Gaining Architectural Experience

How many people actually stick with the major they chose during their freshman year of college? I was one of the lucky few. Yet going into high school, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was my parents who came up with the suggestion to become an architect because I excelled in math, art, and physics. No one in my family had any experience with architecture, so to be able to learn more about the field and form my own opinion about the major, I took a summer intro course at the University of Maryland. That summer I fell in love with both architecture and my future college. I received my undergraduate education fr­­om UMD with a Bachelor of Science in Architecture and minors in Sustainability and Construction Project Management.

Unlike my fellow classmates, I inadvertently was able to avoid the negative impact of COVID-19 on my undergraduate education. I was supposed to graduate from the University of Maryland in spring of 2020. However, I was able to graduate early, in the winter of 2019, and enjoy an in-person graduation. This gave me the opportunity to be my architecture class’ commencement speaker, a link to my speech can be found here. After graduating, my plan was to travel and work until fall of 2020 when I would start my Masters of Architecture program at Virginia Tech.

However, as soon as COVID-19 introduced a lot of uncertainty to the academic environment, I changed my plans. I didn’t want to spend my first year of graduate school at a new university where virtual learning would hinder my ability to make friends and transition to a new program. Since we are in unprecedented times, I wanted to be as close to family as possible for my own safety. My parents live in Norfolk so it would have been a five hour drive to visit from Virginia Tech. Besides, I have already had numerous peers and mentors in the architectural field recommend a gap year between undergraduate and graduate school to gain more experience and perspective, so why not take the advice and defer?

With a gap year between undergraduate and graduate school, I am able to see what skills and knowledge I need to improve and also better choose the subjects I want to focus on. These initial few months working at VIA have already made me realized I want to take more classes focusing on materials and construction. Another fantastic consequence of deferring is that unlike most people affected by the pandemic, I am able to work in person because the VIA office is very spacious and allows for a safe environment during this pandemic. Working from home can become monotonous and it could cause me to miss out on opportunities to contribute and collaborate. Honestly, working in any office will accelerate the amount of knowledge and experience I pick up, inevitably adding to my portfolio. I believe that the more I learn outside school, the more I can focus on unique and specialized subjects in school.

Although I have only been at VIA for a few months, I have already added a great deal to my architectural education. One of the biggest things I’ve learned at VIA is not to draw what you don’t know. This is critical to avoid mistakes or the omission of information. Designers should do the research on each product, writing the specifications and keynotes as they go, rather than wait until the end. Additionally, I’ve learned more about the bidding process. I was able to become familiar with writing addendums and editing drawings to express the changes made in the construction documents. One other major change is I was so accustomed to studio presentations where the student gives an uninterrupted speech and afterward the critics would respond with their thoughts. I learned this is rarely the case in the real world. Clients ask questions and make comments all throughout a presentation. It is less a presentation and more of a dialogue!

I hope to continue to experience projects at the beginning and end of the process during my time at VIA. Most of the previous firms I have worked at gave me ample experience in the middle documentation phase of a project. However, it is really important for an architect’s education and understanding to see how projects start and finish as well.  I’m also excited to get more opportunities to work directly with clients and other stakeholders. It is a challenge trying to communicate my ideas to someone unfamiliar with the architectural process and vocabulary, yet it is essential when designing spaces that exceed goals and expectations. Finally, I hope to expand my comprehension of materials and how components are built and connect. Designing a project that can be efficiently built requires a detailed understanding of the construction process.

Given everything I have already learned at VIA, imagine how much more experience I will have by next fall!

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