Playing chicken with our future

Before providing a live play-by-play of our three-year journey, I thought I’d provide some context. How did a detour to architecture school come to be? How did incremental steps of tire-kicking evolve into a major life pivot? As we pick up steam, this blog will cover our experiences in all aspects of life, but before that, I’d like to share a detailed look back.

Somehow things began as a flicker of creative restlessness on the evening of September 16, 2013. By chance it was documented in a conversation the next morning…

  [sidebar: This really is the actual record of our chat. It’s almost as if gmail kept it safely archived just for this post!]

September 17, 2013 @10:07 AM

Mary Rolinski

That sounds wonderful honey! This may be the right path for you! I wonder how much you could consult when you have a MS in architecture with no undergrad even though you are in engineer. Make an apt with UM or ND and take a tour and ask what would your scope of practice look like so that you have a better idea

No you have not told me

I think you will be much happier in this role

I prefer this path for you than Phd 


I feel like i put the pieces together last night – the thermal side (engineering) + architecture = a real niche expertise, it felt like a breakthrough moment honestly. I did a lot of reading last night and couldn;t sleep. the masters is an extra year for non-architects so at the end you have the undergrad fundamentals and you are a real architect

total 3 years

which i know is long

same as phd

Mary Rolinski

Hmm so its a masters program? or do you need an undergrad


no just masters

so resume would be mechanical engineer + architect, three degrees total (BME, MSME, M.Arch)

Mary Rolinski

Well its part time? how would that work? with us in GR working and baby



That answer “yeah…” I gave in that moment meant that lots of further explaining would be necessary and indeed followed (it’s not part-time, nor is it in Grand Rapids, nor are we still working). But last September, to Mary’s credit, I was met with her support to investigate further.

The funny thing about a “flicker” of any kind of inspiration is how it’s perceived as innocent and benign. But one can’t deny the essence of a reckless impulse buy laced in there somewhere.

To be clear, it wasn’t as if the rational barrier of pragmatism was ignored. Instead, it was assumed that ample time for mature analysis would lead to either heightened or fizzled interest (we had around seven months for percolation). If the path of a new academic pursuit continued to beckon, the research could be tackled in piecemeal. If a dead end was encountered, then that would be that and the next get-rich-quick scheme would sprout soon enough.

Of course, as time passed, literature was absorbed, funds were shuffled, visits were made, and things didn’t get any more innocent…

January 1, 2014

The School of Architecture
Attn: Admissions Committee
110 Bond Hall
Notre Dame, Indiana 46556

Statement of Intent

My Intent || It is with sincere enthusiasm and the support of my wife, Mary that I state my intention to pursue a Master’s Degree in Architecture at the University of Notre Dame. In this letter, I will outline the key experiences and personal convictions encouraging this life-altering pursuit.

My View of Potential || It is my personal belief, concurrent with Matthew 25:14-30, that creation includes all unrealized and realized human potential. Each person is entrusted with an allotment of this potential though natural gifts such as intelligence, physical ability and more. When one’s potential is realized, creation actually broadens. When it is wasted, creation itself falls short of what was made possible by God. By this logic, the White House, designed by Irish Architect James Hoban, enriches creation. It honors God, because even as a man-made structure, it represents its designer’s gifts put to good use. Like any masterpiece, it is the materialization of human potential.

My Pursuit of Efficiency || Compounded over the decades of a long career, my hope is for my body of work to reflect my God-given potential. To that end, the efficient output of meaningful work is essential. Efficiency is bang for your buck. Low efficiency stunts results regardless of effort, but high efficiency can be observed when one passionately engages in work that comes naturally to them. To realize my potential, I must maintain high efficiency, and to do that, I must select a field that best merges my creative and analytical strengths, work ethic and interests. As a professional mechanical engineer, I have carefully chosen architecture from many options, including the option of keeping my current job, as the most efficient fit for my gifts, allowing me to access new avenues to practice creative and informed design, collaborative development, and intellectual discovery.

My Regard for Classical Architecture || During my informational visit to the School of Architecture, I was able to view the Architecture Library’s exhibit featuring selections from Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection. This exhibit showcased the strong link between classical architecture belonging to the Greeks and Romans, and traditional American architecture. Jefferson also lends credence to the school’s unique approach; to focus on classical and traditional architecture and urbanism, rather than modern or abstract styles. He is often credited as once saying “In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current.” Regardless of the exact context of its first use, this adage can be applied to the idea of architectural design in the classical language; that design based on precedent (format, heuristics, specific elements, etc.) properly connects a building with its geographical and stylistic pedigrees. As a customer paying for design services, I would assume this connection to be inherent to the resulting design, whether bold or subtle. Applying Jefferson’s terms, [design] principles must not be forfeited. This does not mean that all classically designed buildings must appear passé, or even aesthetically similar. As the adage suggests, contemporary “currents” can drive a design’s character with no loss of contextual validity. In Why Architecture Matters, Paul Goldberger defines this balance as “the order of convention combined with the magic of invention.”

My Design Philosophy || As an engineer, I believe that design in “good form” (consistent with precedent and best practice) is the only acceptable method. Without this set of guide rails, vague and arbitrary design decisions can result in poor function, safety, and reliability or, in the creative fields, sophomoric qualities. Balancing this non-negotiable aspect with all other design requirements is the balance of science, craft, art, and common sense. The mastery of fundamentals also allows for the admiration and practice of modern architectural design through an informed lens. For these reasons, I praise the institution for maintaining its focus on classical and traditional design. What’s more, I believe that this focus is highly compatible with my personal design philosophy.

My Technical Background || In high school, I was introduced to my current career path of Mechanical Engineering through a local internship. I attended the University of Dayton and earned a Bachelor’s Degree (BME, 2009) and Master’s Degree (MSME, Thermofluids concentration, 2011) with a graduate research assistantship at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). In the Fall of 2010, I accepted a position at Disher Design and Development in Zeeland, Michigan, where I am still employed. Disher is an engineering firm focused on napkin-to-launch product development across many industries. Over my time in this role, I have held various leadership and project management responsibilities. My engineering projects have included test fixture design and implementation, basic thermal and fluid system modeling for design and manufacturing applications, and automotive seat structure and shifter engineering. Work at Disher has been rewarding, but too often, a narrow focus on engineering work has prevented use of all of my gifts in a concerted fashion.

My Approach to Sustainable Design || Within the discipline of mechanical engineering, the areas of fluid mechanics, heat transfer, and thermodynamics are of particular interest to me as a practitioner. These areas comprised the “Thermofluids” concentration of my graduate research and coursework, and each topic has substantial applicability to green and sustainable design. Using an engineering approach, buildings can be treated as thermodynamic systems and optimized (to within feasibility constraints) for energy management. Indeed, the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics both play governing roles in the exchange of energy and entropy between a building and its environment. In the case of the First Law, all energy (or at a rate, power) absorbed by the building via electrical circuits, solar exposure, or heat transferred from warmer surroundings, must be equal to the amount of energy lost via consumption or waste. In part, waste is due to building inefficiency, which can be minimized by the kilowatt-savvy architect. Natural light management, material selection, and air flow control are examples that merge the study of energy (claimed by mechanical engineering purists) and the creative autonomy of the architect. Unique among the creative fields to only architecture, this link provides me an opportunity to continue leveraging my engineering experience and training while also bringing online my artistic and spatial intelligence.

My Family Focus || The Roman Catholic Society of Mary, founding order of the University of Dayton, incorporated a heavy emphasis of family and community into the fabric of the university. As an undergraduate and graduate student there, I observed an atmosphere that embraced students with young families. While researching architecture schools, this emphasis became a requirement when my wife and I learned that we would be having a daughter in the early spring of 2014. This wonderful news changed the complexion of my entire career outlook, and as a team, we were tasked with evaluating whether a new academic journey would be prudent or reckless. After consulting with members of the Notre Dame community, I concluded that within the university’s unique atmosphere defined by academic excellence and Catholic identity, I would have ample opportunity and encouragement to balance my school and family obligations. This balance would demand sacrifice and simplification to the bare essentials (our family’s holistic welfare, and my academic success). With this in mind, I am confident that the challenge would be a healthy one, and ultimately represent a positive family experience.

My Petition || At my core, I am a team-oriented, achievement-focused, creative person. I am thoughtfully concerned with creation as if it were an infinite museum, showcasing everything that God, and humans, through their God-given potential, have created; from the nuance and elegance of math and science, to the emotional power of an artistic or literary expression. Admiration in this spiritual sense elicits a calling to many things. To be a husband, father, steward, and humanitarian are just a few. I believe that architecture can unlock these for me. I understand architecture to be a raw form of creative design calling upon several intellectual senses. It requires historical awareness, technical wherewithal, scientific and creative thinking, and sometimes simple gut feel. Its subject is the design of buildings and communities, and as such, it is a channel through which people are able to serve others and touch culture. Finally, it is a field in which I believe I can flourish. Therefore, I ask the Admissions Board of this uniquely authentic institution to consider my application to join your community, with my family, as a dedicated student.

Best Regards,
Nicholas E. Rolinski”

ROLINSKI Portfolio

So here we are… The flicker has evolved into a blaze. We’ve bet the farm and even though we fancy ourselves as shrewd and informed, it’s still a bet and it’s still the farm. We’ve left our corporate gigs and collected our wedding, house warming and baby gifts into piles (if not sold). The move is next week. The marathon starts whether we’ve built the stamina or not.

In Latin, Memento Vivere means something like “Remember to live”, and that’s our goal. We must never forget that no matter what, the grass is still pretty damn green.

Author: Nick Rolinski

#Architecture #Urbanism

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