Career Profile Creativity Design

11 Questions with Miranda Moen, Architectural Designer

Name: Miranda Moen  /  Age: 24  /  Location: Graduate School – Ames, IA; Working Experience – Minneapolis, MN  /  Education: Bachelor of Design in Architecture – University of Minnesota-Twin Cities; Master of Architecture Candidate 2019 Iowa State University  /  Current Title: Research Assistant and Master of Architecture Candidate; former Architectural Designer at U+B Architecture & Design in Minneapolis, MN.

You studied architecture in college and now work as an architectural designer. What motivated you to pursue architecture and why are you passionate about architecture?

Surprise! I am now in school (again) for my Master of Architecture degree at Iowa State University. I previously worked in Minneapolis for two years before pursuing additional education to gain job experience and an understanding of the profession. I am now pursuing my Master of Architecture, which is required for me to get licensed as an architect.

In the beginning, I chose architecture as my major in college after putting puzzle pieces together about my interests. Architecture seemed to touch on my curiosity about world and gave me the challenge of creating spaces involving artistic expression and research methods.

Around this time, I realized that my capacity for empathy really invigorated my passion in design and led me towards an interest in design that can enhance the quality of life for all people. This has become the staple of my architectural and personal goals every since, and something I believe the profession is moving towards as well.

What does a typical day (or week) look like for you, with work and personal commitments/responsibilities?

As a working professional, a typical day consisted of coming into work at 8:30am and checking in with project managers for tasks. My commitments ranged from interior design material selections, site visits and as-built measurements, as well as architectural schematic design through construction drawing phase work, to non-billable organizational tasks for the office. In addition, I kept all of the architectural materials in the office organized and met with product representatives for meetings to decide on new materials for current or future projects.

As a young professional without a Master’s degree at the time, my work responsibilities were somewhat limited as other professionals with graduate degrees often got priority with higher level tasks. I have found, however, that when I ask for more I can usually get new and different experiences. I believe this action is essential to really learning and growing rapidly in the architectural profession.

How do you achieve work–life balance in your own life? How do you live intentionally?

Work-life balance is so critical to feeling fulfilled and whole in my life. I believe, especially with all of the pressure that comes with architecture, that having balance helps prevent burn-out and helps increase creativity. It is no secret to anyone within the field of architecture that there tends to be an unhealthy workaholic attitude and culture. I have seen this in work environments and in school, and it constantly reminds me to reevaluate how I live and work with intention and care for myself outside of architecture.

After my undergraduate, I went through a kind of awakening and reinvention of myself including my purpose as a designer and my passion for the creative discipline itself. I attribute a lot of this awakening to taking two years off to work and experience the profession personally. It really allowed me to try out a couple different firms who have different ways of operating and to sit and think about what I really wanted to do in architecture. Now in my first semester of graduate school, I have much more focus and direction and less self-criticism towards myself. In addition, I have incorporated a practice of meditation and light yoga in the morning to help combat negative thoughts and to have moments to check in with myself. This has really helped me notice when I need a break and if I need to fill my day with other things besides schoolwork like calling a family member or reading a book.

Do you have a specific project or accomplishment that you consider your most significant in your education/career?

One thing that comes to mind is my continued study of Norwegian architecture and its ties to the cultural roots of the rural Midwest. I am roughly 70% Norwegian, making up a huge part of my personal heritage and found out that Norwegian immigrants were hugely influential in shaping the area where I grew up in Southeastern MN.This interest started when I was a college senior in 2015 and  led me to become very passionate about the cultural aspects of design. Since then, I have incorporated this study into both my professional endeavors through competitions and gallery installations as well as research in graduate school.

This past summer, I was fortunate enough to study at the University of Oslo in Norway where I was able to get more first-hand knowledge of Norwegian rural architecture and historical practices that are now becoming a focus on my Master of Architecture degree. Through this research, I intend to merge my interest in rural affordable housing and cultural research to create spaces that enhance the connection people have with their environment. I suspect these endeavors to be what ultimately shapes my architectural practice in the future.

What tools do you implement into your day to help you stay productive and on–track?

I usually keep a “To Do” list on my phone and a pretty extensive Google Calendar separated into bills, events, class times, etc. I am very goal-oriented and love being efficient with my time. I also keep a monthly budget spreadsheet to keep track of my everyday and architectural expenses which has been very helpful keeping me on-track financially. In architecture, it’s easy to find yourself buying a lot of miscellaneous supplies and the majority of your work requires printing and modeling so keeping track of these expenses really helps me stay focused and in control.

The most helpful thing to keep me productive, however, is to stay aware that there is more to life than tasks and professional endeavors. I am a very family-oriented person and hold my relationships at a high priority in my life. I realized that I feel the most fulfilled when I have healthy balance between work and family. To do this, I’ve implemented a daily meditation and light yoga practice to keep me directed and paying attention to how I feel, physically and mentally.

What advice would you give to those who are struggling to find their passion in life?

My biggest piece of advice is to keep searching for that thing that makes you passionate and stay curious about everything around you. I truly believe that the more you inquire and wonder about the world, the more likely you are to find your passion. In high school I remember getting burnt out from being too active in extracurricular activities while having a perfectionist attitude about everything. It was the worst feeling to have lost my drive for school and personal excellence (which I didn’t know could even happen at that point in my life). What really brought my passion back was my investment to stay more active in my mental health and keeping relationships that made me truly happy. Overall, be around those who make you feel happy, and stay curious – good things will happen.

Does creativity come easily to you or is it something you feel you have to work at?

That is an interesting question. Heading into college, I assumed creativity was something people inherently had or did not have. I did not think it was something that could be learned or fostered until later in my degree and it was probably one of the more important developments of my life. Before realizing this, I often felt passionate about ideas but then froze when I tried to produce them physically. This is obviously a problem for designers, but also super common in the creative fields. For me, I had to learn to be patient with myself and not be overly critical. The more I forgave myself for not knowing how to do something, the easier creativity came to me and the more my design process developed.

I think this “freezing” happens when we have an idea of what creativity looks like from observing others and then trying to copy and paste it into our own process. It seems we are somehow instilled with the thought that if we do not think of or produce an idea in certain ways we will fail or our ideas would not be good enough. Counter-intuitively, I found that the more open and unassuming you are with how to go about a project, the more creative you become and the more tools and skills you develop along the way. This mentality really develops over time, but I think people can speed it up by just being more open and forgiving with themselves and their work.

Finish this sentence. Every women in her 20s should…

Know their self-worth and own it. I think this is a vital part of getting through your 20’s actually. For me, it started at the end of high school and quickly developed during my undergraduate. Working before graduate school really helped me hone my ability to notice when I was not giving myself enough credit, or when I should stick up for myself, which really is important as a young woman in architecture. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, the profession of architecture can often still be male-dominated. I have had a variety of things come up from sexism to ageism, and I believe that when you know your worth and own it, its easier to handle and combat the adverse things we encounter. Especially since coming back to school, I have noticed that I make decisions quicker, I think clearer and I am positive it will be a game changer when I reenter the workforce as a designer. Having this type of confidence is really what makes a good designer, a great designer.

Book recommendations?

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown – about embracing vulnerability and compassion as a strength.
You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay – about the power of self-love and positivity.

Where/what is your happy place?

Being at home and having all the time in the world to investigate genealogy or out wandering around trying to find vintage mid-century modern pieces. I love being alone or with one or two other close friends or family members. As I get older and notice how little time I have for myself, I tend to spend my free time with people who make me feel wanted and loved and also doing things that peak my interests and curiosity.

If you could have lunch with one women (living or dead) who would it be and why?

There are so many people I would consider but, in reality, I would have to say my great-great grandmother, Virginia Gregory. I have only recently learned of her existence through family photos and have done extensive family history research to learn more about her. I would love to have lunch with her because she has had an influence in shaping my family and my life and yet, I know close to nothing about how she was. I wish I could know more about her experience in life: the way she lived, her opportunities, her dreams, her realities. I do know that she had a tough life early on, likely a second-generation American whose family came from England, and that she and her husband moved to Southeastern MN, where I grew up, sometime in the early 1900’s. I am so curious about the environment she experienced daily: what her home looked like, what she wore, what her experiences were like as a woman in the early 20th century. In particular, I find this era so fascinating because many people had to build their own homes, live off the land, and really struggle to have the bare necessities. I wish I could learn about her on a personal level, so that she isn’t just some factual figure in my records, but a real person. Maybe I wonder because I want my life to have purpose to someone in the future…but I do know that she is someone I think about when I describe enhancing people’s quality of life through architecture.

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