This story originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of Harker Magazine.
When Matthew Gehm ’09 was at the upper school, he didn’t know what career path he wanted to pursue – until a pivotal class his senior year. A Harker student since kindergarten, he was strong in math and science, but was also drawn to the arts.
“Matt was not a typical Harker math- and science-focused student, because his visual art classes were a lifeline for him,” said Pilar Agüero-Esparza, art teacher. “As a teen, he seemed to be going through a tough time and art was a way he could channel his creativity and inner self.”
His creativity and bent toward math led him to take an architecture class in the fall of his senior year – and that sealed the deal. His grandfather was an architect, so he had been exposed to the field, but everything clicked in the class, and he realized he wanted to pursue architecture in college.
So after high school, he set off to study architecture at the University of Southern California, which had a highly rated, five-year program. He had found his passion in architecture but also continued his digital artwork, which is focused around the misuse of digital tools used in architecture in pursuit of novel forms and complexity. After graduating from USC, he started Forester Gehm, a multidisciplinary design firm, which allowed him to balance the line between art and architecture by working on larger installation pieces.
He also worked for some architecture firms and then decided to attend graduate school, all while keeping Forester Gehm humming.
“Matt reached out to me after he graduated from USC, and I saw a laser focus and ambition light up in him about his life and career goals,” said Agüero-Esparza. “Soon after our meeting, I saw him reach for new heights, including entering his artwork in exhibitions and then applying to graduate school.”
Gehm decided to attend Harvard University to pursue a Master in Architecture II, a two-year program that extends the base of knowledge of the professional field with particular emphasis on design.
“If you asked me when I was graduating Harker if I ever thought I would go to Harvard, I would have said ‘no,’” Gehm said in his steady voice. “It felt out of reach, but then I found something I really cared about and something I was passionate about and it felt more real.”
One of Gehm’s projects at Harvard, “Tin Whiskers, or The Ghost in the Machine Part II” with Jonathan Gregurick, is a “conceptual hybrid of motion and stasis, which blurs the lines between control and chaos, structure and fenestration or machines and technics,” according to Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design website.
The intellectual challenges of coursework combined with fascinating history courses and students from around the globe consumed Gehm for an amazing two years.
But when Gehm graduated in 2019, he knew he wanted to return to Los Angeles where his girlfriend lived and the beach beckoned. Instead of racing home, though, he spent a month traveling and camping across the United States. He’s an avid outdoorsman who enjoys hiking, camping and going to the beach.
Gehm is now a designer at Gehry Partners LLP, a full-service firm with broad international experience. He just started with Gehry and is involved in designing a skyscraper in Toronto. He plans to build his career in architecture but also continue his artwork.
“I realize that life is not a sprint but rather a series of opportunities,” said Gehm. “I’m lucky to have found my passion.”