Student Artist on How Architecture Applies Art ‘to a Larger Scale’

When people think of art, they often think of paintings, drawings and photography — the Mona Lisa, Starry Night and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. They think of the Art Institute of Chicago, “The Bean” and maybe even the untitled Picasso sitting in the Daley Plaza.

When people think of art, what they rarely think of is the art all around them — the art providing a function, helping them get through their daily lives. When people think of art, they rarely think of the houses they live in, the bridges they drive across and the thousand-foot skyscrapers they work in every day.

Architecture is an art form, and for one Loyola junior, it’s where her aspirations lie.

Iqra Polani is an art student from Plano, Texas working on a double major in visual communication and sculpture & ceramics, as well as a minor in photography, but she dreams of going to grad school for architecture.

She said her focus intersects environmentalism and architecture through sustainable building.

Sustainable building is environmentally responsible building. It involves creating with renewable resources to reduce the negative impacts of modern construction. Polani plans to study sustainability in architecture after she graduates, hopefully at University of Illinois at Chicago or University of Texas at Austin.

“Loyola’s campus is a great example of sustainable building in action,” she said. “Most buildings on campus are LEED certified and aim to reduce the environmental strain that a large campus would traditionally cause.”

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED certification, is a certification granted to buildings that reduce waste, save energy and are mindful of the man-made effects on the planet. Seven buildings on Loyola’s campus are LEED certified with a silver or gold rating.

“I originally came to Loyola as an environmental science major, before switching to art sophomore year,” Polani said. “I’ve always had an interest in sustainability and wanted to go into a career path that combined my interests in art and architecture and environmental sustainability.”

Polani works at Art Support on the seventh floor of Mundelein, helping photography students print their digital photos and creating graphic designs for the Department of Fine and Performing Arts. She’s also on the e-board for Loyola’s chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

Polani’s work is divided between studio work and graphic design. Her studio art is mostly sculptures, which she describes as modern and minimal. She’s drawn toward modular designs and repetitions of shapes and likes to use only one or two materials for an entire piece.

One of her sculptures resembles a boat, but it’s made out of folded maps. Another piece is a cardboard imitation of a 20-inch X-ACTO knife. Polani called this a “meta” piece because she used an X-ACTO knife to cut the cardboard.

“I think I’ve always just been inclined toward very clean and organized forms,” Polani said. “I make things and people are like, ‘It makes sense that you made this because you’re such a simple and straightforward person,’ and that translates into my artwork.”

Polani credits sculptress Tara Donovan and architects Zaha Hadid and Jeanne Gang as some of her biggest inspirations. Gang designed Chicago’s Aqua Tower on Columbus Drive. The Aqua Tower is the tallest buildings in the world designed by a female architect. Out of all her professors, Polani said she especially appreciates Betsy Odom, who teaches 3D design and sculpture classes and curates the Ralph Arnold Gallery.

“She’s one of those people that always has something to say about anyone’s artwork,” Polani said about Odom. “Whether it’s exceptional work or not, she’ll always have something that can help you improve and not discourage what you’ve done.”

Polani also commented on some of the more trying parts of being an art student at Loyola. She said the art community is often forgotten about and Loyola doesn’t provide the same resources available at other universities, such as multiple studio spaces and 24/7 access.

“Being an art student is time consuming,” Polani said. “And it can be frustrating to not be able to work on things on campus late at night because Campus Safety usually makes students leave around 10 p.m.”

Polani also struggles with the idea of monetizing her work. She said she happily gives her creations away to friends but isn’t quite ready to sell any yet.

“The struggle of being an artist and actually making a living off of it is: How much is my art actually worth? How do I monetize the time and effort that I’ve put into making something?” she said. “So I don’t currently have anything on sale but I’d be interested in possibly doing that later on.”

The aspiring architect said she’s too busy building a creatively sustainable future to think about present problems anyway.

“For me,” Polani said, “architecture takes the interests that I have in art and applies it to a larger scale that can have a lasting impact on many different people and can influence the way that different communities interact amongst each other.”

Polani’s art is available for viewing at

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