On May 20, 2017, nearly 200 UTSOA students received their hard-earned undergraduate and graduate degrees. The School of Architecture's 2017 Commencement ceremony took place in historic Hogg Memorial Auditorium, with many family, friends, and colleagues joining the celebration.
Distinguished alumnus Fred Clarke, FAIA, Principal at world renowned firm Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, addressed the new graduates, encouraging them to keep a positive attitude as they design and follow their own definition of success. Read his speech below:
"This is a great, great day! You're graduating from one of the most competitive schools in the country, you are well prepared for what lies ahead, and keenly aware of your role in the world and your obligations to inspire and contribute to society.
And, your timing is perfect! The world today needs architects, planners, and designers more than at any time in history. That might seem like an exaggeration, but, look around, there's never been another time in which architecture and buildings have been more in the public consciousness.
But let me make an observation. I believe that we only design two things in our lives – our buildings and our professional selves, and for me, this started here at the School of Architecture.
Our great professor, Richard Dodge, used to say to us, "I'm not here to teach you how to design; I'm here to teach you how to think." He wasn't that interested in the final product – but adamant about how we got there. We had to defend our work almost purely from the standpoint and process that we went through to arrive at a solution.
This was also the key to my great break in life.
I was hired by Cesar Pelli the year before I graduated, through the simple timing of a faculty party. Much like today, society, technology, architecture, and the shape of our cities was in tremendous flux, and through some natural curiosity and great teaching at UT, I was up on all of these subjects and Cesar was impressed. Within a week of that part he offered me a job. We hadn't talked about architecture, but he saw something in me that I didn't see in myself. That summer I loaded my used, yellow '66 Pontiac and drove to Gruen Associates in Los Angeles. But for the entire two day drive, I questioned myself, "Am I up to this? Do I have any skills? How can I possibly contribute? What value do I have?" And you may be harboring some of these doubts yourself today.
I showed up and my first assignment was a humble one. I was asked to erase and help correct drawings for the plumbing engineers. Gruen, at that time, was a highly departmentalized firm. There were architects, engineers, urban planners...and a whole range of interesting people early in their careers – Frank Gehry had just left when I got there; Cesar Pelli was in charge of the design department, and Tom Mayne was working in the Planning Department.
I was thrilled just to have this opportunity and I embraced my plumbing correction job with tremendous enthusiasm. I got to work early and walked from desk to desk to see what other people were doing, I memorized the names of projects. I made a point of meeting the people in the office who were working in departments other than architecture, and, most importantly, I got a sense, if you will, of the spirit of the office and the times.
Actually, I wasn't very good at erasing plumbing drawings. In my enthusiasm, I erased a hole in the third sheet that I was given. They were nice about it, but they took me off of erasing plumbing drawings immediately and, fortunately, I was sent quickly back to architecture. But I became known as someone who was energetic, enthusiastic, empathetic, and willing to do anything – in short, someone with the right attitude.
Today when we interview people, we look at portfolios, certainly, but we also look carefully for personality. Is this person positive? Is there a smile, a light, a spark? This is very important because architecture is fundamentally a collaborative undertaking. It's about attitude and empathy. You will inevitably be the member of a team, and maybe someday, the leader of a team, and your attitude and approach to other people, particularly the plumbing engineers with whom you will negotiate regularly, means absolutely everything.
Now fast-forward 46 years to our golden age. It is both wonderful and worrisome. Fortunately, architects are trained to see problems and solve them. We are trained to be ambitious, optimistic, bold, passionate, and opportunistic. We learn to put ourselves out there, we learn to speak our minds, we learn to defend our ideas, and we also learn, at least I did, not to hide behind the modesty some expect of architects.
But our true value is constantly under re-examination. Last month, I was giving a talk and, at the end, a young woman asked me the most startling question. "Given the power of virtual reality," she said, "given the fact that billions of people spend hundreds of thousands of hours in virtual worlds, what is the future of architecture? Will the world continue to need buildings?" I said to myself, 'WOW, reality isn't what it used to be.' And now I pose her question to you, and it's not as simple or naive as it may sound. And it's not a question about virtual reality at all. It's a question about the human experience and the designer's role in it.
I believe very strongly, of course, that architecture and the public realm will continue to be critical to society and progress. After all, look at the great public squares of Europe, look at the Highline, and look at the rebuilding of Speedway into a significant new student space here on campus. Think of how the social space of the University was so critically important to you – your studio, the West Mall, settings you'll remember forever and that will draw you back into this extraordinary place. Remember, we humans bond through the built environment. That's real, not virtual!
But I do believe, on the other hand, that our ways of seeing, making, and experiencing are changing, and designers of your generation will be the first to be able to capitalize on that. Today, with sophisticated digital tools, you automatically start your work in three dimensions. This gives you the ability to seamlessly solve a problem, create a design, and fabricate and actually build it. This means that the old model of apprenticeship may not apply to you. In theory, you are entrepreneurs and don't need to work for anyone! Though I strongly advise that you try to find a good office or good mentor and continue your professional development for at least the next five years.
Remember, ultimately, your biggest project is yourself. You need to be clear about your own definition of success. Don't pursue someone else's definition of success. This is one of the hardest things to do because we're all very aware of what's going on around us: we keep track of what our classmates and colleagues are doing and what our families and friends think we should be doing. But, that's their life; it's not your life.
Define and imagine your success, take risks, and pursue it relentlessly with empathy and enthusiasm."
About Fred Clarke, FAIA, RIBA, JIA
After graduating with honors in 1970 from The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, Fred Clarke joined Gruen Associates in Los Angeles to work with Cesar Pelli on, among other projects, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. In 1977, he moved to New York to lead the design team rebuilding the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and to co-found Cesar Pelli & Associates. In 1981, he was made a Principal at the firm, which, in 2005, was renamed Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects (PCPA).
For 40 years, Fred has been collaborating Design Principal for PCPA's most significant projects, including several at UT Austin.
A career long teacher, he has held positions at Yale and Rice Universities, and at UCLA. He has lectured on his work throughout the world with particular focus on the social and public realm responsibilities of the architect in large-scale urban growth and regeneration.
Clarke is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, on the board of the MacDowell Colony, and a registered architect in Japan.