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Class of 2014 Success Stories: Essence of Balance

Architecture couple finish degrees hand-in-hand

Essence of Balance

By Julie Carle

In the study of architecture, balance is an important design concept. For BGSU architecture students Malak Orra and Andrew Saleh, balance has been integral to their achievements to date. At Friday’s commencement, the married couple crossed the platform, accepted their bachelor’s degrees and prepared for the next journey together as graduate students.

Their story started nine years ago when Orra, who was born in Toledo to Lebanese parents, was visiting a friend in Lebanon. The friend was Saleh’s cousin. The relationship blossomed quickly. And when they decided a year later to marry, they didn’t let war-torn Lebanon keep them apart. Instead, they met and married in Brazil, where Saleh was born and Orra had family.

The newlyweds moved to Toledo to begin their lives together. Their Lebanese roots were the foundation, and a shared passion for architecture cemented the bond.

They opted to start their education at Owens Community College to stretch their limited family dollars a little farther. When they were accepted into the BGSU architecture program together in 2007, the transition was seamless.

For Orra, architecture had been a part of her dream for as long as she could remember.  Building blocks and structures were part of her childhood play.

Saleh recalled that he “always liked painting, and constantly had dreams about houses. I had practically grown up with it.

“Initially, I thought architecture was just about building skyscrapers, but I’ve come to realize that people need shelters, and architecture is about solving problems. I knew I wanted to study architecture with Malak.”

Since the birth of their daughters, Sabeen, in 2008, and Leen, in 2010, balance has become even more critical for Orra and Saleh. With the support of one another and the help of their parents, they have mastered the balance among the daily demands of school, family life and work, plus internships with local architectural firms three days a week.

“Time management is key. We will pull an occasional all-nighter, but we’ve learned not to procrastinate.” Orra said.

Regardless of what they are doing, architecture is never far from their minds. “Wherever we go, and every shape we see, we can relate it to architecture,” said Orra. “Whether we are driving down the street or walking through the grocery store, we see things differently.”

“Architecture has changed our perspectives,” Saleh agreed.

“Everything from landscaping to prosthetics can influence architecture,” Orra said, explaining the importance of function to architecture.

Just as their personalities are different, their design styles also are contrasting. Orra, the more outgoing and animated, actually has a simple, never overly dramatic design style.

“Designing simple is not necessarily easy,” she explained. “There’s a lot of thought that goes into it, and deciding how to make it all work together.”

“Architecture is universal. It is about form and function and detail. It is proportion, asymmetrical, invention, pleasant, quirky. It is art you can live in. It is amazing.”A simple pinwheel shape for a BGSU pavilion project last year earned her special recognition in the department’s push for accreditation. She frequently confers with the faculty but admits she is strong-willed and believes “my idea is my idea, and I like to find a way to make it work. They will give me opinions of what I might do and we find common ground.”

Saleh, who is more reserved and soft-spoken in groups, has a more complicated design style.  He struggled at first, in part because English is not his first language, but “the teachers were helpful and encouraged me to speak up. ‘Architecture’ is not about language,’ they told me,” Saleh said. “That helped me to become more relaxed.”

Their encouragement also helped him define his style. “I work off of basics, but I tend to complicate things. They keep reminding me to keep it simple.”

BGSU architecture instructor Scott MacPherson described Orra and Saleh as a team that balances one another out.  “I can feel that sense of team — in their family spirit and their architectural spirit.

“I’ve worked with them since their sophomore year. The way they approach design is very different, but they both have a strong work ethic, in their academics and work.”

“It has been a big privilege to be part of this program,” Orra said. “It is our home away from home, our second family. Our children have been welcomed by the students, which allowed us to bring them in when we needed to get work done.”

Additionally, they have gained a “good solid foundation” by learning different software, model making, and drawing by hand, which isn’t used that much any more, Orra said.

Now they are ready to take the valuable lessons learned here on to their dual graduate assistantships at Iowa State University in Ames.  They will continue to instill the significance of architecture in their daughters. Listening to an online video featuring their younger daughter, her words prove they are already passing on the torch for architecture.

“Architecture is universal. It is about form and function and detail. It is proportion, asymmetrical, invention, pleasant, quirky. It is art you can live in. It is amazing.”