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West Side Story

West Side Story

Pakistani native Farhan Mian BArch 14 has made midtown Manhattan his home away from home since starting at RISD in 2009.

Pakistani native Farhan Mian BArch 14 has made midtown Manhattan his home away from home since starting at RISD in 2009. So he was extra psyched to land a full-time position with Robert A.M. Stern Architects right after graduation. “Stern is doing a lot of building on the West Side these days,” he explains, “so I was very interested in speaking with their representative at RISD’s Design Portfolio Review 2014. I had a great conversation with Carlos Arnoldo Gámez MArch 13, who finished grad school at RISD last year.”

The 300-plus architects, interior designers and support staff at Stern are currently working on projects across the country and around the world – in South America, Europe and Asia – but it’s the New York City high-rise projects that lured Mian in. “I’m most interested in how buildings create public thoroughfares and consequently walking neighborhoods,” he says. “My thesis work addresses how patterns of city circulation can be changed to stimulate society.”

Still, Mian values travel and says that he wouldn’t be the designer he is today were it not for the many opportunities RISD afforded him – from installing roof shingles during a Habitat for Humanity experience in Jacksonville, FL to enjoying an abbreviated taste of the European Honors Program in Rome and a studio commission in South Korea. “Design work is a really interesting way to learn about new cultures,” he says. “These experiences widened my perspective and opened up possibilities in subtle ways.”

Did he always have his sights set on architecture? “I had an idea that I would do something spatial, something multidimensional,” says Mian. “Now that I have a better sense of what architecture is, I find that my outside interests in painting, book design and photography prompt new ideas. You can’t repeat other people’s ideas or make other people’s mistakes.”

After originally considering studying architecture at Cambridge, Mian says he was encouraged to apply to RISD by friends who work in design in his home city of Karachi. “They spoke of RISD’s ‘unique perspective on design,’” he recalls, “and I really enjoyed the open-ended nature of the application and especially doing the bicycle drawing!”

Being at RISD proved to be beyond anything Mian might have expected. “I would not trade my years at RISD for any Ivy League or tech school,” he says. “RISD has everything – the freedom to create in every medium, real-world problems to be addressed, classes about electronics and coding and welding as well as fine-line illustration. I honestly don’t think five years was enough. I wish I could stay and learn more.”

Mian’s parents (whom he describes as “talented and extremely encouraging”) traveled from Pakistan to see their son graduate and enjoy his last days on campus with friends. Now that he has graduated, he intends to stay in touch with his RISD network, including mentors such as Foundation Studies Assistant Professor Wendy Seller 75 AE, who bridged the gap for Mian between painting and design. “After studying with her,” he says, “all of my work changed.” And he’ll never forget the influence of his advisor, Architecture Professor Peter Tagiuri, who opened Mian’s eyes to the romance behind spatial narratives – while also giving him the constructive feedback needed to make his work stronger.

Simone Solondz