Kiel Fahnstrom’s interest in architecture started when he was 4 or 5 years old.
“Growing up, I was always curious as to how the house was configured, what it would look like if I drew it on paper,” he said. “From then on, I always had the motivation to draw houses, what they could and would look like in 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional form. When I got into high school, I focused a lot of my elective credits toward architectural and engineering CADD (Computer Automated Drafting Design) introductory courses. By the end of my senior year, I knew architecture was the career path I wanted to get into.”
Fahnstrom enrolled at College of DuPage and earned his associate’s degree in Pre-Architecture. He discovered a well-structured curriculum that rivaled four-year architectural programs across the country.
“COD has strong relationships with various four-year universities within and outside of Illinois, which allows students to transfer into a four-year program, finish their Bachelor of Architecture degree and, if they so choose, move forward with their master’s degree and licensing as an architect,” he said.
After graduating from College of DuPage, Fahnstrom transferred as a third-year student into the Architectural and Environmental Design program at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, where he earned his bachelor's degree. He began working for a small architectural firm, Kurtz Associates Architects, as an intern architect and continued to gain experience in all aspects of the building process, from developmental design to construction documents to project management.
When the firm dissolved, Fahnstrom began pursuing graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He spent one summer as part of a design workshop in Volterra, Italy, and in fall 2016, he won the prestigious Studio Design Excellence Award for graduate students at UIUC.
After working on a number of high-profile projects at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, one of the region’s top firms, Fahnstrom is now at OKW Architects, a prestigious firm in Chicago. His ultimate goal is to become a licensed architect and own a firm branching into other disciplines within design.
“Who knows where my life will take me. But I am very excited to see what’s going to come in the future,” he said.
His advice to future architecture students is to pay attention to what their teachers say.
“Listen to them as they point out the mistakes you have made,” he said. “It is the best advice they can give you to become an incredible designer. Even after your educational career is complete, you never will stop learning about the architectural field. As two very influential people throughout my life have told me, ‘If you don't learn something new every day, you've only failed yourself.’ This quote has resonated since I was 14, and I make it my goal every day to learn something new, no matter if it's small or big.
“My long-term goal has always been to become an architect and to branch further into other disciplines of design. At College of DuPage, I was able to broaden my horizons to styles and techniques of architectural practice.”