Foundations: Joshua Zinder, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP

August 16, 2023

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Foundations by Joshua Zinder, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP

I’ve always believed that I saw the world in a different way than everyone else.

From an early age, my parents saw something in me that said, “he will be a builder of things.” To that end, they gave me a box of wood, a hammer, nails, and a saw — for my fourth birthday. (I would never give such a gift to my own children at that age — the implications are scary!)

Certainly, when I was growing up my way of seeing the world made me feel like an outcast in educational settings. I was always more attracted to images than words or numbers. Languages in general were a struggle. The languages of mathematics and English were foreign to me. Other languages were even worse.

In seventh grade, I failed Spanish.

This failure led me to take mechanical drawing. My teacher was Mr. Farber (it’s funny the details you remember). The curriculum for the class featured learning how to illustrate objects in two dimensions. Where I had always had difficulty with languages, for the first time in my life, I TRULY understood. It was remarkable. This was something that came easily to me. It was as if a light had been turned on in a dark space. All the struggles I had with spelling no longer mattered. It was at that moment that I became self-aware. I no longer had to push through my studies. The language of graphics and spatial relations felt innate to me. I just knew how to communicate this way. Excelling here also helped me in my other subjects, as if a key had unlocked my brain.

After this awakening, I took any chance I could to see architecture, draw architecture, and eventually create architecture. I completed the coursework in half the time. Mr. Farber ended up giving me supplemental assignments to the point where he would give me objects and ask me to draw them. Spaces. Buildings. He was always challenging me to see the world in different ways. Later, in high school, Mr. Costella took over teaching the classes from Mr. Farber. Mr. Costella encouraged me to take art classes to expand how I saw the world. Those two teachers set me on a path to apply to architecture schools.

My story has two lessons.

The first is the understanding that people see the world in different ways. We should seek to recognize, honor, and encourage each other in our inherent gifts. For me, the language that I speak the most fluently is the language of graphics. However, it is different for each of us.

The second is that every failure is an opportunity. Learning from my mistakes and allowing myself to grow is at the core of who I became. As I transitioned from intern to architect and now as a firm owner, I have looked at the mistakes I’ve made as an opportunity to go back to a sort-of-school mentality and seize the challenge of failure to find a way to turn it into an ‘A’ in business and in life.

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