We understand the meaning of our own humanity through the lens of our surroundings. The houses we sleep in, the neighborhoods we live in, and the societies we work in are the foundations of our identities. As I explore what is meaningful and motivating to me, I realize the impact of my environment and daily experiences on my own identity.
As a Ransom Everglades student, my commute to and from school each day brings me through the neighborhood of West Coconut Grove. I had heard for years about the Bahamian settlers in the West Grove, but I knew little of their history. As I became curious about the field of architecture, I wanted to understand how the design and plan of West Coconut Grove’s homes and neighborhoods contributed to its identity as a community. My fellowship research project provided the opportunity to formally study the history, culture, and architecture of West Coconut Grove. I designed my research project to convey the significant connection between a culture and its built environment.
There are many facets of this project that have been impactful to me. I have learned so much about the importance of organization in planning, studying in-depth background information with a variety of sources, and good interview techniques and candidates. Another highlight of my project was discovering an architect in the Bahamas engaged in research on a similar topic. With the stipend I received for the fellowship, I visited the Bahamas and spent a day with Professor Valeria Flax touring important architectural homes and landmarks. This trip deepened my understanding of the different cultural influences within Bahamian architecture.
I also learned new skills in order to complete the project: how to use a mirrorless camera to take basic architectural photos, how to record high-quality videos for the interviews I conducted, and how to utilize interview techniques to make sure my subjects stayed on task. I also improved my drawing and sketching skills and learned 3D virtual modeling using Computer-Aided Design (CAD).
One of the most compelling parts of my research was the Oral History component. I was fascinated by my interviewees and their stories of the once tight-knit community that helped them pursue their dreams. Their accounts painted a picture of a very spirited and culturally rich neighborhood of the past. I recognized the inherent value of exposing ourselves to others’ experiences. I realized how important it is to keep these stories alive and recognized the value of listening to, and absorbing, the experiences of others.
When we highlight and celebrate our different cultures and traditions, we grow in respect and empathy while opening ourselves up to a more fulfilling and dynamic life. My project contributed to the preservation of the history of West Coconut Grove and revealed that humanity is built through community and the connections we make with one another. I am honored that the Dan Leslie Bowden Fellowship has allowed me to understand the meaning of humanity while helping preserve the legacy of West Coconut Grove. I am excited that my passion for the medium of architecture helped me accomplish that goal.