EnvironmentalismNature ConnectionWild Mind

Bringing Nature Into Your Career: The Wild Architect

By February 11, 2015 2 Comments

When I first began architecture school, there was a constant demand to design for density. The taller the building the better. It also didn’t help that I was studying in Toronto, where condominiums are considered the best form of living. I knew I didn’t fit in with my surroundings: after all, I was from Niagara, an area about an hour and a half south of Toronto. Not only that, I grew up on a 100-acre fruit farm where I was constantly in tune with nature, caring for the earth and harvesting Mother Nature’s bounty. In Toronto I felt uprooted, out of my natural element, surrounded by concrete in place of foliage.

cherry orchard we are wildness bringing nature into your career the wild architect

As I began my academic career, I was pushed into a direction of design that mimicked the surrounding urban environment. I will never forget my teacher telling me to “stop designing for farmers and start designing for urban people”. At the same time a friend of mine, and fellow nature-lover, was studying accounting. She too was frustrated with the sterile working environment and longed for weekend camping getaways. We often joked that we were surrounded by yuppies during the week, and on weekends needed to wash our spirits clean through nature. It wasn’t until a few years into the architecture program that I realized, I can’t go on like this, and I know I’m not the only one. There are many other fellow wild ones who feel their natural instincts discouraged through their careers. I was living in this state day to day, bouncing back between weekly frustration and weekend bliss. There needs to be a way to bring nature into my career — after all, it is in every other part of my life. How do I conquer this?

Well, where there is a will, there is a way.

As I observed the residents of Toronto on a daily basis, I thought to myself, what are they missing? What are they lacking in their lives, and how can I contribute to this cause? I was always shocked by the reactions from my classmates when I told them I was also a farmer. Their responses ranged from, “I’ve never met a farmer before, people still do that?” all the way to, “Do your parents have teeth?” It concerned me how little urbanites knew about agriculture; how they had never grown a plant before, how they had never harvested even the smallest amount of food from a garden, how they had never placed their hands into the earth.

It hit me: that is what they are missing. If they knew the benefits of living in harmony with Mother Earth, of growing your very own vegetables and reaping the rewards of the harvest, they wouldn’t be as out of touch with nature and would learn to respect and incorporate it an urban setting. I believe that if you are wild at heart and you feel the connection to nature in your soul, you have a responsibility to teach others this valuable lesson. No matter what career you are in, if you look deep enough, there is always room to incorporate the natural world someway, somehow.

cherry orchard we are wildness bringing nature into your career the wild architect

So I ignored some of my teachers and went against the grain for a while, and later was lucky enough to be assigned a professor that shared an interest in agriculture and had been doing some urban agricultural projects as well. It was truly a reward to work with someone equally as enthusiastic. We were assigned a project to design a library, and this project was ongoing until December of 2014. I was given a list of requirements for the library: a daycare, study rooms, book shelving, a basketball court, office spaces, and retail space. I took one look at this and threw it out; instead I would create a library that educates Torontonians on urban agriculture.

The entire building will be focused on this idea; community kitchens, food cellars, growing spaces on multi-leveled roofs, greenhouse spaces, education rooms that teach people how to grow and harvest and store their food. If you keep pushing for a certain idea, even if you are declined the right to pursue it over and over again, there will eventually come a time where your idea is welcomed, and it will grow and impact everyone around you.

cherry orchard we are wildness bringing nature into your career the wild architect

Regardless of what I am designing, I have made it my mantra to not hold back and always bring nature to the forefront. I truly believe architecture can do that; it is one of the most basic rituals of life. It gives man shelter, establishes a home, and can house every joy and beautiful view every imaginable. Even setting up a tent at a camp site can be seen as a type of architecture. Once my schooling is completed, I hope to design cabins and spaces that are directly in contact with nature so that they bring people to nature and house their new found love for the environment.

Whether you’re an architect or an account, or any profession that seems to rob you of your wildness, you must learn that just because your work environment may not cater to the natural world, it doesn’t have to be separate from it — it simply means you have to work a little harder at bringing it into your career. The more effort it takes to do this, the more rewarding it will be. That’s what it means to truly be wild: to not be tied down or have anything stand in your way; no matter where you are or what you do, just GROW. So my fellow wild ones, cleanse your spirit in nature, and take a piece back to the workplace. You just may impact someone else’s life too.

Trust nature, study nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.
-Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect

Author Sara Duffin

Sara is a 'farmchitect'. She is currently attending architecture school at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON. Originally from Niagara, Sara spends her summers away from classes working on her family fruit farm. She strives to one day to live near the mountains and begin her career in sustainable building that integrates her love for nature and shares it with others.

More posts by Sara Duffin
  • Rebecca

    Great article – this is something I think about often. How can I keep nature as a part of my life when I’m about to start a rigorous nursing program, and end up working in a hospital setting in a few years? I’m sure I’ll find the way 🙂

  • Robyn

    Sara I love this!!! I am so proud of you!