Sarah Strauss ('98)

Sarah Strauss, Trinity ’98, realized that she wanted to spend her time at Duke pursuing a passion for architecture after traveling abroad to India and Nepal. But first, she had an intellectual journey to make.

Strauss came to Duke as a pre-medical student, and took several courses in the sciences. During her sophomore year, she took an anatomy class and realized she was “too squeamish” to pursue a career in medicine. Instead of majoring in the sciences, Strauss made the most of the pre-med courses she had already taken and earned a chemistry minor. Then she decided to major in studio art and art history.

“I came to Duke thinking I was going to be pre-med, and I took an art class here and there because I felt like I didn't have to make a decision immediately about what I had to do,” she said. “It was really amazing to be able to change gears halfway through my coursework and decide I was actually interested in something else, and that ended up being art.”

During her junior year, Strauss participated in a study abroad program in northern India and Nepal. There, she worked with Tibetan refugees and first developed an interest in architecture. She now owns her own architecture firm called Big Prototype.

“That experience was where I really got interested in studying art and architecture and how they relate to history and culture,” she said. “When I went back to Duke, I just went completely head first into studying art and architecture.”

At the time, Duke only offered a few courses relating to architecture, so Strauss instead developed a strong background in art history and sculpture. During her senior year, she participated in the Duke in New York program, where she made connections with local artists and began her journey toward architecture.

Strauss noted that William Nolan, professor of the practice of visual arts, helped her through her journey at Duke. During her senior year, she did an independent study with Nolan where she designed a series of six chairs.

“I had some really wonderful relationships with my professors,” she said. “You don't realize when you're a student how much those people influence you and mentor you, and how much those people can be huge factors in your life.”

After graduating from Duke, Strauss pursued a master’s degree in architecture at Yale University. In 2004, Strauss opened her architecture firm Big Prototype. Besides running the firm, she is also visiting associate professor of interior design at the Pratt Institute.

“It’s amazing to be on the other side of teaching and to work with excited students who want to learn and to soak up knowledge of any kind,” she said.

For current undergraduates, Strauss offers the following advice: “Travel. Don't be satisfied to see what you see in books, go look at it in person, travel as much as you can around the world because it’s just a completely different kind of education. Any kind of real world travel makes you so aware about how limited our world can be and how many different paths there are.”