May 12th 2021

Commencement 2021: The Next Generation of Architects

As Commencement marks the end of an academic year transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic, three B.ARCH. graduates—Nicole Sugihara, Rachel Wiesbrock, and David Paredes—reflect on how they found architecture, their time at Illinois Institute of Technology, and what the future holds.

NICOLE SUGIHARA: Thinking Beyond Space

It was as a four year old lying underneath an IKEA bunk bed that Nicole Sugihara first became aware of her surroundings. Sugihara and her brother would build forts under the bed featuring a real locking door from scrap cardboard and a metal latch that she had found in her family’s laundry room. That curiosity for perceiving and creating space, she says, remains with her to this day.

“I try to carry that naive curiosity for space with me as I grow and learn more about life,” says Sugihara.

A career in architecture was only natural. Inspired by the chairs in the Graham Resource Center in S. R. Crown Hall, the cluttered desks of the studio spaces, and the city of Chicago itself, Sugihara decided to enroll at Illinois Institute of Technology. But through study abroad experiences such as trips to Washington, D.C., and Norway, and a studio where she designed a new hybrid building typology for the municipality of Blato in Korčula, Croatia, she learned to think beyond just physical space.

“The built environment is nothing without the life that inhabits it. I think architects need to know how to think critically and understand that there are social, cultural, ecological, and political nuances of life that must be considered while designing a space,” says Sugihara. “Projects like the one in Croatia touched on urban planning and landscape architecture that required my fellow students and I to think beyond the standard perception of ‘architecture.’”

With this expanding perspective, Sugihara plans eventually to earn a master’s degree in landscape architecture. In addition to practicing architecture, she hopes to someday teach it, and even illustrate a children’s book.

“My long-term goal is to be happy doing whatever I do,” says Sugihara. “I am captivated by the public realm and all that occurs within it, and at the same time, enthralled by the fine details of the assembly of a chair.”

RACHEL WIESBROCK: Creating the Future of Accessibility

When Rachel Wiesbrock is asked to describe her time at the College of Architecture in a single word, she uses “chaotic.” Juggling her course load and extracurriculars was difficult (a pandemic didn’t help, either), but the hustle and bustle of studying in S. R. Crown Hall was invigorating.

“Looking back now, the hustle was crazy and sometimes a little bizarre—it seemed like we would never get past it but, ultimately, we did,” she remarks. “I think ultimately I've grown a lot as a person and a leader, more than I give myself credit for, which I think a lot of my fellow students can relate to.”

It’s not surprising that Wiesbrock’s time at the college could be seen as chaotic. She was a member of the dean search committee, and the president of the college’s American Institute of Architecture Students chapter, where she served on several committees, including one dedicated to bringing more diversity and equity into the architecture field. Specifically, she was one of four inaugural national advocates focusing on accessibility in architecture. She spoke at two conferences and recently conducted an interactive workshop to raise awareness about individuals living with disabilities.

“I have become very passionate about accessibility because it is a very personal issue in my life. I have a physical disability that I sometimes use a wheelchair or crutches for if I need to travel somewhere relatively far or for a long time,” she says. “To me, accessibility shouldn't be an add-on to the design process; it should be fully integrated. It’s more than just [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance.”

Wiesbrock’s passion is to make accessibility a larger part of the discussion in architecture, to improve lives by creating more equitable spaces, and helping the profession move in that direction.

“Beyond my own experiences, I’ve learned from people in the disabled community, which is hard, because one size does not fit all,” says Weisbrock. “I think a more accessible future starts with more architects taking a stab at it from different angles. I feel like if every student and professional does that, then that's a lot of ways to build a more-inclusive built environment.”

DAVID PAREDES: At the Intersection of Art and Architecture

The moment when David Paredes realized that art could be something that people inhabit is when he became obsessed with architecture. That happened when he was eight years old, working on a 3D puzzle of a skyscraper.

“I always found those puzzles really elegant,” says Paredes. “That’s when I realized artwork isn't necessarily a painting. It can be a place that people can inhabit, and I found that really mind-blowing.”

As an architecture student, Paredes says that his perception of art and architecture continued to evolve as he learned how to incorporate function into form. It’s something he struggled with at first, but it became more natural as he learned to incorporate his artistic ideas into the lives of the people who would theoretically inhabit the buildings he designed in the studio.

“Using people's experiences, perspectives, ways of living, how they communicate, how they connect—it goes way beyond just drawing, and that's something I'm still learning to this day,” says Paredes. “It can be such a complicated area, but once you figure it out, you're making a big impact in peoples’ lives.”

One of Paredes’s favorite projects was a fourth-year project. For an environmental center near Goose Island in Chicago, he proposed a plant-based water filtration system, and rather than leave it hidden, he decided to make it a visible part of the center’s design.

“Instead of having the system hidden in the structure, I decided to showcase and celebrate the idea that it doesn't hurt to make these environmental changes, that you can celebrate these alternatives and at the same time, create a whole aesthetic and a positive ambient environment inside the building,” says Paredes.

Following graduation, Paredes hopes to keep his mind open as to what kind of architecture he practices, though he has a particular interest in education and residential space.

“You have the ability to help that person shape how they live,” he says. “I think that's incredible, and I’m willing to continue going down that path.”