Meant to be. That’s how graduating senior and architecture major Moesha Fares describes her journey at Virginia Tech.

Although the Woodridge, Virginia, native admits she had little in-depth knowledge about the university or her five-year, professional degree program in the School of Architecture + Design prior to her arrival on campus, she quickly embraced the Hokie Spirit and never looked back. That agile enthusiasm has served her well over the last several years – through studying, traveling, and also weathering the COVID-19 pandemic during her last two semesters of coursework.

Perhaps it’s only fitting, then, that her final thesis project focuses on appreciating important moments of change in unexpected places. Using stairs as her medium, she hopes to challenge the assumptions we make about this often overlooked, taken-for-granted space.

“Stairs are more important than people realize because they frame your progression to new spaces,” said Fares. “But rather than just getting you from point A to point B, I wanted to explore how stairs can really make you pause and reflect on the moments of transition you're currently experiencing.”

To illustrate this point, Fares’ thesis envisions a customized wilderness observation tower, a structure that typically seeks to make elevated views more accessible for hikers in state and national parks. But Fares’ tower will challenge the concept of easy access by utilizing architecture to question what it means to go up. As the stairs progress through the tower, the space between steps increases, making the climb more effortful. The steps also become smaller and thinner as the tower ascends.

“If you think about climbing up a mountain to its peak, we feel a lessening of materiality and a stronger sense of vulnerability,” said Fares. “At the same time, the ascension brings on a physical and physiological effect. As individuals’ feet physically move them up, their muscles, lungs, and heart work harder and they become hyper-attentive to their surroundings.”

As a result, she hopes the journey through the tower becomes one that cultivates a feeling of gravity and reflection, and also one that challenges the physicality of architecture. “I want people to be on these stairs and think, ‘Whoa, I notice that something is different,’” said Fares. “‘I'm in a much different place now than I was in the beginning.’”

An image from Moesha Fares' senior thesis depicting an observation tower that simulates walking up a mountain.

Concept art of Moesha Fares' observation tower from her thesis
Fares' senior thesis depicts an observation tower in Cathedral Park, Colorado, where each flight of stairs challenges climbers to become more aware of their surroundings. Image courtesy of Moesha Fares.

These symbolic undertones feel all too appropriate, as her thesis project is one of the last metaphorical steps Fares will take as a student before graduation.

Fares’ own journey to Virginia Tech and the field of architecture began when she was a student in high school. In her geology class, she learned about the devastation and protests that resulted when Rio de Janeiro citizens were relocated from their homes in order to make room for a new 2014 World Cup stadium, along with additional facilities and lodging.

But Fares also noticed that volunteer architects were redesigning and building simple residences for displaced people forced out by the city’s government. She appreciated the discipline’s artistic freedom and the positive impact it could have on others.

“I thought that architecture would be a great way to combine a math background with my artistic vision and skills,” said Fares. “But more than that, it could also be that avenue for me to start finding a way to help other people.”

Fares applied to Virginia Tech looking for a good in-state option, admittedly not knowing much about the university. But once a Hokie, she quickly got involved, playing active parts in Humans of Virginia Tech, advocating for the LGBTQ community on campus, and participating in The Big Event – a student-run day of service where students, faculty, and staff participate in community service projects throughout the New River Valley.

“I kind of went into Virginia Tech blindly, but the way I see it now is that it was destined to happen,” said Fares. “I can't imagine being in any other program or with any other community than what I’ve found here.”

Moesha Fares takes photos of herself during her program's fall travel program.

Moesha Fares visiting historic buildings in Europe during her Fall Travel program
For 90 days Fares traveled around Europe to experience architecture and the cultures that inspired various structures during the 2019 fall travel program. Photo courtesy of Moesha Fares.

During her time in the architecture program, Fares completed two professional internships with architecture firms in Maryland and Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2019. She also participated in the school’s fall travel program, where she backpacked around Europe for 90 days with faculty and classmates, experiencing different styles of architecture through various European cultures and histories.

Her thoughtful approach to problem solving also gained the notice and appreciation of faculty members, including Edward Becker, an assistant professor in the School of Architecture + Design.

“Moesha can serve as an example to us all,” said Becker. “Her thesis work alone exemplifies how we can open new avenues for thought and understanding, then translate them into a betterment of not only our built environments, but also the human condition. Her ability to refrain from judgement, listen carefully, and approach difficult questions and conditions with a positive spirit are skills that will serve her well in the future.”

And what does that future look like? After Fares graduates this fall, she hopes to start her professional career as an architect in Washington, D.C., or Colorado. She also plans to keep challenging herself, knowing that new ideas take courage – and encouragement.

“During my time at Virginia Tech, I learned to not be afraid to take risks,” said Fares. “You never know what’s going to work until you try it. And there was always one professor or colleague that really pushed me, and that was a reward in and of itself.”

— Written by Jared Cole