Notre Dame Design:Build


In the fall of 2008, Elijah Pearce, a then undergraduate in the University of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture, reached out to Building Tomorrow. Elijah had heard about our partnership with the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture and was hopeful to start something similar. Over the next two years, Elijah and a few of his friends worked to design and fund a new Building Tomorrow academy…all in their free time. In 2010, five of those students traveled to Uganda to assist in laying the foundation for the future BT Academy of Kyeitabya. Below, Elijah describes his experience:

As an architecture student, working with Building Tomorrow was an amazing experience. I first got involved with Building Tomorrow because I thought it would be cool to design a school in Africa. I was not disappointed; it was thoroughly cool. Along with a handful of fellow students, I learned a ton about local climatic design, regional building practices, and even some innovative and sustainable building materials. ND watercolor of KyeitabyaWorking with my friends, designing a project that felt so uniquely our own, was a budding architect’s dream. And when, after all our work, and some extremely generous donors, the school actually broke ground, the feelings of accomplishment and joy took “cool” to a whole new level.

However, I would be selling my experience short if I said that was all I got out of my time with Building Tomorrow. A couple years after graduation, while working in an architecture firm, I am only now beginning to realize more fully what I “got” out of my experience with Building Tomorrow.

In architecture school, I learned that a lot of design is about choices: choosing the right questions to ask, choosing the right problems to tackle, and choosing the right strategy to solve that problem. However, these ideas are often limited in application to the physical design of a building: choosing the right roof design or window placement etc. But as I begin forming, or designing – if you will- my career and life in the architectural profession, I find that these same lessons apply: it is all about seeking the right choices. And it is my experience with Building Tomorrow that has made it apparent how varied these choices can be.

Besides the aforementioned coolness of designing a school in Africa, there was a distinct sense of fulfillment while working on the project. A feeling more complex than the warm fuzzies one might get from donating to a random charity, but a sense that your unique gifts and talents were bringing to bear truly positive change in the world. Having known that feeling, I can also recognize its absence. I can see the choices in the profession that lay ahead of me; a few choices that lead me back to that kind of fulfillment and many more which do not. It is deeply unsettling.

This unease, though, is what will keep me seeking out those rare choices. It may be odd to say that a restlessness and uncomfortable feeling is my biggest take-away from working with Building Tomorrow, but I believe it is. I believe it is an invaluable gift which will make me a better person, and a better architect. What’s cooler than that?

Elijah Pearce
University of Notre Dame School of Architecture 2010

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