reviews. The assignment was to design a firehouse with a glass lobby. A typical day would be spent listening to Billy Joel all day and staring at their plexi glass designs for five days with no sleep. They spent all week trying to figure out why the plexi would not stay glued onto the basswood structural posts. These women just assumed the million dollar lottery ticket answer would just flash while staring at their models all night.

They would walk around and think they hear Billy Joel singing his Greatest Hits everywhere, in the restrooms, by the computer stations, and outside in the dark parking lot. Whenever they found time to take a break, they would go downstairs to their “KITCHEN”, which was a long, dark hallway with perfectly aligned rows of candy and soda vending machines. Upholstered, cheap fabric couches were lined up against every vending machine. They knew the exact dimensions, material selections and specifications of every single couch… it was their “second” home. This was the case when they did not have time to go home at 5 am to eat dinner and then sleep for 30 minutes while their roommates were just getting ready to start a new day after a full night of sleep.

Week of final reviews began. World-renowned, famous professors and fellowship applicants from all over Europe were invited to conduct the reviews. They were those really cool architects that had the look and the walk. The architects would grab their STARBUCKS lattes, their dark-rimmed, geometrical glasses, tiny sketchbooks and take their seats and just stare at the students drawings. Though the women were thrilled to meet them and get their autographs, this was not the time to act on a papparazzi level with these really cool people. They just scribbled notes in different languages and started to bluntly critique everything that the women did wrong. The women were shocked to hear of the “things they could have done differently“. There was no praise for all of the hard work they sacrificed their social lives for… and missed their Saturday night Date Party with Beta Theta Pi…

Welcome to the world of “Archi-Torture“. This is how architects make it out alive. Professors toughen up their students and expect them to learn things on their own.

Their most unforgettable experience was when a professor grabbed a thick, red Sharpie marker and drew a 180 degree horizontal line, so perfectly still and straight as if it was “flat-lined” on an EKG monitor screen, across their 36×42 inch floor plans.

These women from Pepper Pike just FROZE. Clocks stopped TICKING. All computer monitors SIGNED OFF. Billy Joel stopped SINGING. The sound of a pin needle dropping could not even be heard. It was like the scene from the movie Vanilla Sky, where Tom Cruise had the power to run through Times Square as if it were a ghost town. No NASDAQ trading flashing on the billboards. No cab drivers yelling all over Broadway as if they were trying to reach the finish line of NASCAR’s Daytona 500 race. It was as if this moment, for one nano-second, actually had manifestation powers greater enough to make the Earth stop rotating on its axis.

Back to reality, the women picked up their oversized DKNY purses, filled with sand and mechanical pencils, slowly tiptoed onto each stair and tread, snuck outside into the dark parking lot and drove away, as if they were in the Twilight Zone.

They went home to their Alpha Chi Omega house that they missed so much and started planning their outfits for the tailgate at Alpha Delta Phi’s fraternity the next morning. Nothing else mattered except for this critically acclaimed house on State Street with the famous volleyball court out front. It was the one with the uneven MAIZE and BLUE color painted wood planks. Since the furnishings inside had no function and no purpose, but only as just places to crash, the couches acted as the rafters for the roof, all perfectly aligned to the slope. They were upholstered with Michigan fleece blankets to bring in the spirit. (Freshmen rushing the house were historically known to act as the “Frank Lloyd Wright” of architecture, not by choice. Long story.)

At last, Saturday at 6 AM arrived, the women climbed up onto the roof with their fraternity friends and had a grand old time with cheap, foamy beer. Life was just fabulous (or at least for one day).

Living a few blocks away from the Stadium on State, these women still managed to make it to the football games every Saturday and never missed a tailgate, despite their sleep-deprived personalities.

Archi-Torture” or whatever it may be perceived as, would never take the Wolverine out of these young, insomniac women.

Sadly, football season had to end… Reality kicked in, again. As the cold winter started rolling in, more studio deadlines were coming in faster than the speed of light. With more mayhem in the evenings, the bus transportation eventually took the students off their route. The women had more sleepless nights of staring, gluing, and sanding all night. They were so used to super gluing everything that they did not realize that they glued their fingers onto their designer jeans from Nordstrom’s Savvy department. They had to wait hours of sitting still for the glue to dry so they can dissolve the molecules with epoxy solution during those dark, quiet, 3 am mornings.

Wearing eye goggles and t-shirts with jeans and flat shoes became the norm when they had to drill holes into their basswood models with band saws. Before their lives were flipped 180 degrees, these women had never heard of or would ever have set foot in public with flat shoes. They could not believe what they have gotten themselves into. Those old, glory days of wearing French manicures, sheer MAC lip gloss, black skinny Miss Sixty jeans, 3 inch high heel Steve Madden platforms, and black Prada purses were no longer the proper dress attire… Talk about sacrifice.

They crashed and burned, big time.

Fast forward into December 2001, they all graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Architecture with flying colors, wearing a fake smile as they were handed the diploma, but really they knew they were heading into many years of recovery, mentally, physically, and emotionally.

After spending a summer of letting loose, having fun and living it up in a high rise in downtown Chicago, these young women gathered their strength and were ready to evolve professionally. It all started when they hand carried one of their studio models and walked down Michigan Avenue, on one of the windiest days and entered the offices of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill on the 9th floor, with zero architecture experience.

These girls from Pepper Pike that crashed and burned were offered their first internship with the firm. Best experience ever.

Following that internship, their resumes led them to work for the kings and queens of architects. A few more internships along the way, they eventually settled in with firms and found their own niche.

These established, super-business-savvy women from Pepper Pike, Ohio successfully walked up the ladder and walked back down and reflected on their “Archi-Torture” days finally with a smile.

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2 thoughts on “Life as an Archi-Torture Survivor

  1. The way this Archi-Torture Story was written is so clever and illustrates all the progressions in a visceral fashion. Many parts of this feel nostalgic and the analogies are pretty true to form. Thanks for sharing!

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