Alumni Spotlight: Kelly Gill

We caught up with Kelly Gill, an alumni of the Design/Build Semester program in 2016. Kelly called in from St. Louis, where she is deep into her first semester of the Master of Architecture program at the Sam Fox School of Architecture and Urban Design at Washington University.

What brought you to Yestermorrow?

I’m from LA. I didn’t have any background in architecture at all. I had been working in the film industry for years, on movies like Black Panther and the Fast and the Furious. In between movies, I would go and take design courses, whatever I had time for. I took the Tiny House Design/Build course with Yestermorrow and really liked it.

Then a couple years later, I applied for the Yestermorrow/Umass Semester in Design/Build on a total whim. I was worried I would be older than the other students who were mostly undergrads. It felt like a big risk. But I had an amazing conversation with Eric Cook, the Program Director at the time, during my interview and immediately got really good vibes from him. So I packed up my bags and moved from California to Vermont.

So what happened when you arrived on campus?

We moved into the dorms in August and on the first day, someone came into the hallway and was like, “Do you want to go to Warren Falls?” From that day on, we all became best friends. I still talk to my classmates all the time. One of the guys is coming to visit me next month, and my friend Mary called me right before you did.

We were one of the smaller semester program cohorts; there were only 8 of us. Four of the students were in undergraduate programs related to architecture, but then we also had a stone mason, a farmer, and me, a filmmaker. But we totally hit it off.

I was so nervous to take on something so big, but I’m so glad I did it.

How did your Yestermorrow experience influence your next steps?

I had never really considered architecture as a career. But I was so connected to the instructors - Eric Cook, Jacob Mushlin and Jesse Cooper -  so we started talking about it more seriously, and they encouraged me to explore it. They were a really big influence on me.

Before the semester was over, I was doing some light research. Here we are, two years later, and I’m in my first semester of graduate school at Wash U in St. Louis.

I got into 9 out of the 11 schools I applied to, including Pratt and Parsons and RISD. Honestly, I was looking for the school that would give me the closest vibes I could get to Yestermorrow. The bulk of my portfolio came from Yestermorrow and I’m pretty sure that’s what helped me stand out.

It’s really important to me to build the designs that I draw. Thanks to the courses I took at Yestermorrow, I have way more building experience than any of the students in my masters program.

What made the learning environment at Yestermorrow so impactful?

I consider Yestermorrow to be the most successful educational environment I’ve ever been in. The team there is so good, individually and collectively. Each individual person is such a good craftsperson and teacher.

The tagline - think with your hands - it’s so cheesy, but it’s so true! You could take a thousand courses with people instructing you and come out never having picked up a hammer. But Yestermorrow so aggressively goes after you thinking with your hands. We immediately dove in and we got so much done - we were so efficient, and we produced what I think was astounding work in a short amount of time.

I also learned so much about myself as a student. I was noticing that Jesse liked to demonstrate things first, and as a female, it frustrated me. My whole life, guys had been showing me how to build. But I wanted to know how to do it for myself. I wanted the physical skills.

I knew Jesse didn’t know how I was feeling, so I finally decided to say something to him. He said, “It’s really important that you know how you like to learn - most people don’t.” As we got to know each other better, he told me, “Kelly, I can see now that you like productive struggle. You like to struggle for a while by yourself until you break and ask for help.” He was totally right. So he started waiting for me to try it myself.

Do you have any favorite memories from Yestermorrow?

So many cute moments. We would sit in the library and draw together almost every night. We would take these huge pieces of trace paper and draw these four foot by four foot drawings. Mary and I kept them and hung them in our dorm room. By the end of our semester, we had a really impressive collection, so we started joking about having an art opening. Mary made it happen. She sent out invitations. I bought champagne and cheese and crackers. Everybody came, the office staff, they all piled into our tiny dorm room and we had a very serious art opening called “Buttoned Up Modern.”

Since then, we’ve all visited each other. We had a mini-reunion over the summer. I’m so amazed at how close we’ve all stayed. They will be lifelong friends of mine.