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Adapting to Virtual Learning: Live with Rouben Mohiuddin

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

Welcome back everyone, another week has gone by and it is nice to finally feel fall in the air! Last week in my blog and podcast I announced that after many years, I achieved my goal of becoming a licensed architect by 30. I am finally a licensed architect!

I am ecstatic to bring on the first guest of Design Create Inspire, an individual I admire and am grateful to have learned from in the beginning of my architecture career, Rouben Mohiuddin.

To introduce Rouben, I will refer to his bio:

Rouben Mohiuddin was born in Bangladesh on March 6th, 1973. At the mere age of three, his father took him on a 17-year journey to North Africa, Asia and Europe. This journey instilled in him with a bounty of diversity, which influenced what would become a lifelong appreciation for Art, Architecture and Design. He pursued an undergraduate degree in Architecture and Environmental Design (1995) and has a Masters of Architecture degree from the Southern California Institute of Architecture (1997). His architectural education was a trans-disciplinary education that integrated the arts, sciences, and the humanities through creative and analytical thinking and development.

Rouben started his design career at select firms in Los Angeles and New York, specializing in custom residential projects and products. In 2002 he established Design SI. Although endlessly driven by the practice of design, he has always been inspired by the notion of ‘giving back’ through pro-bono community projects and has served as an educator at the University of California Los Angeles, Otis School of Art and Design, New York School of Interior Design, The Art Institute of California, and currently as Assistant Professor of Interior Architecture at California State University - Chico.

Rouben enjoys fly-fishing, the outdoors and urban forestry. He and his wife, Trina, have a son, Zayd and reside in Chico, CA.

Students, faculty, and professionals who help design homes for fire prone zone
Rebuild Paradise Design Team

In addition, Rouben is a hard-working, thoughtful designer who is inspired by giving back to his community through pro-bono community projects, specifically in Chico and the surrounding towns that have been devastated by recent fires. One project in particular, Rebuild Paradise, has been his most recent endeavor.

In this week's podcast, you will hear how Rouben’s travels helped develop him as a designer, being exposed to multiple cultures all over the world from such a young age. It is quite funny that he landed in the small town of Chico, California, but it is the result of his “go with the flow” nature, his ability to explore and be open to new opportunities, specifically pursuing education rather than full time practice.

His teaching journey began as a weekend professor, and with a twist of events and a family to support, the opportunity to become a full time professor presented itself. Years later, in the midst of a pandemic, I was interested in learning more about the design culture in virtual learning, as this field is extremely hands-on.

His answer was what I expected, “I am figuring it out every day.”. The lecture part is easy, but getting to work has been a challenge, specifically being able to help each student. Rouben is able to help each student with his words, such as “What about moving that wall over there?”, but the struggle comes with not being able to physically reach out and correct the student. What he has noticed that has been working is having each student scan their work, send it along, then setting aside one on one time to connect with each student and go over their project.

What he has noticed is how virtual learning has streamlined the content, getting rid of busy work that is normally present in the classroom. As his first year students become more aware of different softwares, the group work will begin, but in the meantime students are working individually.

The biggest challenge he has seen is a student struggling to achieve a certain skill and although it is just a simple, two second fix, he is not able to physically show them, thus resulting in the student wasting time trying to figure it out themselves.

Looking to the future, both Rouben and I are hoping for a hybrid situation to be implemented into the classroom, as many students’ creativity is sparked in the school environment, specifically from their peers.

On the other end of experiences being missed is the ability to go to go on field trips. Currently, students are watching an abundance of videos to take the place of being physically in the building but it is not the same. For now it is okay, but he would like to take his students to a construction site, a concrete pour, or a specific building they are studying.

Additionally, virtual classrooms are forcing students to become extremely organized. Unlike in the classroom where the students are able to explain their projects, everything must be self explanatory as the projects are all shared through a screen.

When asking which version of the classroom he prefers and if he is itching to get back into the classroom, Rouben stated there are pros and cons of both situations. What he misses the most is the energy that fills the room and the social aspect of the learning environment. An advantage of being online for the past few months is proving that there are a handful of classes that have the ability to be fully online, even after the pandemic.

Although Rouben lives in the college town of Chico, the town has seen a massive impact in the last few months, not only due to the pandemic. The neighboring town of Paradise recently experienced horrible fires, where many residents lost their homes, my in-laws included. Due to this natural disaster, many families from Paradise have relocated to Chico, creating a new environment of people.

As a way to give back to the community, Rouben has gotten involved in pro-bono community projects and often brings students along. The idea of bringing students along started during his time at UCLA when the current architecture bid for the VA Hospital was too far out of budget. He asked if the team would be open to working with students and when they agreed, he presented this opportunity to his students. To his surprise, twenty students showed up to participate, contributing sketches, models, and infrastructural ideas for the hospital.

His teaching philosophy stems back to this project, using his teaching to focus and give back to his community through projects. Through these projects he is able to instill certain values in his students, emphasizing the importance of serving and connecting with one’s community.

Rouben and his students work on design concepts
Rouben + His Students

Years later, Rouben used this same model to get involved with the Rebuild Paradise Foundation. After being approached by the foundation, he suggested working with students under his guidance to create a plan to build a handful of homes for the community. The students were extremely involved, taking photos, gathering information, and asking the community, builders, and other designers what they believed would be the best components for the project.

The design approach was something that could be simply built, something that the homeowner could build themselves. This project began in Fall 2019 and was presented right before the pandemic in Spring 2020, leaving Rouben with a stack of designs on his desk. He spent his summer going over these designs and a week ago, five designs, one being a container home, were finally approved. The simple, modest designs will be available to the public through the foundation. They are compiling all their research into a resource book that can be a source of information for anyone looking to build a home in a fire prone area.

Modern compact home designed for fire prone zone
Rebuild Paradise: Approved Design #1

It is no secret that Rouben has had a life full of adventure, experiences that many can only dream of, and these experiences radiate through his work, his teaching, and his passions.

Outside of his work, his hobbies include anything non-architecture/design related, specifically going fishing and being in nature. He understands the importance of removing yourself from your work, yet his wife points out that he always finds design in his hobbies, something he cannot deny.

If you want to keep up to date with Rouben, or get involved with his community, check out his Instagram (@design_SI) and Facebook.

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