Happiness and Kindness

Part I.
Be happy.

Yesterday was the first day of my final semester in college.

During winter break, I avoided thinking about school. I knew I had a big load ahead of me this semester and I refused to let that distract me from my break. A few days before school started, I decided to gather my things and prepare for my classes. I purchased notebooks, made sure I had the right textbooks, bought a fresh new sketchbook for my studio course, and cleansed my mind of any negative thoughts about school, work, everything.

Don't get me wrong. I actually love going to school. I've loved it ever since I started attending school, but every now and then (just as any normal person), I get stressed out. Toward the middle of the semester, studio gets a bit more stressful, the exams start pouring in, the assignments keep coming, and I just want everything to go smoothly. I always tried to be the best at everything. For the first half of college, I told myself that stressing out was completely fine. Actually, I thought it was necessary to stress out in order to finish my work properly. It was unhealthy and unproductive, even though I told myself that it was a part of life and I just had to get used to it.

Eventually, I realized that freaking out was not the answer to getting things done. I realized that I wasn't getting the most of my education with all the sleepless nights, unhealthy eating habits, and being worried all the time. I decided to force myself to relax, to make more time to do what I love at school and also outside of school. I missed reading for fun. I missed writing for enjoyment. I missed having a balance. I used to be one of those architecture students who had the mentality that studio was my life. School was my life and everything else was secondary until I was done with school. Now, as I begin my last semester of college, I can tell you that I'm so, very happy I stopped thinking that way.

Recently, a couple of my friends told me that ever since I got married, I had changed. I thought I was about to get the typical you're-such-a-married-person, you-never-have-time-for-us talk, but instead they said I was more relaxed. I seemed happier. I smiled more. I joked around more. I seemed to just feel lighter and calmer. They said they loved it and were happy they finally got the chance to meet the real me. It sounds mushy, but I seriously loved hearing that. It was true. I felt wonderful Alhamdulilah. This isn't to say that marriage is the reason I'm happy and that the only way to feel happy is to go get hitched. It's vital to feel happy on your own, not depending on others as a source of happiness. But Afroz did help me realize that I had to make time for myself, that I had to take care of myself, and be content with my lifestyle. He's good at pushing me to go to the gym when I'm tired and getting me to watch a movie when he can see I'm close to stressing out.

This blog that you're reading now was the start of my new calm-the-heck-down-Fariha lifestyle. Reading new books was also part of the new journey. I started reading a book called

The Happiness Project

by Gretchen Rubin. I was in Target one day in the books section and to be honest, the cover just looked cute to me, so I picked it up. The summary on the back sounded like I would benefit from the book, so I said why not?


Now, I freaking love this book and think everyone should read it, both young and old, men and women, whoever you are, go read it. The book has information in it that at first you think you know. Actually, we all already know the information in this book, but Rubin explains how she thoughtfully applied the things we already know in her own lifestyle. She would make time for happiness, which is something most of say we don't have much of. She made everyday things part of her "Happiness Project," so that her life would be a little less dull and more exciting. When I say everyday things, I mean everyday things like cleaning, reading, talking to people nicely, managing your money, etc.

Each month, she focused on a different part of her life to focus on. She would ask herself how she could improve that specific part of her life. She explains what her successes were and what her failures were. She's super transparent, which makes the book more relatable. I never thought I would read such a book at this age. To be honest, I had the perception that self-help books were for people who were engulfed in many problems and were very unhappy. I was so wrong. This book isn't the kind that makes you feel like you have so many problems and the author has the answer to them all. She just shares her two-cents and made me realize that I can totally be happier if I just try to be happy.

Part II.
Being happier means being kinder.

When I see what's going on all over the world, I feel depressed at first, which obviously goes against my goal to be happier. I realized that I can continue to have sympathy for the unfortunate events that take place. I can pray for peace and happiness for everyone in the world--but I cannot let anyone or anything predetermine who I am as an individual. In The Happiness Project, Rubin mentions that she always looks for opportunities to make new friends and, in general, be nicer to others. She mentions how she started to avoid gossiping and saying negative things about people, events, etc. She also made a checklist for first new encounters:

  • Smile more frequently.
  • Actively invite others to join a conversation.
  • Create a positive mood.
  • Open a conversation.
  • Try to look accessible and warm.
  • Show a vulnerable side and laugh at yourself.
  • Show a readiness to be pleased.
  • Follow others' conversational leads.
  • Ask questions.

You're probably wondering, where am I going with all of this?

I dislike it when people assume something about me, because of what's on my head or what I'm wearing or because of my faith or culture. Predetermining how someone is as a person without getting to know them is just going to keep people from being kind to each other. Some might say, that the solution to all the unfortunate events that take place everyday in our world is by creating a hashtag or putting up a Facebook status. Some might say protest. Some might say don't get involved. It's quite fascinating how every person has their own way of dealing with these situations. Everyone has a reason for what they do, usually with positive and respectful intentions. 

My little goal in life, starting now, is to be happier, which includes being kinder. This involves holding the door open for my apartment neighbors in the lobby, saying hello to the person standing next to me as we wait for the bus, not talking negatively about a professor just because I'm stressed about his/her class, being a better listener to my friends, and being positive overall...to every single person I encounter, regardless of faith, race, whatever. As easy as this sounds, we are all guilty of doing the exact opposite of this every now and then, but this post serves as a reminder to myself before anyone else. 

Part of the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) include being happy and being kind to family, friends, neighbors, strangers, etc. The Prophet (pbuh) was human. He would worry and stress, he would laugh and joke around, but he was always kind to others. I pray that Allah (swt) helps me follow my two goals of being happier and being kinder to all. And that everyone attains happiness and shares kindness with others as well.


"Let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day speak good, or keep silent; and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his neighbor; and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his guest."

"None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself."

- Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

Follow your intuition.

During the school year, I started interning at The Art Institute of Chicago, Department of Architecture and Design. The first exhibition I worked on was "Architecture to Scale: Stanley Tigerman and Zago Architecture." The curator of the exhibition, Karen Kice, had me work on the digital model of the gallery space to figure out where to place the models and how to design the space so that it reflects both architects' work. I mainly worked on the portion that focused on Mr. Tigerman. It was an extremely beneficial experience for me, because I usually looked at an architect's work from the outside. I never went so deeply into it as I did when trying to tell a story with his models, drawings, and the design of the gallery walls. When I found out I was going to work on an exhibition for Stanley Tigerman, I realized I didn't know enough about him, so I went to the library and checked out every book I could find about him.

While many people (especially IIT folks), have various views about Mr. Tigerman and his work, I enjoyed learning about his approach to the built environment. What stood out to me when I was looking through photographs of his work, was the pattern of using a pop of color, simple geometric forms, and humor to design his buildings. I especially love his doodles and sketches, which tell stories about the buildings he designs.

One of my most memorable experiences while working at the museum has been the opportunity to have lunch with Mr. Tigerman and my co-workers. He was cracking jokes and sharing many words of wisdom, which I really enjoyed. He shared his memories of East and West Pakistan (which soon became just Pakistan and Bangladesh). He told us stories about the many buildings he has designed all around the world and his experiences as a student at Yale. Even though many people told me he could be pretty intimidating and harsh sometimes, I just appreciated how funny and kind he was in that moment. One thing I took from the conversation was his words on intuition. He said, "Follow your intuition and good will come of it." He mentioned that sometimes, that's the only reason you have to go on and do something you want to do and there is no better reason at that moment.

The next day I took Afroz to see the exhibition. Mr. Tigerman was sitting in a chair in the gallery speaking to Karen as we walked in. I introduced him to Afroz and Mr. Tigerman mentioned how much he enjoyed having lunch with me. I was happy that he enjoyed it just as much as I did. When a tour group came in, he spoke to them about the exhibition and expressed gratitude to the museum for curating a show that truly reflected his work as an architect. He also recognized and thanked me as "this young lady from Pakistan," which I thought was hilarious, but awesome :-)

Afroz and I were invited to the short reception afterward and I was able to get a picture with Stanley Tigerman. I am so grateful for the Department of Architecture and Design's curators, Zoë Ryan and Karen Kice for allowing me to work so deeply in the process of curating this exhibition. Alhamdulilah for all of these wonderful experiences.

Stanley Tigerman drew these doodles on the wall and every time a child came an interacted with the drawing, he loved it so much. "This is who I design for," he said.

The pink and purple walls with the doodles reflect Mr. Tigerman's use of color and drawings to tell a story.

Various models sit in the gallery, along with some sketches to show his process.

Mr. Tigerman sometimes uses mirrors in his buildings, so this wall has a little square opening lined with mirrors.

Afroz checking out the exhibition :)

Stanley Tigerman's models are built with great precision and care.

I worked with Karen to design the two trusses, which reflect his use of similar shapes and forms in his projects.

The color and shape on the walls really brought the exhibition together and made it more fun. 

I had fun modeling the trusses and the walls digitally. Being able to see them in full scale was nice.

Mr. Tigerman spoke to the AIA Convention tour group. His wife Margaret stood next to him, along with Karen and Zoe on the right. 

Me and Stanley Tigerman after the reception :-)

The exhibition will be open until September 14, 2014. For more information,click here.

How I Fell in Love with Architecture

I met with Sadeel Allam of Sweet Modesty yesterday for some coffee. It was so refreshing to meet a talented young woman with such great determination and skill mashaAllah. I am so excited to work with her for a future project inshaAllah. More details on that soon...

Something that came up in our discussion was my choice of studying architecture. I remembered giving a speech not too long ago that really helped me remember how and why I fell in love with the study of architecture. Back in May I was asked to be the keynote speaker for the Newhouse Architecture Competition Awards Ceremony (Alhamdulilah). This competition was something that I was involved with in high school. I was asked to give a speech since I was an alumnus of the program. Here's a rough write-up of my talk:


"Good evening. Thank you so much for having me here today. As an alumnus of this fantastic program, having this opportunity to speak to you today is truly an honor.

So I basically have these few minutes to share with you all some of the most significant moments of my life—the moments that shaped my decision to choose a career, a college, and a future.

Let’s rewind back to high school. I came into Lane Tech in 2006 as a confused freshman. I was a very goal-oriented person, so I needed to know what career field I was working toward in order to keep going. It bothered me that as a freshman in high school I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

(Which is pretty silly when you think about, but that’s just how I was.)

All I knew about my future career was that it had to have something to do with art and design, because I grew up with a love for painting and drawing. The summer after my sophomore year at Lane, I spent time with my brother in Singapore who is a graphic designer. He noticed that I was intrigued by the spatial quality of the built environment and when I mentioned to him that I needed to figure out my career, he suggested that I look into Architecture. I told him that there was no way I would succeed at a profession that involved math and other technical concepts since I wasn't much of a math person.

But after the conversation, I came home and visited the library. I went straight to the Architecture section and grabbed some books, one of which was a book on the Swiss architect named Le Corbusier. What fascinated me about this architect was the fact that he was a painter before he became an architect and what intrigued me even more was his famous design of a church in France. When I saw this church, it was as if the architect had painted it to life with the stroke of a brush. The way the light flowed in this building, the way its form complimented its surroundings, and the material—it was all breathtaking. Architecture suddenly made sense. It was a three-dimensional art form that impacted the way people lived. 

Ronchamp | Le Corbusier (Source)

So I continued on my journey.

I went home and sat on the Internet, searching for more information on Architecture. I learned about Mies van der Rohe, the architect known for his work here at IIT, Frank Lloyd Wright, and many more. It was during this research that I first came across the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF). I saw all these wonderful opportunities on their website and knew I wanted to get involved once the school year had started. When classes began at Lane Tech, I decided to enroll in the Architecture curriculum. On the first day of class, I grabbed "The Architecture Handbook" sitting on my desk and skimmed through all of the passages. I finally realized that the Chicago Architecture Foundation published this book. I thought to myself, “I really need to get involved with this organization,” not knowing that I would develop such a strong relationship with CAF in the near future.

I will never forget how I developed the courage to go up to Mr. Berlanga after the first day of class and tell him how passionate I was about Architecture. My statement was along the lines of:

“My name is Fariha and I wanted to mention that I am extremely serious about Architecture. After researching the work of famous architects, I want to learn as much as possible about this field. I have enjoyed researching and now want to learn the skills and practice them.”

I remember him smiling and looking at me and saying, “Alright, I’ll let you know about the workshops and competitions when they come up.”

That’s all he had to do to get me addicted to learning more about Architecture. He announced the CAF Teen Workshops and I made sure to attend as many as I could. The first one I attended was at CAF and I loved meeting other students who had the same passion as I did. The most inspiring and motivating part about these workshops was the volunteer architects who came in on Saturday mornings and were wide awake, excited, and happy to help students like me learn more about their own passion for Architecture. I absolutely loved their enthusiasm and I feel that because of their devotion to helping students learn more about Architecture, I was able to get so much helpful advice for my future.

CAF model-making workshop for high school students (Source)

Soon enough I attended a workshop that took place right here at IIT in Crown Hall. I walked through the studios and saw the models that were built with precision and great attention to detail. I saw hand-drafted drawings painted with light watercolor as well as some students who were working hard to complete these drawings and models to communicate their projects to their professors. I immediately knew that I wanted to attend this university. I wanted to be one of these students. I felt that I was on the right path as a high school student participating in the workshops, but I also felt that there was more I could do. I came home and researched IIT. I came across some information on the Crown Scholarship, which was a five-year full tuition award given to one incoming freshman. I needed to submit an essay and a drawing in order to be considered. Getting accepted to this university and submitting my application for the scholarship became my main goals. I didn’t feel like a confused high school student anymore and it felt great.

I eventually got involved with the CAF Student Advisory Committee through the workshops. In the committee, I worked with other students, volunteer architects, and the CAF education specialists (Jen Masengarb and Krisann Rehbein) to develop ideas for a new web-based architecture curriculum. I looked forward to coming to these meetings right after school, because I always learned something new and developed valuable connections in the field.

When the Newhouse Competition was announced, I submitted an essay and entered the photography and model-making divisions. I thought I would take it easy for my first year entering the competition. When I received the letter stating that I earned 2nd place for my essay and my model, I was so excited. I felt like I was doing something right and that it was a great starting point. It was my sophomore year and I had two more years to enter the other divisions and learn even more. During the awards ceremony, I got a surprise. I had also earned an apprenticeship at Taliesin: the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. Now, you can just imagine how happy I was. After the ceremony, I went down to the student exhibition and showed my family what Architecture was all about. They were so happy that I wasn’t a lost cause anymore. I found something that I loved and I was running with it.

Right when I thought CAF couldn’t do anymore amazing things for me, I received an e-mail from the CAF education specialists about a lecture by the world-renowned architect, David Adjaye, that was open to everyone. I had no idea who this man was, but Google being my best friend, I skimmed through his work online. I thought I’d take advantage of this opportunity to listen to an architect talk about his practice. I came into this lecture with a composition notebook in hand, ready to learn and take notes.

David Adjaye’s work was so inspiring to me as a student.

The way he presented his buildings—showing process sketches, conceptual images and then the final building design…it was amazing! The design process was so fascinating. My pen wouldn’t leave the paper. I felt bad for the gentleman next to me, because there was this excited high school student next to him writing every word this architect had to say. I went home and scanned the notes and look back to them even today to revive my appreciation for the design process. It was one of the best lectures I have ever attended. 

Nobel Peace Center | David Adjaye (Source)

Later on, Krisann invited me to a fundraising event after my trip to Taliesin, where I first met Jeanne Gang, the principal of Studio Gang Architects. She spoke about her newest building, the Aqua Tower. It was an honor listening to her talk about her practice and when I got the chance to actually meet her, I was so excited because she was another inspirational figure to add to the list.

The following school year, I won first place for my Newhouse Competition essay entry and grand prizes for my design submissions. Along with that, I also earned an internship with Studio Gang Architects, which left me speechless for quite some time. Working with Studio Gang as a junior and continuing my internship in college was such a beneficial experience. I can’t thank CAF and Studio Gang enough for all that I learned during my time there.

Now, let’s fast forward to senior year. I was accepted to IIT as a recipient of the Crown Scholarship. My eyes were filled with tears when I received the news. The feeling of setting goals and actually achieving them was amazing.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation helped me achieve these goals. All I had to do was get involved and say yes to every opportunity that they brought forth in front of me and the opportunities were endless. When I say the CAF changed my life, I’m not just saying it. I truly mean it. Even after I graduated from high school, the connections I made through the CAF have stuck with me.

Reaching your goals isn’t always easy. I had my ups and downs, but being involved with organizations like the CAF kept me going. I revisit my Newhouse Competition work every now and then and I remember why I fell in love with Architecture in the first place.

I congratulate you on dedicating your time and effort into making it thus far. This experience is what you make out of it, so get involved and take risks. Set goals and work hard.

Thank you and best of luck for the future!"


JazaakAllahkhair and thank you to everyone who helped me get this far and for pushing me to work hard as I finish my education at IIT. Alhamdulilah for everything.