Noah Kalina

Age: 29

How studying literature made me a better architect:
In under­grad I double-majored in ethnic literature and architecture, and I taught a year-long class in ethnic literature at U.C. Berkeley. The cross-cultural, political dialogues of ethnic studies made me more sensitive to the stories of the clients and communities I’ve worked with since. It’s helped me to integrate the pragmatics of architecture—the social and political pedagogies—with the formal side of things. It’s made me a better researcher, and it helps me in designing a space. 

On humanitarianism:
After undergrad, I started working with Engineers Without Borders in San Francisco. We started a health clinic in a Haitian community in the mountains called the Bayonnais Valley. It’s very rural, totally off-the-grid. The beginning was about setting up infrastructure—clean water, electricity—and then came the architecture. We learned that we can build all we want, but if there wasn’t anyone to sustain the project after we left, there was no point in doing it. Educating and collaborating with the local community became really important, and that process taught me how to collaborate with consultants, clients, and engineers—invaluable experience for the working world. 

On corporate life:
One project I’ve worked on was a new terminal at Incheon International Airport, in South Korea. It taught me that young architects need to be fluid and on-the-go, because a lot of our work is international. We have to learn to use new technology, to use local materials, and to work on scheduling and communication with foreign clients.

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