2020 McPhee Scholar: ‘The creative disciplines have always countered difficult times with innovation’

Lenore Roberts ('20, architecture), Julian A. McjPhee Scholar and ENV Valedictorian
Lenore Roberts ('20, architecture), Julian A. McjPhee Scholar and ENV Valedictorian

It took eight years and a decisive switch of majors for Lenore Roberts ('20, architecture) to get to this point: graduation.

Three years into the art program at Cal State Fullerton, Roberts pivoted to architecture at Cal Poly Pomona, a five-year commitment to one of the nation’s most competitive programs. She thrived in the department, clinching the First and Second Year awards, finishing her academic career with 3.88 GPA.

“My art background really shaped my perspective going into architecture, and in turn, architecture shaped my perspective on art,” said Roberts. “I would not have been as exploratory in architecture without my art training.”

env class of 2020 grad cap iconRoberts graduates this weekend as the Julian A. McPhee Scholar and valedictorian of the College of Environmental Design. Named after the founding president of Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the award honors a current graduating senior who exhibits excellence in their academic endeavors.

"Lenore is very self-directed, and approaches projects with the right mix of skepticism and open-mindedness," said lecturer Alexander Pang, whom Roberts counts as one of her mentors in the department.

She also made an impression on Interim Dean Lauren Weiss Bricker, a professor of architecture and current director of the ENV Archives-Special Collections.

“I know Lenore best as a student of architectural history where she had almost an innate understanding of the subject,” Bricker said. “She could fluidly move from a theoretical analysis of postmodernism to a highly playful connection between places and music. Architecture is part of her being.”

Below, Roberts reflects on her time at the college.

What is your proudest accomplishment as a student/young professional?
My proudest accomplishment as a student/young professional at CPP ARC was presenting my senior project. I view every project as an opportunity to try something different and learn something new, and my senior project is no different.

inside cistern lenore roberts class of 2020However, I think it does differ from all of my previous projects in an important way. Not only does it represent the culmination of everything I have learned but it is also the one project where I challenged myself to capitalize on my design strengths and improve on those areas I have typically felt weak in. I had more clarity and vision in presenting this project than any other project before. That feeling of having such a handle on what I was doing and what I was trying to achieve was surreal.

What memories stand out for you during your five years in the CPP ARC program?
It would take forever to list all of the memories that stand out to me during my five years in the CPP ARC program. What I remember most are the final-project reviews every term and the late nights after studio.

Final reviews are always something I have looked forward to. Yes, they are nerve-wracking and stressful, but I am grateful for the things I learn from the critiques of professionals, practitioners, professors, and intellectuals. To know that these people – who are highly regarded in the field – appreciate the work of students and care about what they will contribute to the discipline, is priceless.

The late nights in studio were some of the most difficult yet fulfilling times. There have been many times my professors have stayed late nights to ensure their students get the feedback they need. Seeing their devotion has really left an impact on me in terms of the dedication the discipline calls for. Their dedication to students helped me grow and develop the confidence necessary to succeed in my work. Late nights are also when my friends and I had some good times. When you stay in studio until the wee hours of the morning, you become very close to the people who stay with you. We have been a support network to each other, which has helped me get through some really challenging times.

Do you have any words for your fellow graduates? What did you learn about yourself (personally and professionally) navigating these last couple of months?
My advice for fellow graduates is to keep pursuing what you love and enjoy. Life is full of challenges, but these things will keep you grounded and help you keep sight of whatever your bigger picture is. Along with this, I encourage fellow graduates to try and cultivate what they love and enjoy in ways they otherwise would not have considered. It is important to remember that the creative disciplines have always countered difficult times with innovation.

Navigating these last couple of months, I realized that maintaining my focus and drive was the best way for me to stay positive about things happening in both my personal and professional life. The saying that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it is something I constantly reminded myself. On the one hand, it was very saddening to know that all of the time and effort I invested over the past years would not be rewarded in the way I had hoped. On the other hand, I knew that giving into that way of thinking would only be a disservice to myself and my work. Furthermore, it would not be the proper way to honor all of the investment I have put in thus far.

This semester has been the epitome of "nothing goes according to plan," but I try to look at it as a learning experience and as an opportunity to see how capable I am at dealing with adversity. The encouragement I have received from my family, friends, and loved ones has been very enriching. To know that I had their support really helped me want to finish out strong so I could make them proud.

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This project is a water regeneration facility located along the L.A. River. Its form isgenerated from the fragmented spaces left over from the intersection of the highway and the river corridor.

This project exacerbates boundaries by creating islands inside itself, juxtaposing heavy infrastructure with light public occupied zones, and contrasting natural processes with mechanical systems. It acts as another node in a string of River revitalization projects. However, it also acknowledges its own future potential decommissioning phase, in which only the massive walls will remain as a relic on the site. The performative nature of the building is demonstrated during the day, when the water processes are on display, as well as at night, when the building appears to float among the surrounding context.