Hello world (at last)


Why I am -finally- attempting to build my own personal website

The truth is I always wanted my very own personal website. The notion of communicating my research as an architect and building scientist to the outside world has always been of interest to me. Procrastination, shifting priorities, and lack of willpower all contributed to my work just sitting in my hard drive.

What is the point of producing a body of work if it’s only going to be seen by you and your immediate environment?

My college degree is in architecture. During my college years I would put together elaborate portfolio websites to showcase my studio work. Images of architectural models, short 3D animations and fancy web effects would usually add up to a very pleasant visual experience. But what about the textual content? How is the audience actually going to understand what I am talking about when renderings are not enough?

Overcoming my aversion to writing

Architects are known to be averse to writing: we are taught to communicate through compelling images, not words. We feel much more comfortable sitting in front of Illustrator and cranking out diagrams than putting our thoughts together in plain text. I am definitely guilty of writing-aversion.

Writing-aversion, however, severely limits the impact of what we do. Professionals from other backgrounds and industries struggle to see the meaning of architectural projects and frequently reduce it to a set of beautiful drawings, or conceptual designs.

I experienced this firsthand: two years ago I started working in the energy industry. I wanted to apply my skills and passion for the built environment towards one of humanity’s greatest challenges: the shift to clean, distributed energy. I quickly realized that to get my colleagues thinking creatively about our buildings and cities, drawings and diagrams were not enough: I needed clear and succinct definitions of the context, purpose and impact of my work. So I started writing.

There is something almost therapeutic about describing your work in writing. The pace of writing is such that it allows you to be more thoughtful and precise about what you are describing. Writing also requires structure, which forces you to organize your thoughts even before you put pen to paper.

Choosing a medium to fit the message

The next step was making my writings visible beyond my immediate environment. And that’s where this website comes in.

I decided to build a content-first, lightweight static-site from scratch.

I wanted my first personal website to reflect the same principle: heavy on the content, with clear typography and reader-friendly delivery. I decided to build it with Nanoc, a super straight-forward static-site generator written in Ruby. Nanoc allowed me to focus on the content of the website, while managing styles and interactions independently.

I can’t stress enough how important this detaching of content from appearance was. Managing both at once would be hard and counter-productive. Instead of thinking ‘should I make the font size 36px to fit the header in 3 lines?’, I focused on getting the body of text ready and iterated on its look and feel after the fact.

Celebrating work

Hopefully this website will give you a better sense of my work. I really hope more architects and building scientists start adopting writing as a means of communicating what they do and why they do it. Rather than storing multi-page presentation PDFs in our dusty hard drives, let’s release them to the world, reflect on them, and celebrate them as much as we can!

-M