Now that I'm out of school it's easier to reflect on the sometimes painful but useful experiences you have during those formative college years. I remember with fondness one particularly painful lesson I learned while presenting a design project in Buenos Aires. My project had started off well enough, but had stagnated (to say the least) to the mid-point in the semester. I made a very mediocre presentation after which my professor had only one question, it was: "Who is your favorite architect?" The question seemed so irrelevant and caught me so off guard that all I could muster was, "I don't know."
This was one of those moments that doesn't really sink in until much later. He was basically asking me where my project had come from and in his own way telling me that I needed a hero if I wanted to be a good designer. He was, of course, right. And looking back on it, every professor that I had before and since has told me the same thing in some way. Whenever I talked about an idea, they would reference another project that dealt with that idea in hopes of sparking something. That's how the creative process works, particularly in architecture. You find something that inspires you, then you use that energy to create something of your own.
One of the challenges that I faced during that time was that I came from a different background than many of the other students in my class. It seemed like everyone there had come from some creative discipline like art or design. I came from economics, not exactly a related field. I was always tentative with my ideas and opinions because I didn't want to be embarrassed by someone who knew more than me. One of my earliest heroes was Louis Kahn. His work made sense to me when so many others were beyond my intellectual grasp. I was shy about that at the time, but it's such an important aspect of learning; The instinct to grasp on to something external that makes sense to you and run with it. An instinct that I acquired when I didn't know the answer to the most basic of questions: "Who is your favorite architect?"