studio picture

Before I was a Catholic Mom, I was a university student, getting my Bachelor of Architecture degree.

Recently, working our way through some fix-and-declutter house projects, I came across some cardboard models from my days in Architecture School...including my final and 5th year thesis project. The final critique occurred 20 years ago this week!

I have probably whined and complained about my five years in Architecture School. My happiest year...was by far my fifth and last year. After a gazillion little details God worked out, Bill and I were married and enjoyed our first 8 months together finishing our degrees.

Bill managed to take a leave from his full-time job, took his GMAT and transferred into the Masters of Business Administration program at the University of the same city where I was studying. Together, we attended St. Mary's Parish, home-base of the Companions of the Cross.

St Mary's friends

As well as having my new spouse/favorite roommate of all time, I enjoyed hand-picking my favorite prof as my thesis advisor. I also welcomed my good friend and University Chaplain Fr. Roger as my spiritual advisor for my thesis project. After four years of studio projects tailored to the interests of professors, I was able to design my own project program for this fifth and final year.

St Benedict's Retreat House

For the first term, I measured and drew the only formal drawings in existence for the St Benedict's Retreat House in Oxford, Michigan. As crazy as it sounds, this awesome building was built without formal construction drawings, under the direction of a partly-blind, extremely talented architect Bill Wizinski.

I remember returning to school after the Christmas Break, more than a little concerned that I didn't have a reasonable thesis project for my final term!

Newly immersed in married life and looking ahead to what I hoped would be a house full of kids, I decided to try to reconcile studies in architecture with a growing desire to draw closer to God and practice His Presence (inspired by Brother Lawrence and continuing talks with Fr. Roger).

architecture school thesis

My final thesis project was entitled: Architecture and Spirituality: Acknowledging The Presence of God Within the Home and the concept actually unfolded during my prayer time, the night before I was to meet with my Thesis Advisor.

My primary Thesis Advisor...was likely not actually Christian. We never really talked about his Faith, but I was grateful that he was respectful of mine. That alone seemed pretty rare within the climate of Architecture School.

presence of God at home model on site

I built models, hand-drafted my drawings, created photo-collages of my model on the site and met regularly with my thesis advisor, delving into spatial design...and the spirituality of Practicing the Presence of God!

portfolio thesis pages

The house design included dedicated space in the form of chutes, channels and light wells, further articulated by carefully chosen building materials. The (tithed) tangible circuit of space would impact surrounding rooms through light and shadow and sounds of the elements (rain/wind) and offer reminders of God's Presence, hopefully impacting behavior and prompting prayer throughout daily life.

Sadly, when we built our 600 square foot addition to our current (and forever!) house, the reality of construction costs set in. Unsurprisingly, we were not able to incorporate fancy materials or tithe a 10% circuit of space acknowledging the Presence of God through shadow and light, but we have plenty of Sacred Art and statues throughout our house.

architecture school portfolio

And now, rummaging through boxes of cardboard models from Architecture School, it would seem that we have an endless playground for our little Wooden Painted Saints!

painted saints in university model

I could never have known... 20 years ago, how these models would come in handy!

architecture school model for painted saints

The little  Wooden Painted Saints look right at home, don't they?

painted saints in a cardboard model

Copyright 2015 Monica McConkey.
Photos copyright 2015 Monica McConkey. All rights reserved.