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My favorite childhood activity was bringing my bedroom outside. I would lug out everything I could and drape it throughout the shrubs that lined the apartment property where I lived. There were no trees, so I couldn’t have a treehouse, but I could make my own shrubhouses. My mom didn’t like all my worldly belongings sprinkled across dozens of bushes, even though she let me enjoy it for a little while almost every day. When we went back inside, I would stack video tapes like bricks and make myself tiny huts.
In sixth grade math class we started using graph paper, and I fell in love. I somehow assembled myself the largest expanse of graph paper known to man. The whole thing was thirty-some pages all meticulously taped together. I spent hours with a protractor, a ruler and a compass planning out my dream house. It had a forest in the back yard and every tree held a treehouse; there was a garden with nothing but basil; the biggest room was my closet. I carried it all in a leather zipper tax folder my grandmother had almost foolishly thrown away. Embossed across it in cursive, curly characters were letters so intricate I could barely figure them out. I carried it with me everywhere for all three years of middle school.
Step by step, I was becoming an architect. My ideas existed as grand theories, seeming impossibilities. Soon though, I would learn how architecture was translated into reality.
When my uncle got married and built his own house, he invited me to help. I walked through the skeleton of the house and wondered if it would be as tacky as all the other suburban plywood homes that had been popping up all over my neighborhood. They fell apart like dust, all powder and cardboard. What is it that makes pretty buildings pretty? The grownups always said they don’t make things like they used to, but the closer I got to being a grownup, the less I remembered things ever being made like they “used to.”
Even today, I would rather live in a treehouse than a ticky tacky one. I believe that buildings can be made of materials as spontaneous as shrubs and video tapes, using the things we already have to create things that will last longer and be more attractive than what’s being created around me today. It is possible to incorporate the beauty of nature into new constructions in a way that will be good to nature itself — and good for the imagination of an architect.
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