Storyboard: Alvin Oei

Stand in that room. Absorb its energy. Let it affect you.

As a child, you feel things deeply. You haven’t yet learned to analyze the world you live in yet. As a result, your life is defined by sensation, by awe… by a marvelous sense of possibility.

Just for a moment, pretend you’re a kid again. Life is simple and undemanding. You walk into a certain space—it could be a museum, it could be your friend’s parent’s house. Almost immediately, you are sucked into the aura of that particular place. You think, “maybe I’ll come back here one day.”

I wanted to know why these spaces had such an effect on me. Through my father’s eyes—he was a structural engineer—I began to understand the concept that architecture could indeed tell a story, perhaps in a more immersive fashion than any so-called “creative” medium because human bodies are actually occupying it.

I began drawing every day, filling books upon books with elaborately detailed blueprints that I would one day realize. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to create new spaces: I wanted to construct worlds that people would get lost in.

My other love as a child was cinema. I remember my dad taking me to the films and sitting in front of the gigantic, looming screen in awe. It almost felt more like going to temple than some kind of recreational pastime. Sure enough, the filmmakers whose work spoke directly to my soul were those who somehow managed to create make-believe worlds with their own peculiar rules and structures. Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel) are artists that create mini-universes almost as much as they create movies.

My goal was to communicate that same sense of awe that I found in cinema through a different medium. Of course, there’s no storytelling 101 when it comes to architecture. Creating an environment with an arc is a daunting task. A lot of my experience came from an overpowering thirst to know, and then going out to discover the answers on my own. I was working at an architectural firm at the time, and though my work was fulfilling, I almost felt as though I needed to go back and teach myself the basics again. This desire to return to square one led me to ArtCenter College of Design.

Once I got to ArtCenter, I became determined not to limit myself to one thing. I took classes that were technically for majors other than my own. I stayed late after lectures to pick the professor’s brain on more than one occasion. Sure, it’s a privilege to enroll in whatever class you deem interesting. But isn’t exploration part of the journey anyway?

I really believe that story is at the heart of everything we do as artists. And, of course, everything we do as a species occurs within a space. And yet, I would implore ArtCenter students young and old, and my fellow citizens of the world as well, to look beneath the surface structure. Really stand in that room. Absorb its energy. Let it affect you. You can call it art, or you can call it a response to a basic human need. As artists, we provide that basic human need to the rest of the world. ArtCenter helped me to realize that passion with great clarity, and I will be forever grateful to the professors and fellow students who brought me back to the sense of wonder I felt so deeply as a child.

Alvin Oei
Current Student, Environmental Design

As artists, we provide that basic human need to the rest of the world. ArtCenter helped me to realize that passion with great clarity and I will forever be grateful to the professors and fellow students.

Support ArtCenter

Create possibilities for students at ArtCenter and amplify their impact on the world.