2020年12月24日  |  Column

How I quit architectural design pt.2

Previously on how I quit architectural design pt.1

By deciding on going to Germany to continue my architectural design studies, meaning I have to first learn German. I did took a private tutor to learn some German and earn at least a B1 or B2 German language certification that may be required if I want to study in Germany or even to apply for scholarship if available.


While learning German, I did not stay idle and tried to engage in other creative activities. Unfortunately, as my mother had said long time ago, creative industry are not well developed nor appreciated in Indonesia, moreover in my hometown. So instead I tried to fill my time to write a story. Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien I imagine myself writing such great piece of literature, with my great interests in the field of language, culture, history, as well as art and design, I would like to construct the world from the beginning, it’s mythology, history, it’s language and culture just like J.R.R. Tolkien did, and further I would use my design skills to design the different cultures with their local clothings and architectural buildings using my pre-existing skills. However, as I am not an Oxford Professor who constructed his own fictional language since his youth, nor an experienced write, this endeavor proven to be absolutely difficult. Therefore I decided that I shall continue to develop this endeavor along with my personal development in skills and life experiences. One of a very few things that I still continue to do until today.


Other than trying to write my grand story like J.R.R. Tolkien did, I along with my friends tried to open a small cafe, in which I did use my design skills to design not only the graphical elements, but also the stall itself. It was a good business but only last for a short term due to several issues that includes the money that we earned got stolen by the business partner. It was just a small sum of money, so it doesn’t matter but what impacted me the most is the act of stealing itself. Upon this unfortunate event, I moved from my hometown to the capital to assist a certain architect in Jakarta; but this also means that my German lesson had to be put aside and in turn my goal to continue my study in Germany too.


But learning is not only earned at school and by working under this architect I might earn more practical knowledge too or so I thought. Whilst working under him, I stumbled upon a scholarship opportunity in Japan. Initially I doubt because I didn’t graduate with flying colors from my previous university, but I sent my application instead, and who could guess that later I found out that I did passed for the scholarship! Though I originally plan to go to Germany, but to go to Japan too is not a bad option, moreover if I were to look back into myself I did wanted to become an illustrator and later an architect, all thanks to influences from Japanese media that I consumed as a child. So there was a silver lining to it after all, and so it was how I later moved to Japan.


Upon arriving in Japan to continue my study, I was excited to start designing again, expecting that this time maybe I could fare better in a different environment and perspective than where I previously studied. However, I soon discovered that the master program and the lab that I entered hardly do any design works but more to a research-based program.  So I had to write a master thesis in this two-year period. During this two-year period, or perhaps it already started before even I came to Japan, I saw my perspective in design and maybe too in life gradually shifted from favoring the all-new avant garde design solution I championed during my undergraduate years, into a more low-profile traditionalist and well-scaled design that favor more things that blends well with nature rather than a heavily man-made solution to everything.


Due to this shift, I wanted to write a thesis related to history or heritage, hence my thesis on building reuse was later completed, albeit personally I don’t find my writing would add anything the the sum of human knowledge. Honestly I am not really satisfied with what I wrote, I want to know more about historical buildings, especially those who are designated as cultural heritage. But as with my language limitations where I practically could not speak, read, nor write any  Japanese when I first arrived here, and I had to learn the language all by myself (without proper language classes or school) in tandem with my actual academic learnings. So there it was, finally I had to be satisfied (or be unsatisfied) with my master thesis, and then I realized I had done practically no architectural design in the past few years, and my practical knowledge in the field of architectural design has been practically underdeveloped. Time is running out and I don’t want to be returned to my home country learning so little about design and the industry practice.


By the end of the final semester, my senior who graduated a year before me contacted me and asking whether I would like to join the company that he’s hired to. It was a small architecture office, but I thought it would be useful as stepping stone, where I could re-engage myself in actually designing something (rather than just researching about it) then gradually develop my architectural career from there.


Unfortunately I was wrong, these several years I spent in Indonesia and Japan without actually or rather properly engaged in architectural design has in some way or another killed my creativity in the field of architecture, and perhaps even my actual interest in architectural design. Furthermore, things made worse with the architecture office that I joined, where I have to work from early morning to midnight with a ridiculously low payment that perhaps are 30% bellow the minimum wage of an undergraduate student (and yet I am a master degree holder), and those long hours entitle me to no overtime pays, no health insurance, no pension coverage, and no commuting support nor housing support, so I’m practically being exploited. Yes, I would admit perhaps that I might not be entirely useful in that company, being unable to communicate properly as my Japanese too are still underdeveloped, as well as being inexperienced in the field (moreover considering that I might have a very little knowledge about architectural practice and codes in Japan), but that doesn’t explain the overly low payment without any living support nor coverage whatsoever.


I found myself stuck in whether should I returned back to Indonesia after these 2 years with very little advancement in the field of architecture; or should I  remain to live here and continue working like this where I assume it might take a very very long road to actually be able to establish myself as a proper architect. This bothers me a lot until I received a call from the immigration office regarding my working visa application. I thought at least if I secure a working visa then at least I could have a little more wiggle room to try to find other job elsewhere. But when I visited the office, the immigration staff informed me that due to the extremely low payment that I received the immigration considers that this is some form of exploitation (of course it is) and they could not issue my working visa. This is bad news obviously, and they later issued me a one-month visa to prepare myself to go back to my home country, or if I could in some way secure another job within this one month period.


When one found oneself in this situation, perhaps one must finally think it is time to go home. This one month visa is practically just a way for them to allow me return home legally without any problem for overstaying. I consider that too, but I guess I should try one more time, one last try. My friend who worked in this IT company called Nekojarashi Inc. told me whether I would like to try to apply to this company as a designer. It is not architecture obviously, but rather UI / UX design with other graphic designs when it is required.


Until this point, I have realized that as my practical skills and passion in architecture has deteriorated, and somehow with the experience during my study in Malaysia and the recent working environment in Japan, I have grown some feeling of disdain towards the architecture industry. No, don’t get me wrong but how should I put it? Maybe it’s more like I love architecture, but I have grown to dislike the industry.


So with that in mind, I thought it’s time for me to leave architecture design and begin to explore another field of design, in this case UI / UX, which if one think about it architecture itself is a User Interface and Experience design in the form of physical space, form, and matter. I thought it would be rather easy for me to transfer my current knowledge in architectural design or should I say, physical UI / UX design to digital UI / UX design for the information age.


So that kid, is how I quit architecture…