Day 1: Tuesday, January 28
My first day at Lord Aeck Sargent was spent in the office learning about the design process. The office was set up in such a way that it really encouraged collaboration between the architects and assistants, and I really felt fully integrated in meetings. The firm, which focuses mostly on colleges and universities, is designing a new residential building at Winston Salem State University (WSSU). In preparation for a meeting with many of the “players” in the project the next day, my alumni host Lauren Dunn Rockart ‘90 showed me the interplay between hand-drawn spatial diagrams and actual three-dimensional renderings on the computer. It opened my eyes to the extensive work that happens for an architect before pen really goes to paper (or the very versatile parchment they use!). The job of an architect is to fully understand the lifestyle of a client and be able to place rooms, utilities, and lighting in an order that best suits their needs. The floor plan is just a more concrete representation of these relationships between the spaces, and the real “genius” that I saw was the diagrams that looked like flow charts. They detailed which spaces needed to be adjacent, the flow of people from one space to the next, and the functions that are necessary in each. The actual dimensions are secondary, and only when all aspects of the “lifestyle” are thought through can the numbers come in.
Solving these “relationship” problems and finding functionality are not the only tasks. As my alumnus pointed out, the learning curve in higher education architecture is always steep because of the changing needs at every campus. There isn’t a cookie-cutter approach to making campus buildings just as there isn’t a cookie-cutter type of student. It’s imperative that architects understand the campus intimately. For example, one of the senior architects had walked the campus and learned that certain paths were heavily travelled and some not. He also pointed out that because very few students ever hang out on a particular terrace at a nearby building, the façade of the designed dormitory needed to be modified. to the plan was to take a trip to WSSU tomorrow to meet with all the different players in the process, and I’m excited to see what they think of the drawings.
Day 2: Wednesday, January 29
Today, we went on our trip to WSSU despite worries about the snow and ice (unbelievably since we were in the South)! In listening on the design meetings yesterday where pieces of paper were being drawn up and thrown out rapidly, I also found interesting the role that architects play on the project team. They are the leaders of the group, as it is their job to coordinate the many interests of the clients themselves, engineers, other contractors, and in LAS’s case, the University Architect, the Provost’s office, and students. Today, I got to see the architects present their designs to the University. The presentation process is very taxing—there is painstaking attention to detail so that every photo, rendering, and diagram is presented in the clearest way, and the agenda is mapped out carefully to account for all the logistical coordination between engineers and other contractors such as electricians, maintenance specialists, and the custodial staff. I was able to sit right next to the architects as they shared the designs and fielded questions. It was particularly interesting for me as a college student as they talked about all the amenities and features that college students look for in a dormitory—it was as if the architects needed to live a year in the life of a WSSU freshman to fully grasp what’s needed.
Following the meeting, we took a walking tour through one of their newest dormitories. This was an opportunity for LAS to learn about what worked and didn’t work with the design and gave them ideas for how to improve. I hadn’t realized the extent to which architecture firms are constantly presenting their ideas and operating in a very personal fashion. They have direct communication with clients and a large portion of their daily work involves making presentations and having discussions. This is different from the design-heavy view I had of the profession—it seems to encompass so much more than just what you’re taught at architecture school (and that was echoed by one of the architects!).
I am so glad to have had this opportunity because not only was I able to learn about architecture as a profession (a career I have never had any experience with) but also I received advice from Lauren and her colleagues. Lauren was also helpful with my decision on which courses to take to further help me decide whether I’m interested in architecture, whether just to dabble or to actually pursue a career since she went through the same curriculum herself. The other architects were extremely kind in offering advice about life after graduation, their paths to becoming an architect, and their honest opinion about their job and why they wake up excited to come to work at LAS each day.
With this experience, I was given much more than a “snapshot” of a career in architecture—I actually got to see a large portion of a major project essentially from the relationship-diagrams in Lauren’s mind to the presentation before the University. It was really a complete experience in that I had meals with the architects, I was able to go on the trip with them to meet their client, and I got to explore the office and meet the many members of their staff with their different responsibilities. This Princeternship opened my eyes to a new career, has given me ideas about what I want to do after graduation, and allowed me to meet a wonderful alumnus who was so generous to me.