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Burning at both ends: the working and grad school combo


*Editor’s Note: Most of us already know that architecture school is an endurance challenge–more exam hours than medical students, lack of sleep, studio, etc.–but education in the profession so often continues beyond the Bachelors degree. Many people in the field juggle a full-time professional workload, family and personal demands, and continuing education. At KSQ we have numerous staff members who are dealing with this reality, so we thought we’d highlight some of their stories. Follow along and see why architecture is a profession that requires passion…and a lot of coffee.

Stefan Pinheiro received his Bachelor of Architectural Technology and has just completed his Master of Architecture at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He recently completed his thesis titled: “(in) formalism: a reconsideration of the shanty town.” The Garret sat down with Stefan to get some insight into his thesis topic and the experience of working while pursuing an advanced degree:

Q: What has it been like to pursue an advanced degree in architecture while working at an architecture firm?

A: It has been both fulfilling yet demanding because of the time limitations. Although the teachings of architecture school are obviously beneficial, acquiring an intern position at a firm during school–which completely replaces my already diminishing social life–I was able to gain valuable real-world design, construction documentation and administration experience, while accumulating much needed IDP hours. So in essence, they did not progress without dedication, perseverance and lack of sleep.


Q: What influenced your thesis topic?

A: Currently there are seven billion people on this planet and 2 billion of those people live in substandard housing while 1 billion people live in slums across the globe and survive on less than $1 a day. These are staggering numbers. As designers, we’re always looking for points of intervention where we hope to make change, and in order to do this we must fully understand the design context we are working in–this means not only recognizing the issues and problems at hand, but also the opportunities for architectural intervention.

Q; I understand you have a personal connection to the issues surrounding shanty towns. Would you mind explaining?

A: I grew up in the Caribbean on the twin island of Trinidad and Tobago where poverty is rampant and is rapidly increasing on a massive scale. Government neglect, unemployment and inflation are some of the setbacks faced by Trinidadians who can’t seem to make enough to survive. These setbacks and hardships affect the poor, not only in the Caribbean, but on a global scale as well.

Q: How has population and poverty issues actually caused shanty towns?

A: The current scale of poverty on the planet has overwhelmed the capacity of the formal city, the formal market, and the ability to accommodate the large numbers of impoverished settlers moving to urban districts all across the planet. With the extreme shortage of affordable housing these informal settlements take their place on the outskirts of cities on appropriated government land–land that is perceived as unbuildable by the government because of major obstacles like sewers, pipes and canals. In the design field, we can use our design expertise to invent ways to combat poverty architecturally.

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Q: In the context of your thesis, what do you mean by “(in)formalism?”

A: The terms “(in)formalism,” which is a neologism, refers to the informal process of architectural form, as it relates to the informal development of informal cities and communities all over the world.

Q: What design solutions do you present in your thesis?

A: There are slum dwellers that currently leave their cardboard shacks on a daily basis to cross a dangerous six-lane highway to venture to this site in question, this landfill, to salvage whatever items they deem valuable–copper, plastic, aluminum, food. My thesis seeks to recognize issues on this site and to turn the issues into design opportunities by utilizing resourced materials from a landfill adjacent to the site in conjunction with a kit-of-parts to construct much needed housing. This allows slum residents to erect their own shelter and nurture their own community. This is my contribution.

*Learn more about Stefan and his work in this article in Guardian:

One response to “Burning at both ends: the working and grad school combo”

  1. Jane Morgan says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I have worked with dozens of Architects and interns and have always found it refreshing to listen to the view points and differences in priorities between those that have been “around the block” and those who have just begun their journey.
    I work with KSQ/Peterson an a daily basis and I always enjoy talking with Stefan Pinheiro. Now I know a little more about him and his passions. He has made me realize that there may be a lot more interns out there that have been “around the block” than I knew, and also that architectural priorities are changing to align with humanitarian ideals. How great is that!
    Good luck to them all!

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