What is it like to be an architectural intern? Does it suck? Is it the greatest thing ever since you are finally fulfilling your dreams that you have been working towards for … well, let’s not actually count up the time on how long you’ve been working for this moment.
Let’s pretend that you’re an architectural intern … highly educated, extremely dedicated and yet – not an architect. What exactly is it that you do all day? Well, the answer to that question varies based on the person, the market sector you might working in (residential, multi-family, healthcare, aviation, etc. ad nauseam), and your very own abilities. Last week, I wrote about what a possible typical day might be for me (architect to the stars), but the truth is that every day is different and if you’re an architectural intern, they might be even more different.
To help clarify what a typical day might be for a highly trained architectural intern working in my office, I asked boy wonder Ryan Thomason to catalog one of his days to illustrate the adventure.
Turns out, the day Ryan chose was his very first adventure out of the office – the sort of adventure that involves getting on an airplane and sleeping on the clients basement couch.
Sounds pretty typical to me … I’ll let Ryan take it from here –
4:30am CST Wednesday
What is it about early morning logic that makes any hazy thought that comes about seem to hold universal truths? “Of course 15 more minutes wouldn’t hurt, it would greatly improve the situation.”
“You’re right me, plus today’s going to be a long one so I’ll need to be as well rested as possible and 15 minutes is the perfect length.”
“Why’d I think I needed to wake up so early? I’ve packed everything last night, plus the 2 hour rule only applies to the busy airport times.”
“Man, you are so smart early in the morning.” “Of course I am…can you imagine how much smarter I’ll be with 15 more minutes of rest…”
“Wow, there’s quite a line of people at the TSA checkpoint.”
“That wasn’t so bad. And look! Here’s my gate…why does it say O’Hare? That should say San Jose.”
If I was more in tuned with the energies of the universe I would have picked up that a last-minute terminal change is foreshadowing. When I finally found our proper departure gate I should have ran through the check-list as to why I was flying out to San Jose in the middle of the week. I should have seen the connection of having to leave the ideal that is the Revit model, for the reality that is the field condition, and that it would need “verification.”
Instead, I came to the realization that I forgot to bring my phone charger.
Initially this project started smoother than most. I mean how often do you have a construction set to base as-built’s off of? Granted there were inconsistencies between the drawings, but “hey, this decade old set smells of B.O. so surely someone sweated over it.” When we finally added all those 2D drawings into one 3D model, there were so many pot-holes that it was clear this set was meant for field design. And when you’re fighting for inches in your renovation design, you really need an existing wall to be where it is drawn (especially if that wall is 1,700 miles from the office).
That wall is now only some 20 miles away. And Bob and I will be traveling those 20 miles in a sweet red mini-van rental car. Traffic seems a little more tolerable in a minivan … there’s just so many buttons and hidden compartments and cup-holders to occupy you.
It was straight from the airport into an on-site meeting with the clients, contractor, and HVAC consultants. The as-built site measurements would have to wait, this meeting was to try to figure out where the HVAC was, what it was, and where it was going. We knew that the bulk of the main and upper floor air handling was contained in a low roof that we were “planning” to turn into an out-door deck.
All it took was a brief walk-through to figure out where the HVAC was …which turned out to be “where ever it wanted to be.” The amount of soffits and bump-outs that were not on the as-built construction set told me that I should have brought more red pens. After a while the news coming from the HVAC consultant would seem abnormal if it had a tinge of logic to it. “The furnace is twice the size the space needs.” Of course it is. “This duct is piped into the coil.” Why not?
A lunch break with the owners. Over burgers while standing around the kitchen island, the news that the ceiling height between two adjoining rooms is 1-3/8” inch off doesn’t come as a surprise. Nor does the fact that the wall is 5-3/4” off from where it should be. The fact that the HVAC consultant was able to squeeze into the attic access in order to follow the duct work was the actual surprise. In the end it seemed that all parties came to a solution that would allow for an outdoor deck and a proper air supply. A solution that was adapted from something we are doing at the KHouse Modern …so that was extra sweet.
Bob and I were left to measure the house. Bob, “do you want the measurements in feet, or in inches?” Me, “feet.” Bob, “okay. This room is 286-1/8” wide and 12’-2” long.” Field measurements were one of the things that caught me off guard coming into the professional experience. Everyone seems to have their own approach. I’ve done field measurements where I had to start from scratch with sketching the plan of a room from initial observation then to write down the measurements. Thankfully, this time I had a preliminary drawing (with dimension strings) that all I had to do was to correct the numbers.
Now, had we’ve been correcting the initial construction set then this would have been a purely professional exercise. But we were correcting my Revit plans. These plans had the same graphic standards that the firm’s construction set held. These where the walls I placed that we were correcting. These were the windows and doors I placed that we were correcting. This was my time and effort in trying to find reason and logic in the inconsistency between drawings that we were finding fault with. That sentiment lasted one room, because everything was wrong and now I was crossing out even correct numbers out of habit.
When we’d wrapped up the final floor’s overall and openings measurements, we moved on to the ceiling plan. This was “surprisingly” left vague in the construction set, and after the walk-through with the contractor and HVAC consultant, we figured the more information we had on the going’s-on in the ceiling the better. Granted the local code said that the renovation would mean that the house would have to be sprinkled so the bulk of the ceiling would be coming down. Still 1,700 miles is not an ideal distance to be caught off guard with an unnoticed field condition.
It was about this time that I was cursing myself for bringing a 24”x36” set to work off of. Ideally I would have segmented the plans onto 11”x17” sheets with a proper clip-board. As it was I spent the day tangled in paper trying to find any surface to write on (floor, wall, bathroom counter, knees, etc.). It was also the time that the fatigue of the long day started setting in. Needless to say, when the last room you have to document is the master bathroom (with all its mirrors) it is not the time to discuss the “legend of Bloody Mary.” This was Bob’s fault – he started talking about Bloody Mary.
Safe and alive at the dinner table with the owners. The discussion goes from the current condition towards the desired condition of the house. It was one of the most casual design meetings that I’ve been party to and reinforced the phrase “it’s not the project that makes a great project, it’s the clients.”
After a hearty breakfast we were back to the house for a mad rush to gather any and all the remaining information we were missing. Where yesterday was a day for the overall, today we focused on the individual components. While I focused on the details of door and window frames, stair details, window elevations; last night’s dinner design had Bob outside documenting the site and landscape. Where yesterday was a day of correction, today we were starting from zero. For me this meant no more wrestling an unruly 24×36 set, instead I was able to pick up the grid paper and sketch these details. And not to preach to a choir, but it was refreshing to break away from the mouse and pick up the pen.
I’m not sure if it was because we were well-rested, or because we weren’t trying to measure the entire house, but today’s exercise seemed to fly by. After we wrapped up the details and last-minute measurements we needed, we did a final walk-through grabbing photos of every corner, every utility panel, every trim (I say we, it was purely Bob taking the photos…my phone was about to die).
While I’m not the most experienced traveler, I have worked at an airport long enough to know that Thursday evenings are for business travelers. This was especially the case for a flight out of Silicon Valley. So there was little surprise when it was time to board the plane and 90% of the passengers lined up when a call for gold and preferred members came. Even less of a surprise when they said that the overhead compartments were full and that those of us lowly remaining passengers will have to check our carry-on. By the way I am convinced that the abundance of black luggage is not an aesthetic statement, it’s because black is difficult to read edges making it difficult to see if a carry-on is slightly oversized by mere observation.
“Welcome to Dallas. Tonight we will be arriving at Terminal A.” Sweet, that’s where I parked.
“Sorry folks, but there’s been a gate change. We will be arriving at Terminal C.”
A day in the life of an Architectural Intern … and by “day”, I mean 39 hours.
So thanks to Ryan fro providing a glimpse into what it means to be an architectural intern. Is a day like this in your future is you are an architectural intern? Possibly … but who really knows. Life is what you make of it and your adventures are just that – yours.