Of letters, planes and architecture

My Land #2

Sitting in this worn, tiny plane chair on the tenth hour of the thirteen-hour ride to Azerbaijan, I’m filling my time looking at my old pieces of writing. I found a document labeled “15-07-02 – Mi Tierra”. It’s odd, because when I saw the words mi tierra, a few different thoughts passed through my head.

First, as the language nerd that I am, I realized that in Spanish home is hogar but instead I used mi tierra which is my land. And that’s just weird how we use different words to convey the notion of (in English) home.

But other than that trivial thing that fascinates me way more than it should, I thought of how four years ago, I considered Spain to be my one and only home. Time truly does crazy things. Here I am now, my second time moving out of this country, with a sense of pride that I would have despised as a fourteen-year-old immigrant in America. Ridgewood out of all places. No matter how disgustingly white-privileged, picture perfect, seemingly polished this town was, it made me, me. It was a temporary home but, nevertheless, a home. And since about a year ago I decided to take in all the lessons I learned when visiting an old home, why not do the same when leaving a temporary home.

So here it is, an appreciation post for the US, Ridgewood and RHS. But more importantly, a shout-out to all the people, places and things (*cough* food) that stuck by my side no matter what.

  1. Contrary to popular belief, McDonald’s isn’t any better in the US. It does, however, make for a cool hangout place if you have weird friends and nowhere to go at 11pm.
  2. Chin up, refuel.
  3. You never know what tomorrow will bring.
  4. High school is stupid and (hopefully) doesn’t dictate where your life is headed.
  5. Watch sunrises, sit in empty fields, go to playgrounds, walk on trails, lie on roofs. Preferably with a friend, but sometimes alone.
  6. Keep your friends close during hard times, especially if they’re going through their own hard times with you *shudders* SATs
  7. Learn to take people off the pedestals you put them on. Know that personalities and circumstances do change and you can only give people as much as they give you.
  8. Just learn to say your name the way Americans say it. No matter how determined you are to pronounce it in your own language, they won’t be able to say it and will end up twisting it into something that has nothing to do with your name. Save yourself the trouble.
  9. Find friends who are as nerdy as you. Even if that means you end up going to the Starbucks every day after school or pulling all-nighters to study, it’ll make for some great memories.
  10. No matter how far away you are from your family, they are there in times of need. Don’t take it for granted and always remember to show your appreciation.
  11. Write – or do whatever that thing is that replaces an expensive therapist. Whether it brings home medals or just helps sleepless nights, make yourself proud. I realize now that going through that folder in my laptop with all my writing sorted by date is the most satisfying feeling in the world.
  12. If you don’t forget, at least forgive. You can’t go around hating people.
  13. No regrets (especially for things you did or said within the YOLO month before leaving a country)
  14. Let yourself change. This is coming from the girl who wrote two years ago, and I quote, “I have never and will never Instagram a picture of my Starbucks cup or take a picture of the sunset with my iPhone”… Look where I am now. But hey, if excessively long Snapstories and embarrassingly deep Instagram posts make me happy, well I’ll do me 🙂

It seems unfair to only list fifteen out of the hundreds of lessons that I learned these past four years. But for tradition’s sake, I’ll keep it at that.

So thanks, America, for your breathtaking scenery, cultural diversity, comedic politics, unjust justice, lovely neighbors, bright flags, greasy burgers, friendly coffee shops, cheap clothes, wise teachers, lively classrooms and newfound friendships.

But most importantly, thank you for teaching me the most important lesson of all: to love myself as the dream-filled multicultural ball of sass that I am.


21st Century Architecture For The 21st Century Architect: A Series (Pt.I)

Here I am, diving into my first year Architecture degree without any previous knowledge of the subject. A few days ago I decided to look some stuff up. On my search for inspirational modern architects I noticed most, if not all architects listed happened to be – you guessed it – male. Obviously most men, like women, have earned their rightful titles and fame in the field. But the number of women who I, as a female and future architect, can look up to for inspiration was underwhelming.

As I scrolled down lists and articles, one name stood out. Born Zaha Mohammad Hadid in 1950, the Iraqi-born, British architect was one of the most internationally acclaimed architects of our time. She was also unapologetically a woman.

Zaha Hadid

Hadid was born to a wealthy family in Iraq, who sent her to the UK and later Switzerland to be educated in various boarding schools. Her higher studies started at the American University of Beirut, then the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. She established a London-based practice (her first) in 1980. The MoMA exhibition, Deconstructivism in Architecture, which she collaborated on with a few other contemporary architects, became Hadid’s first big hit. With it she established her roots in the deconstructivism movement.

Later in her career Hadid taught in renown colleges and universities such as the University of Illinois, Ohio State University, Columbia University, Yale University and the University of Applied Arts. She also designed clothing, jewelry and furniture in her firm, Zaha Hadid Architects.


1. Vitra Fire Station, Weil am Rhein, Germany (1994)

Her first constructed work, the Vitra Fire Station in Germany, captures the architect’s angular style. The building, aligned with the road in front of it, is stretched in a way that gives a feeling of movement, as if we were looking at a snapshot of a moment in time. The fire station was later used as a museum and, at Hadid’s passing, a memorial where people laid flowers in her honor.

2. Guangzhou Opera House, Guangzhou, China (2010)

Image result for guangzhou opera house

Hadid entered and won a competition to design the opera house, utilizing neo-futuristic characteristics to blend the structure into Guangzhou’s skyline. The geometric forms and folds create the look of a pebble flattened by a stream, to fit perfectly with the riverside. The opera house soon became a catalyst for the development of new cultural facilities in the city.

3. Evelyn Grace Academy, Brixton, UK (2001)

Image result for evelyn grace academy zaha hadid

Hadid, again, uses the effect of movement in her design for ARK Education’s Evelyn Grace Academy, made up of four schools. The angles and zig-zags among the building, corridors and sports facilities (field and track), along with the transparent, open walls create a unified learning environment for students. The building design was praised for broadening educational diversity and expanding the built environment around it. Hadid won the Stirling Prize for this work in 2001.

4. Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Arts, Cincinnati OH, USA (2003)

The dynamic structure built in 2003 was the result of a design competition to remodel Cincinnati’s outdated Contemporary Arts Center. Hadid’s entry worked well both blending the Center the city’s busy streets and making it stand out. The design is also a great example of Hadid’s interest in constructivism and suprematism, both art movements which play with geometric forms and placement of structures.

5. Phaeno Science Center, Wolfsburg, Germany (2005)

Image result for phaeno science center

The angles and structures that Hadid uses in the Phaeno Science Center were made achievable by the use of self-contracting concrete. As the largest building in Europe made entirely out of concrete, it has served as a reference point for many architects to come. As complex and unusual its exterior may seem, the interior of the structure is organized into bridges, protrusions and pathways that allow open exhibit space.


What makes Zaha Hadid a bada**

Zaha Hadid was the first woman to earn the RIBA Gold Medal (2015) and the first arab woman to win the highest title in an architect’s career, the Pritzker Architecture Prize (2004). As a UK student looking to earn my architect license through the RIBA, I found it odd that no woman before was “apt” to earn the medal. But what a relief it was to see that it was possible. Hadid was also named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2012. So, does this make her royalty? Architecture royalty?


Writers (Not So) Anonymous

I feel like I’m supposed to give a “support group meeting” type of introduction. My name is Sara Golnabi, and I have been writing for 13 years. I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to writing like I am, say, to Starbucks —I’ve just grown a tiny bit dependent on it. It’s not a bad thing though, is it? I mean, writing keeps me off the streets and controls my unwarranted levels of sass, so we should actually all be thanking WordPress for letting me do this.

But as you can probably tell by the name of this blog, I’m not just here for my writing. I’ve come to realize that there’s two things in this world whose thought gives me butterflies: travel and architecture. So I’m learning to combine the two, using my writing addiction for good, and test my boundaries as an aspiring explorer and future architect.

On letters

Books, stories, sentences, words… they’re all just infinite combinations of letters. It’s odd how I can arrange them to say “I love you” or “Sorry I ate the last pizza slice” and each combination incites – very different – emotions.

In a perfect world I would have become a writer. A pen and paper have always been my go-to on a bad day, a good day and, let’s face it, any sort of day. It was in my journals, notebooks and Word documents that I could always be myself. My writing usually only saw my own eyes, remained to a stranger an incoherent disposition of letters stamped on a blank sheet of paper. So I decided to make (some of) my writing public. Maybe it’s to make my voice heard, to understand it and to feel understood. But it’s also to prove to myself that I have a voice. A pretty damn decent one, too. And if along the way I meet a few eyes that like the way I combine my letters, then I guess it’s a win-win.

On planes

I like to compare my life to a travelling circus. Instead of in trains and trailers, I spend most of my time in planes: watching movies, pacing up and down the aisles and making faces at the baby sitting in front of me. Plane rides are interludes, pauses, the only routine I have in my constantly changing life.

When someone asks the typical “Where are you from?”, I’m that girl who responds with five sentences instead of a single word. My parents are Iranian, I was born and raised in Spain. I temporarily lived in the US twice: for two years when I was seven and for four years when I was 14. Now I’m moving to the UK. Yes, obnoxious, I know, but a good conversation starter.

As a member of this circus, I get to embrace my nomadic tendencies and anticipate on each plane ride how my next act will go. On the way I pick up pieces from an endless array of people and leave in each place a part of myself. That’s what makes culture such and important part of who I am. So here I want to share my experiences and inspire you to do the same. To live life for the ride, even if it’s surrounded by the not-so-subtly insane.

On architecture

When I was five years old, I made crowns out of cardboard, wands out of straws and dresses out of old tablecloth. I also designed castles. I was no child prodigy, so my drawings were as good as any other’s. But I did my best to convey details on gates, towers and walls. As years passed my room filled with piles of plans and drafts of dream houses, imaginary parks and futuristic cities. It wasn’t until I was eleven years old that I knew I wanted to be an architect.

I am now a first year Architecture student at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Although right now I’m just warming up and learning the basics, becoming an architect has been a huge goal of mine for as long as I can remember. Here, I want to document my journey as an architect, starting from the very first steps, as hideous, most barbarically rudimentary as they may be.

So this is me, here’s my blog. It’s an enabler for my writing addiction, but at least it gets me out of anonymity.

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