Salehah: Self-Discovery Through Architecture (Part 3 Of 10)

The path of architecture is much more than just learning how to draw and design. Architecture is a path of trials that make you question your abilities, sanity and worth. Previously, Natasya Jasmin shared her story on her architecture journey and how it had impacted her perspective on life. For this next part, I want to bring in another one of my close friends and former coursemate, Salehah Seeni Pakkeer, to share her story. Many of the people around her, including me, call her Sally, a bright nickname that reflects exactly who she is as a person. She grew up in Penang, Malaysia and came to Kuala Lumpur in 2015 to pursue her studies. With very little knowledge in architecture but a high passion for art, she developed an interest and love for the built environment.

“A small part in me yearns to be amongst those who create the changing skylines that form our cities.”

Salehah seeni pakkeer, 2019 architecture student graduate at taylor’s university
A picture of Salehah holding up her architecture physical model.
Sally smiling proudly with her final model and drawings during her final project for the first semester of her degree. A naïve and energised expression, not knowing that torture is waiting for her in the upcoming semesters.
Picture credit to Salehah Seeni Pakkeer

How Salehah Got Into The World Of Archi-Torture

Architecture is a career pathway that sets a person up with many flexible skills across the profession. You don’t feel restricted on becoming just an architect but instead, you have the option to explore and branch out into interior design, landscape architecture, furniture design and other related design paths. It enables one to be very observant of their surroundings and hence shapes them into more meticulous and detail-oriented persons. But to get to this stage, one must go through different trials that archi-torture entails, such as sleepless nights, harsh critiques, failures and more. So why did Sally choose this torturous path?

A picture of Salehah presenting her design to her lecturer, Mr Azim.
Sally presenting her final design to Mr Azim her Lego Character’s Home in the year 2016 during her Foundation in Natural & Built Environment course at Taylor’s University. And look at that smile! Her smile has always given off a positive and cheerful impression of who she is.
Picture credit to Salehah Seeni Pakeer

Ever since Sally was a child, every form of art has always captivated her. Due to this deep passion for art, she began to appreciate the architecture around her. Sally dreams to be amongst the ones who create the changing skylines that form the cities. And so she set forth to accomplish this dream. However, Sally almost lost her path in architecture. She got sidetracked by her other life goals and contemplated whether this is the right path or not. For Sally, it was all about following her passion and how she envisioned her future career and life would be with it.

“In the end, it all boils down to my passion and the type of environment I wish to be in.”

Salehah

Architecture Is A Journey Of Discovery

Sally’s first step in architecture was going into Foundation in Natural & Built Environment at Taylor’s University. Foundation was all about learning the basics of architecture and exploring how one can unleash creativity. It gave Sally a glimpse of what she might experience during her bachelor’s degree. Even from the starting point, she was thrown into the harsh reality of deadlines, back-to-back submissions and sleepless nights.

A screenshot of Salehah's instagram post of her fashion show project of designing a shirt.
This was a fun and explorative project that Sally had done with her team members, Jezdmeen and Amal for Introduction to Design class during the foundation course in 2016. The project brief was to design three to four shirts that reflect and depict a keyword given by the lecturer. The keyword given to Sally and her teammates were: confident and precision.
Picture credit to Salehah Seeni Pakkeer

1. Adapting To The Harsh But Helpful Critiques

“Architecture life has proven to me that life is not always rainbows and butterflies.”

Salehah

Before architecture, Sally was used to getting things done without any trouble. She was always confident in what she does and has never experienced criticism. But criticisms and critiques are a huge part of architecture education and studio culture. Some critiques may sound harsh which can result in feeling demotivated and humiliated. Imagine presenting weeks worth of designs and drawings that you are proud of to your lecturers and guests, but to end up receiving negative comments. However, architecture students are progressively trained to acknowledge all the comments, including the negative ones for the benefit of our future projects. Making mistakes allows room for improvement. So most of the criticisms that Sally received are helpful in a way that opened her eyes to make better progress.

A screenshot of Salehah's instagram post of one of her sketches coloured with markers.
One of Sally’s sketches for her submission to Architecture History class using coloured markers.
Picture credit to Salehah Seeni Pakkeer

2. Adopting New Habits

For Sally, procrastination became a lifestyle (although not recommended in architecture). There is always submission after submission which gives architecture students very little time to even rest and recharge their energy.

Sally had an experience where she started her work the night before it was due and deeply regretted it. Despite already working on it the week before, she did not manage to fully complete it and was confident that she still had lots of time. Little did she know… time was not the main problem. She forgot to consider the condition of her laptop. The laptop was so tired of working so hard the whole week that it decided to crash an hour before her submission. Does it still sound okay? No… because she forgot to save her work! So you can imagine the panic and adrenaline rush in her as she retyped back all the info that was gone in a few minutes.

For Sally, architecture was more than just procrastination. She picked up the bad habits of missing her meals and not being able to think about food until she completed her work. She also had numerous experiences with losing her hard work because she forgot to click CTRL+S (save). At the end of the day, she learnt how to stay sane.

“I decided to start my next assignment early the next day, but ended up going back to that same procrastination cycle. Old habits die hard, you know?”

salehah
A photo of Salehah sleeping on the floor as she takes a rest from work.
It was the third day of not sleeping and Sally could not keep her eyes open any longer and thus, passed out on the floor whilst doing her work. This was during her final project of the first semester in Foundation in Natural & Built Environment in 2016.
Picture credit to Haney Marsya, Sally’s groupmate

3. Salehah And Her Setbacks

In year two of her architecture degree, Sally had a very tough time and almost gave up her dream. During her studio project, there was no improvement in her progress and almost every idea was rejected. It was three weeks before the final submission, where Sally had an interim session to present her progress. The outcome of it was not what she expected and was told that her project was a failure. Her tutor gave her feedback but everything was a blur as she felt so exhausted, mentally and physically. It was also during Ramadhan, the month of fasting, and she hasn’t slept the day before nor had any food for suhur. For the first time, Sally felt hopeless, demotivated and clueless.

“I didn’t have appetite to even eat when it was time to break my fast. I kept on thinking that I am going to fail my project without even having the chance to present in on the final presentation day.”

Salehah
A photo of Salehah's physical model of her Community Learning Centre project, showcasing the façade concept of brick vent block.
One of Sally’s final models of her design project, a Community Learning Centre in Klang, Malaysia, with the façade concept of brick vent block.
Picture credit to Salehah Seeni Pakkeer

4. Salehah Finding Motivations And Strength In Unexpected Ways

After feeling demotivated, Sally needed something to distract herself after receiving the bad news of her project’s progress from her tutor. On that same day, I went to the bookstore with her and she came across a Malay book called, “Arkitek Jalanan” by Teme Abdullah. At first, Sally was attracted to the title and thought that she could relate to it due to her situation. She was not fond of Malay novels unless someone would recommend her to read them. And I clearly remember coming up to her as she skimmed through the book and said, “He is actually an architect and draws very well! You can check him out on Instagram.”

A photo of a collection of Teme Abdullah's books that Salehah collected.
The book that Sally bought in the beginning, Arkitek Jalanan, was actually the second part of a trilogy series by Teme Abdullah. She was so invested in the book that she decided to buy the other books as shown above in chronological order (from left to right).
Picture credit to Salehah Seeni Pakkeer

“When you’re about to give up learning or mastering something, remember that everything which is easy for you now was once very tough in the beginning.”

Teme abdullah, street artist, architect and author of the trilogy series pelukis jalanan

Sally’s interest was piqued as she found out more about this author and decided to buy the book and give it a read. Literally the next day, she read the book and finished in the evening. Feeling highly motivated, the only thought that was on her mind was that fate brought her there. It was fate to read the book as if it was another way of God trying to help her. Due to the book, she was suddenly overflowed with ideas for her project and start sketching them as she works on her 3D model.

5. Salehah Winning Over Her Doubts

“You’ll never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”

Salehah

The book was an inspiration that came to her when she really needed it. Fast forward to the presentation week, Sally managed to produce a totally new design with the same concept that she had in mind from the beginning. She had such a busy week before that with other assignments and Eid-al-Fitr celebrations, although it was not celebrated to her content. She had many doubts about her new idea as her tutor did not know about it and the possibility of failing was high. So a few hours before submission, Sally considered not to submit her work, because in her mind she thought that she was rushing for nothing.

A photo of Sally's final presentation during her last semester of the degree, right before she graduated.
Sally presenting her final project, City Lobby, on her last semester in architecture degree in 2019 with content and satisfaction in her work. Those four years of ups and downs were definitely worth it!
Picture credit to Salehah Seeni Pakkeer

At the time, I was in her room working on my project as well and I kept her that she is already at the finish line. All it takes now is not to give up and just submit. I was so proud of her when she submitted her work on time and presented it to the lecturers. The best part of all? The lecturers were really happy with her design and even gave constructive criticisms. You did it Sally!

6. How Architecture Made Life More Colourful For Salehah

During her architecture studies, Sally learnt that despite the torture and sleepless nights, once everything is completed, all the tiredness just dispersed from your body and you feel like a huge weight is lifted. You feel so content and happy. And the best part is celebrating it by going out with friends and eating good food!

“In the end, all the torture was worth it!”

Salehah
Picture of Sally holding up her physical architectural model during her final semester project.
Sally ending her last semester in architecture degree with a smile and satisfaction despite not sleeping enough the week before (you can see it in her eyes). Her project, City Lobby, was her favourite one as it shows how much she had grown throughout the four years of architecture study.
Picture credit to Salehah Seeni Pakkeer

Many people played a big role in supporting and helping Sally grow through her architecture journey. Ms Iffa was a lecturer during her foundation course whom she can be herself with at all times. To Sally, Ms Iffa was not only a lecturer but also a friend whom she could converse and talk to at any time. During the final year of her architecture degree, Sally had the help of her supportive lecturers, Mr Jas and Mr Prince for always helping her expand her ideas on her designs and never doubting her capabilities.

Her Last Thoughts

Sally loves architecture despite its challenges. She gets to travel for site visits and learns the culture of each place. She begins to think more critically and questions things from different perspectives. Her perspective of life changes as she becomes more aware of the relationship between the environment and its surroundings.

“This path would allow me to have a meaningful career through which I can contribute positively to the creation of the world we inhabit.”

salehah
A photo of Sally's instagram post of her digital artwork.
After graduating with an architecture degree, Sally sets off to explore more of her creative side through digital art. This is one of her recent works that really plays with space, light and framing. Check out more of her artwork on her Instagram page!
Picture credit to Salehah Seeni Pakkeer

Salehah: The Importance Of Support From Families And Friends

Architecture is a tough battle where there will always be people dropping out from the course. It was halfway through the degree when one of Sally’s friends dropped out without any notice. Giving up is so easy, but what if all they need is a bit of support and comforting words to keep them going?

“If you’re a student reading this, I want you to know that you are strong. Everything is going to get better for you in the future. And to those who know others who are struggling with their studies, please comfort and support them. Don’t make them feel like they have to be alone, just because you don’t understand their pain. Share their burden and lend them your ear. Don’t degrade them by saying, “This is nothing. Other people are going through so much more worse than this. Other people can be successful so why can’t you? Don’t feel down just because you have gone through a bit of setback.”

Please don’t make them feel much worse than they already are and instead put yourself in their shoes and cheer them up. As a friend, a sibling, a parent or sometimes even as a stranger. Everyone wants to be heard without being judged. It makes a difference.”

salehah
A picture of Sally and her friend, Atiqah (Auhtor) holding bubbles in their hands at the Great Eastern LIVE GREAT Run in 2018.
Having a friend who supports and goes through the hardship together in architecture gives you many memorable moments. Sally (left) had Atiqah (Author) by her side and we both owe each other for always being there for each other. This was taken during the Great Eastern LIVE GREAT Run in 2018.
Picture credit to Salehah Seeni Pakkeer

“One day this pain and hardship will make sense to us. Just don’t give up.”

excerpt from the novel “arkitek jalanan” by teme abdullah, architect, street artist and writer

Who’s Next?

Can’t wait to read more archi-torture stories? Stay tuned for the next story of a creative and hardworking girl from Brunei, Lieng Kam Wong. In the meantime, you can check out Teme Abdullah and the stories of his architecture journey in his books. Teme was once an architecture student studying in the United Kingdom. In his books, he tells the stories of his struggles being in a different country with nothing but his sketches and passion.

About Atiqah GHAZALI

Grew up overseas in a melting pot of global culture to expat parents, Atiqah is well read, and expresses herself best through writing, art and photography. Architect by qualification, but makes a living as an interior designer.

One Reply to “Salehah: Self-Discovery Through Architecture (Part 3 Of 10)”

  1. Pingback: Kam: Imagination To Reality In Architecture (Part 4 Of 10) - Espoletta

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