My Year in Review: Learning at Cal and ELS

January 30th, 2013 |

In the past twelve months, I pulled my last studio all-nighter for my final project, received my B.A. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, and got my first “real job” out of college. 2012 has been a wonderful whirlwind of a year. I have been fortunate to join ELS as a new designer within one month of graduating from Cal last May.

My advice to new graduates is to reach out to companies before you need a job. During my sophomore year, I approached ELS, and spoke to one of the principals about my interest in architecture. I was not looking for an internship or work, but rather guidance and feedback on the projects I was designing in school. It was inspiring to see someone with such a wealth of experience still be so passionate about architecture. Our conversation not only helped me better understand what it was like to be in the profession,  but it also motivated me to continue pursuing a degree in architecture. Upon graduating, I contacted ELS again. Thankfully, the principal remembered me, invited me in for an interview, and hired me.

In the last seven months at ELS, I’ve had the chance to work on a variety of projects: the Uytengsu Aquatics Center at the University of Southern California, the new Swim Stadium at UC Berkeley, Glendale Galleria near Los Angeles, and Mueller Town Center near Austin. It’s been an eye-opening experience — and not quite like I imagined it when I was an architecture student.

Because my father was a history professor and spent a lot of time in archives around the world, I spent time as a child living in Japan and Russia, as well as travelling around Europe. Exploring many different cities and art museums at such a young age cultivated my love for art. I studied painting and drawing in high school. When I got to college, I didn’t have a clear direction of what I wanted to do. After taking various classes from history to math, I found that I missed the creative outlet that drawing and art gave me. My brother (who ended up becoming a lawyer) had studied architecture. So I took an architecture class. I spent so much time drawing that I immediately knew architecture is what I wanted to do. The first time I stayed up all night was for a project where we cut out bits of paper from a book to construct a city. It was so exciting to make something tangible that I can proudly show to others.  The opportunities in architecture school allowed me to do architecture for architecture’s sake, rather than for any specific program or client, and without the limits of time or money.

After getting my B.A., I plan to work for a few years before returning to school for my Master’s in Architecture. I recently started the NCARB/AIA Intern Development Program (IDP) – a supervised path to licensure that ensures you have a chance to work in predesign, design, project management, and practice management. I’ve been in IDP for seven months now. It took some time to adjust from being responsible for all aspects of a project at school to discovering my role as part of a team.

When you graduate from an architecture program, you think, well, it’s been great designing these crazy fantastical buildings, but in the “real world” it’s time to go design restrooms and pick up red marks in CAD. While there is some of that, I’ve been surprised by how many opportunities I have been afforded to assist in the design of the project. My primary work at ELS has been on the USC Uytengsu Aquatics Center for the water polo, swimming, and diving athletic departments. 

My first task was to develop a series of interior renderings using both Rhino 3D and V-Ray renderer so that our team at ELS and the Athletic Department at USC could better understand some of the key spaces. This process allowed our team to explore different possibilities on paper, and quickly see them visualized in three-dimensional space. The sketches are still diagrammatic enough that much of the work has to be done at the detail level of the actual modeling. It’s been a dialogue between design, modeling and visualization. I am proud to have contributed to such a prestigious university project, only 6 months after graduating from school.

Part of this unique experience is being lucky enough to work at a mid-sized firm. Some of my former classmates have found themselves either at very small firms, where they work on small projects and have almost too much responsibility, or in very large firms with corporate structures, where they never get to talk with their bosses.

From the people I work with at ELS, and from studying the work of architects I admire—like Rem Koolhaas, Toyo Ito, Kengo Kuma, Herzog & de Meuron, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro—I’m learning that architecture is much more than buildings; architecture is a cross-disciplinary form of art, installation, and the environment at a human scale. Architecture can be about creating a concept and then executing it in a building that can, very simply but beautifully, bring tangible form to that idea.

It can be tricky to do that in the real world, of course, and it depends on the project type. You have to balance the concept with the practicalities. But ideally, that’s the kind of architecture that I want to do: big public work that expresses a simple, clean concept in built form, that emphasizes environmental sustainability, and engages its surrounding communities.  School makes you dream big and without limitations. Now, less than a year out of Berkeley’s conceptual curriculum, I am learning how to take my design from paper to the real world without sacrificing the fantastical ambitions that drove me to stay up all night cutting an imaginary city into a book.

Posted In: Architecture, Blog