Siah Armajani migrated to the United States in 1960. He studied philosophy and mathematics at Macalester College in Minneapolis; at the same time he started making artworks. He had early success with his painting Prayer (1962), which was exhibited and purchased by the Walker Art Center. This piece, like his other works of that time, shows a dense, abstract structure composed of excerpts of poems from the 13th and 14th centuries (including the Sufi writers Rumi and Hafez), which Armajani transcribed by hand onto the canvas using black ink. From the late 1960s Armajani developed an interest in American vernacular building techniques, which led to the creation of his first model bridges. Those early attempts were followed by freestanding sculptures and bigger architectural efforts such as reading rooms, bridges and poetry gardens. His focus on public art was inspired by his belief in democratic ideals put forward by thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson. His early exhibitions included Art by Telephone at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 1969, Information at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1970, and Documenta, Kassel (1972; 1982; 1987).