Anesta Iwan: How I Got to CCA

Anesta Iwan and her Lowell High School professor Julian Pollak

This is the second installment of an ongoing series of first-person "How I Got to CCA" stories by students and alumni.

At first there was one, then a second, a third, a fourth, and eventually a fifth and a sixth and so on. . . . There is a chain of us "Lowellites" (graduates from Lowell High School in San Francisco) who very decisively moved on to CCA right after high school. I was the fourth.

Soon after I gave up my fantasy of becoming an astronaut back in fifth grade, I quickly took an interest in architecture. This was back in 2001, around the time when the Sims game was developed and got popular. I had watched my cousin play it online (I can only imagine how irritating it must have been with the old dial-up connection!) and remember getting so engrossed in designing the houses -- far more than in the social aspects of the game.

When I got to high school, I wasted no time and enrolled in my first drafting and design course. That was when I met the third Lowellite in the lineage. I was a freshman and he was a mighty senior. We both participated in the annual high school design competition hosted by the Architectural Foundation of San Francisco, and he won for the third time. I heard that he had decided to pursue architecture at CCA the following fall.

Over the next three years of high school, I eventually met the first and second Lowellites during informal critiques in preparation for the competition, and learned that they had also graduated from CCA and were doing quite well professionally. The prizes for winning the competition ranged in value, but the overall winning scheme/designer was awarded with a scholarship to CCA's Pre-College course in architecture.

Following the 38th annual competition in 2007, I enrolled as a Pre-College student. For the final project, I pulled my first all-nighter. It was then and there that I met David Meckel. At the time he was CCA's director of research and planning, and he had been the founding chair of the Architecture Program. At the end of the four-week course, he promised me a scholarship if and when I decided to attend CCA as a full-time college student.

Having already decided what I wanted to pursue in college and in life, I researched schools that offered a five-year professional Bachelor of Architecture degree. It came down to a decision to move to SoCal or stay in San Francisco.

I wasn't ready to leave the city and everything that it was a part of.

The intimacy within CCA, and especially within the Architecture Program, really appealed to me. Lowell High School had been quite the opposite scene. At Lowell, the classes were huge and the arts were definitely a minor focus. I wanted to try a different system, a more one-on-one learning experience. I knew that the majority of CCA's Architecture faculty combined part-time teaching with professional work. But even then, I'd still only gotten a glimpse of CCA's network.

Over the next five years, I met and worked with a good number of the faculty and both graduate students and undergrads (two of whom are the next Lowellites). CCA is a small community equipped with a very broad network. There have been so many instances where I meet people who somehow are associated with someone I know from CCA.

I hadn't realized just how critical connections were until my final semester, in spring 2013.

As I was prepping for my job search, I browsed through old emails for past cover letters I'd written back in 2009 while applying for internships. I came across an old rejection email . . . only to realize it was from a CCA classmate of mine that I hadn't yet met at the time! (She doesn't know this story yet.)

Fast forward to 2013, and she's now one of my internal connections for an interview at another firm. If only I had known her back then!

Read more about Anesta Iwan and browse her projects at her blog »

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Editor's Note:

Anesta Iwan (Architecture 2013) received a merit scholarship as an incoming first-year student, which was renewed every year until she graduated. She also received the All-College Honors award (given at mid-career) and the post-Pre-College scholarship she mentions in her story.

While at CCA she also won an AIA Merit Award in the Unbuilt Design category. The project had been done (together with her partner, Aubrey Davidson) for the Comprehensive Building Design Studio taught by faculty members Lisa Findley and Thomas Silva. The site for the project was at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza.

A description of the project:

Embracing historical transformations of the bay water's edge through both destruction and construction, de[con]struct proposes an intervention that generates a transformative edge and continuously adapts to future conditions. The new ferry terminal building incorporates public programs on the site and is based upon three concepts of filtering, creating a threshold, and exchanging information, water, and people through the site.

Read more about de[con]struct »

Anesta also won the AIA Henry Adams Medal and Certificate of Merit award upon graduating from CCA.

Read the first installment in the "How I Got Here" series, featuring Matthew Harrison Tedford (Visual and Critical Studies 2011) »