Bennington Stories: Kent Hikida '85
Kent Hikida '85 is a principal architect at OTJ Architects and professor at Pratt Institute.
Bennington Stories is a series of first-person messages that share voices from throughout the unique and multifaceted Bennington community.
The Power of the Bennington Connection
It’s important to avoid thinking of education as an idea that has to exist in a box. There’s only so far prescriptive learning can take you. I discovered that through Bennington: the value of learning to see the world through new eyes.
Growing up, my mom worked as a therapist. My dad was a scientist. When I was an infant, our family moved to Peru. For my elementary-to-middle school years, we found ourselves in the states: New Jersey, to be exact. High school was spent on the West Coast. All the while, I was exposed to dynamic, eye-catching examples of regionally specific architecture, both in America and abroad.
Some kids play with Legos when they’re 6 and realize they want to make a career out of building stuff. That wasn’t me. In high school, I wrote essays, penning a biweekly record review column for a local newspaper. My compensation involved getting paid in quote-unquote “free” LPs. For a while, I thought I could live life as a journalist.
I arrived at Bennington with a staunch belief in the educational philosophy of learning by doing, as well as learning from seasoned educational practitioners. This philosophy has molded me as a creative individual more than almost anything else I can think of.
Architecture and literature were among my obsessions at Bennington. There was a sense at Bennington that one could do anything. I also studied music, photography, dance, and even acted in a play.
The world was open to what you had to offer. I took a single Italian poetry class during my time at Bennington; to this day, I am able to read texts side-by-side (so long as I have the English translation handy, of course).
Post-Bennington, I fell into an internship in the field of historic preservation. My wife and I moved to Somerville, just north of Cambridge. That internship was my whole summer. Eventually, I landed at a position doing specifications and technical writing. Around this time, I received a call from a former boss: a friend who managed a local architectural office. Turns out, he was looking for an office manager. I gave my portfolio a polish, enrolled in night classes at Boston Architectural College, and eventually headed to New York when I was accepted to Columbia University.
Bennington appealed to me because I wanted to create my own curriculum. High school had felt far too prescriptive for me: too much A + B = C. Bennington gave me the freedom to create my own curriculum. The teachers are people who quite literally practice what they preach. As an educational practitioner myself – I juggle a career in architecture in addition to teaching – I am modeling myself after my former Bennington professors, who did it better than anyone and made it look easy.
Our Field Work term was incredibly constructive. There was tremendous value in venturing out into the world and testing what we had learned in the classroom, not to mention learning side- by-side with the help of our brilliant professors. I worked for a Bennington alumna artist in Menorca, Spain; then at a residential treatment center for schizophrenic teenagers; and as a laborer for a general contractor in Berkeley, CA.
Bennington understands that education doesn’t exist in a box. Education can never be 100% prescriptive, and the value of co-curricular work elements to bring the classroom to life, and the life to the classroom. There is invaluable perspective to be gained from resisting the urge to follow a preprogrammed path.
At Bennington, we appreciate and value intentionality and value shared perspective. This belief extends to faculty, students, staff, admin, or even someone who spent one semester here and decided that Bennington wasn’t for them. It’s a way of saying, “I am part of this community. I am this community.” The Bennington experience lasts a lifetime.
Bennington is an intense educational experience. It stays with you. I love connecting with current Bennington students. When I get phone-a-thon calls from current Bennington students, I always, without fail, pick up the phone. They may ask me for a pledge, but eventually, the conversation will come around to who they are, what they’re studying, and what their life at Bennington is like. That, my friends, is the power of the Bennington connection.
Principal, OTJ Architects
Professor, Pratt Institute
BA, Architecture and Literature '85