Architalks: There, but not there

“The Journey is the Reward” – Steve Jobs

In the past fifteen years, I have taken at least one International trip a year involving boarding-transit-landing through two continents and three countries. Home is ten thousand miles away, and to love that journey, I have to love my transit hubs, and my entry points and exit points. It’s a simple process- show your passport, show your boarding pass, take off the shoes, walk through the scanners, smile and board the plane, smile and exit the plane. But still, when I enter, the glass and steel vast expanses of spaces with littered art-retail-dining and bright lights, I either feel secure and safe, or completely overwhelmed and lost. In fact, the mood of the journey is sometimes the reflection of the architecture of the airport.

Spaces influence you- airports and hospitals control you.

Summer of 2015 will be different. It will not have me hop on a plane and take a vacation. Beginning of the year when I made a resolution to focus on taking my architectural registration exams, I didn’t think of all the things I will be trading off for study time. I took it easy with CDS hoping that I will be able to catch up, but I couldn’t. When I returned from a ten day vacation, I was tired. Work took over, and I ended up losing focus while writing the test and failed. So, I made a decision not to take long vacations until I am done testing. But, I will be visiting LAX every month for the next four months, picking up and dropping off people near and dear to me. Parents are visiting us, and while they are here to help me, husband will take time off from parenting duties for a four week business trip.

LAX is probably the most disliked airport on my list though my fourteen to seventeen hour journey begins there. Always under construction. Always something broken – even basic amenities. Always rerouted on the way out, luggage misplaced, customs delayed- but again, it’s home. There is nothing interesting about the architecture, in fact there are places in between that are so dull and uninspiring, you want to run back into the cramped plane. On my last month’s visit, with four oversized suitcases and two senior citizens, I had to deal with two broken elevators in the parking garage. We had no option but to drag the luggage up the stairs one by one. Sometimes there is a last minute change in the landing terminal confusing the passengers. Compared to Singapore and any airport in the Asia transit hub, the passenger treatment leaves a lot to be desired. No one offers help, and no one really helps. It’s always busy, and it’s always push and make your way through. I miss San Francisco International Airport.. even when it was under renovation, it was better than LAX.

Speaking of airports, Hong Kong airport and any mention of Cathay Pacific sends shivers down my spine almost eight years after my trip. It started as a beautiful trip, and we finished the longer leg of the journey with a six year old, and as we prepared to land the fog changed it all. The pilot couldn’t coordinate his landing with the base, and when he feared that we would run out of fuel waiting, he landed at the nearby Guangzhou airport. Sunday morning, a flight full of people from all over the world landed not just at a different airport, but at a different country. No food, no clean restrooms, no clearance to get out of the plane – diabetics, senior citizens and little children. It was not pretty. They finally got us back to Hong Kong after ten hours and a sandwich. Once at the airport, we were given accommodations for the night until we were rerouted to our destinations, but the experience is etched in my mind. To tell you the truth, we didn’t know if we landed wrong, or we were made to land wrong. Politics and management aside, it’s a beautiful airport. The morning after, we walked around the airport, experiencing the Normal Foster delight. Steel and glass, vaults and more vaults, there is a very transparent and airy feeling when you watch the planes sitting in the lounges- I had to push myself to forget the traumatic experience and appreciate the airport.

Sparing the rhetoric about the world’s best Changi airport or the LEED Gold certified “home” Bangalore airport, here is the weirdest attraction of Narita airport. No, I haven’t seen the running tracks yet, but no matter what time I land in Japan, and how little time I have left before my connecting flight departs, I always make time to experience their restrooms. The oatmeal airport- with the walls and ceilings that I don’t remember at all, not even the faintest impression- but the restrooms, I don’t forget. My front load washer/dryer have lesser controls and options than a regular toilet in Japan! One of these days the idea is to stay in Japan and continue the journey, but every time the tickets get booked to go home, there are only two weeks, and there is so much to do. Signage is another excellent feature of Narita airport, as well as Singapore airport- I have never lost my way there. The other small and nice airport I loved was the Denver airport, even when it was partially under construction!

Does great architecture and the glitz and glamour and grandeur equate good design? Dubai and I never got along. I understand and appreciate the elements in the details of the airport, but together, they are an overload for a mind in transit. It doesn’t stay on your mind, it doesn’t hold you captive, and it doesn’t disappear in the background. Thankfully like LAX, it doesn’t make it hard for you to navigate a few gates and board a plane. I don’t like shopping or eating at Dubai airport. I put my head down, drag my suitcase and go from one lounge to another, and wait patiently for my connecting flight. The people are nice, and the service is good, but.. there is a distinct forced ambience.

So, I skipped the travel part of the summer break. What next?

Three exams done, fourth one rescheduled twice, and I refuse to reschedule again. I failed CDS because I failed work-life or work-test balance. I failed SS in spite of the best of the preparations. In fact, the SS fail (I failed two portions and did well on others) hurt so much, I didn’t have confidence to take any exam after that. If I didn’t have a pass letter already, I would have quit probably. It helped to pass SPD and SD after that. BS is next. Four weeks out and I haven’t started studying yet. I have changed my employment, and cut down the hours to seven a day. I no longer work weekends or late evenings. But somehow that has translated into more time to catch reruns of Friends on Netflix than really sit down and study. One of these days I will have to look at myself in the mirror and give a motivational speech. Six months out before the end of the year is plenty of time to get back on track and focus on focusing, again.

IDP is 305 hours short for California State requirements. But I have completed a total of 4,682 hours. For now, I won’t worry about the Construction Cost/ Bidding and Contract Negotiation and Construction Observation hours. I will come back to that part once I finish the exams. Till then, I will report the experiences that I am accumulating just in case I move to another state. I have zero hours in Construction Cost- the magnitude of the projects I do are such that we don’t calculate construction costs. Maybe later I should get employment with a contractor for a couple of weeks to get necessary experience? Time will tell.

Work-life balance, and ARE tests are hard. I have to check my own calendar, then my spouse-children-employer before scheduling a test. Weekends are hard to get. I had to wait a good six weeks to schedule Schematic Design test over a weekend because it requires me to block six hours. Even with the best planning, something always comes up and we scramble to make alternate arrangements. Sick children, husband in special meetings, kick-off meeting rescheduled miraculously to the test date. Life has become a tight rope walk. I am there, but not there.

One day I hope it will all be worth it.

What are other Architalks Architects doing this summer? Click on the links below and find out!

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
Architectural Bucket List

Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
Summer Break = Extreme Architecture

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Summer Break and Aunt Loretta

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
summer break

Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect (@EntreArchitect)
2 Simple Systems That Will Transform Your Studio

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Vacationing with an Architect

Cormac Phalen – Cormac Phalen (@archy_type)

Andrew Hawkins, AIA – Hawkins Architecture, Inc. (@hawkinsarch)

Jes Stafford – Modus Operandi Design (@modarchitect)
Summer Getaway

Cindy Black – Rick & Cindy Black Architects (@ddd)
summer Getaway

Rosa Sheng – Equity by Design / The Missing 32% Project (@miss32percent)
#Architalks 10 – Give me a Break!

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
#Architalks 10 – “summer break”

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Architalks: There, but not there

Amy Kalar – ArchiMom (@AmyKalar)
Summer Break

Michael Riscica – Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
The Architecture Students Summer Break

Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
Architect: Gift or Curse?

brady ernst – Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
The Education of an Architect

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Summer Vacation

Tara Imani – Tara Imani Designs, LLC (@Parthenon1)
A Brilliant Summer Break

Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)
summer break [or] summer school

Sharon George – Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
Summer Break #ArchiTalks

Brinn Miracle – Architangent (@simplybrinn)
Summer Break


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  2. I remember my LAX experience: walking what seemed like a half-mile through an underground, back-of-house type corridor from one terminal to the other. That was the official route. There was a nice man with a golf cart who offered to shuttle us to the other end of the corridor. So strange.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I definitely appreciate clean facilities and good restaurants in airports – such a relief to land in a clean airport after a long journey. I’m curious about Narita airport after reading this post 🙂

    Catching Netflix in spare time – yes, sometimes the brain needs rest. It too, is an organ.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, so many airports. I have only ever been in four: Cleveland, Akron, Columbus, and Atlanta. None of which were particularly memorable.

    Keep at the exams. I will be worth it. Someday.


  5. I was very impressed with Bangalore airport when I visited my folks last year. It’s a great feeling when you land in a high-functioning airport after 24 hours of flying. LAX sounds painful. Thankfully, Austin Bergrstrom airport is awesome – It helps that it is small.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LAX is worse than Oakland airport. Other than being the busiest it has no charm.. Bangalore airport interior details are impressive. Looks like Mumbai airport will also shine soon.


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