The architectural internship is a conventional stop on the path to licensure. These positions transverse the gap between educational framework and post-grad practical experience. Internships are notoriously where students will be assigned unremarkable tasks and for some, unrelated chores (e.g. refilling coffee cups for colleagues). Is the point of these dreary duties to create humble, tolerant individuals, or could the purpose be found within the individual experience?
A Sense of Foreboding and Doubt | Purpose of an Intern
Under the curriculum of my university’s undergraduate program, students are required to take a “semester-away” through either an internship or a study abroad. I decided an internship would benefit me the most, so I was connected with a friend-of-a-friend who got my foot in the door at a prominent firm across the country. After a few interviews, I was granted a semester-long internship opportunity. Both apprehensive and eager of the endeavor that lay ahead, I packed my belongings and prepared for my first professional practice.
My apprehensiveness lay from fear of inferior qualifications from that of my peers. Maybe it was due to my connection inside the firm, or maybe it was my usual practice of self-deprecation. Regardless, these emotions led me to stumble upon an Architizer article, “How to Survive Your Summer Internship,” which helped alleviate some of the uneasiness. This article outlines four intrinsic qualities of a successful architectural intern: enterprising, socializing, flexibility, and practice of mindfulness.
The Water Fountain: A Tool for Discovery
While the first week of the internship was filled with the usual new-hire agenda, the days following were far less exciting. I struggled to find tasks to fill the forty-hour workweek, and most of my time was spent in the model shop. Only one other intern was assigned the same project as me, and he was quite literally made for crafting elegant physical representations. Before the internship, my physical models rarely exceeded study-level status, so I cannot say the same about myself.
Remembering the fore-mentioned article, I strived to become the social butterfly of the office in an attempt to venture for better-suited tasks. The number one place to accomplish this goal? The office water fountain. In the quest for more digital-oriented tasks, I found myself enjoying copious amounts of water refills. On one particular refill voyage, I turned the corner to find the project managers gathered together in my path. As I pass by, I hear, “Well, what are the interns doing?” Sure enough, before I knew it, I was pulled into the conversation as they probed to see if I was available.
The Task | Purpose of an Intern
Once given the guidelines of my new task, I realized exactly why this had become an intern task. The assignment was not arduous, but simply very tedious. I knew this was the stepping stone to exiting the seemingly endless physical modeling tasks, and I remembered to be flexible. I agreed to the task, even though the requirements were daunting and the deadline was in a few days.
The task was significantly time-consuming, but I was rewarded with praise from the firm’s partners as the assignment was presented. And of course, the paycheck with overtime hours did not hurt! Following the completion of this specific assignment, the same project leader assigned many more tasks to me (tasks outside of the model shop!).
Purpose of an Intern
Throughout this internship, my duties included: dusting the ⅛” scale model that sat on a banquet table at the stairway landing, pinning up documents (and subsequently taking them down), constructing a model of various proposed restroom layouts, and an endless amount of correcting redlines. Every architectural intern has a similar experience, a time where they became designated for an oddball position. While my duties on paper are rendered dull and monotonous, my experience remained captivating and enthralling for me.
The purpose of an intern is not to brilliantly demonstrate unparalleled design abilities or to craft stunning renders, but rather to observe. While dusting the model, I was able to fully grasp the intent of each piece of the design imagining users in the space, their movements as they greeted each space and sauntered along the boundaries of each wall placement.
When I had the opportunity to pin-up documents, I took the chance to admire the linework created by seasoned architects. As I moved to take down the documents, I observed notes taken by the firm’s partners and the suggested changes.
The restroom model allowed me to exceed past my prior study-model status, and allowed me to experiment with pristine white acrylic. When correcting the redlines, I took this as a moment to concentrate on the specifications made by each construction document as I had not confronted these types of documentation throughout my undergraduate education.
Through observation, mindfulness is practiced. By perceiving and developing a consciousness for our distinct experience levels, we allow ourselves to gain much more from those around us.