America by Rail


My name is Aleah Westfall and I am an architecture student who desires to travel the world, to enrich my knowledge of culture and architecture. For my STEP project I created a route that I would follow by train to experience the architecture in the United States of America. The trip was a 15-day period in which I stopped in six different cities around America. Starting in Pittsburgh I went to New York City, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Seattle, Chicago and back home. All of the cities are places I have never been before and places of cultural and/or architecture significance.


How I have transformed.

After completing my STEP project, I feel I have transformed in to a more culturally diverse architecture student. I have been in many architecture history classes before the trip in which had learned about many different buildings but I hadn’t actually known the scale of the building until being there in person. This was the main goal of my trip, to have the opportunity of exploring the buildings, I had already learned about or read about, but to actually understand it first-hand.

In order to be an architect you must be willing to look to other architects to see how they have successfully made a space. This experience has allowed me to understand the reasons why architects did a specific thing. When looking at a plan of building the experience of understanding it by reading is very different than actually walking through the space and experiencing the ways a space may: compress, expand, allow for my light or establish different views.

I feel this trip was also a way to experience some of the major cities that I have considered working in. Throughout this experience it was not just about the experience with in the buildings but also the cultural experience of each city.


What led me to this transformation.

The cities I had stopped in were very fast pace with a very strictly set schedule. The train rides however, were extensive but they allowed me to slow down and enjoy my time. In between each city I had time to break down all of the aspects of each stop and to work on the blog that I kept along the way.  There were some cities such as New York that was very fast pace and there is still so much more that I want see, but my time did not allow. Then there are cities such as New Orleans which was a very bright and cheery city which gave me time to slow down and enjoy the culture of the street performers and the art work that lined the street.

The long train rides gave me the opportunity to meet new people from all over the world who taught me the ins and outs of the many different cities. The train ride from New Orleans to Los Angeles was the longest consisting of 48 hours. I had the opportunity of dining in the dining cart for one of my dinners. My friend and I were seated with two men both of which were second generation Americans who were very friendly. They taught us a lot about the culture they came from and were very excited to hear about our trip and very proud of our goals. They were also excited to hear about “The’ Ohio State University” as they had put it.

There was also a time in Los Angeles where we rode in an Uber to the Hollywood sign, our driver had never heard of the park we planned to go and he said that it was the first time he had ever seen it so close. It was interesting because although we were learning so much about his city we were also teaching him new ways to experience his city. Our Uber driver back to the station in Los Angeles taught us so much along the way about which famous people had lived where, different stories, political views and of course he too was an Ohio State fan.

Ever y city was different in its own ways. Along the train routes we had the opportunity to stop and step outside for a couple hours and experience so many more different cities. Throughout the major cites it was extremely heartbreaking to see the numerous people living on the street and their daily troubles. Also, while riding along the train routes the tents that just align the tracks and the shanties in New Mexico of people trying to earn a better life. This trip opened my eyes to the struggles with in our country that I had been blind to before.


Why is this transformation valuable to my life?

I have always been a quiet person from a small town. I feel that this trip has helped me to become more open to other people and also more understanding to others. I feel I have never realized how culturally diverse our own country is. Upon these new realizations I feel it will help me to become a stronger architect. I hope to be able to design a built environment that behaves as a place where everyone feels welcome and safe.

This trip was a huge experience for me and there is just so much that happened and has helped to transform me. The blog I kept along the trip was If you would like to see more about the specific places I had visit and more specifics of the train travel feel free to explore the blog.

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