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Studio 101

10.19.12 / Jennifer Plume

When I first decided to pursue a career in architecture, I vastly underestimated what goes into the making of an architect. The years of schooling, hours of training, and rigorous exams represent only a small portion of the information, skills, and sheer work effort required to ‘make it’ in a field where experience is key. The proof is in the profession; most architects don’t hit their stride until well into middle age.

Like many generations of ARCers before me, I started off in the Studio. At ARC the Studio is a centralized node in the office, staffed with three or four recent grads like me, that acts as a steady resource for project design teams that are constantly in flux with the rhythms of a project schedule. As an operational model, the Studio has a symbiotic relationship with the project teams: Studio members bring a fresh skill set to the design teams while gaining a valuable introduction to the profession.

To date I have a little over a year of work experience under my belt and I am only now realizing just how much I still have to learn. It is not that I feel unprepared by my college education; in fact, I feel quite the opposite. In the simplest terms, my time at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s School of Architecture taught me how to think about and approach design challenges critically. I discovered the importance of effectively communicating ideas and to balance competing demands on my time. I was also introduced to the traditional tools of the trade, and I walked away on the other side of five years with a thorough knowledge of the latest and greatest digital and physical modeling and visualization tools available to date.

And yet, there is so much that is still untouched.  Everything—from establishing a work flow conducive to collaborating with teams and consultants, down to the minute detailing of materials and systems—was foreign to me. I have not yet acquired the innate knowledge of structural feasibility that seems to come to mind so easily for those with years of experience. Facing this gap between what can reasonably be taught in school and what one must master to be a practicing architect is an overwhelming position to be in, which is why I am continually grateful for the network of support that I found at ARC.

My time in the Studio was critical to my transition from architecture student to the start of my career as an architect. The work and demands I faced felt similar to those I had encountered at college, and yet in the process of working closely with the design teams, my knowledge of the profession expanded rapidly. In a single year, I was able to work on a wide variety of projects, all of different scales and each with different programmatic, structural, and contextual constraints. I gained experience with projects in phases of design and construction that I would not have seen for years to come had I only worked as an intern on a single project.

For ARC, the success of the Studio model is clear; it is a place where I was not only able to learn about architecture as a profession, but a place where I could learn what it means to be a professional—someone that others can easily approach and talk to, someone that can be depended on. The Studio however, is also more than a simple platform for the exchange of work and experience. It is a unique entity that provides creative energy and vitality for the whole office. Now that I've graduated from the Studio, I look back and realize it was there that I learned the importance of striking a work/life balance and the power of appreciating coworkers beyond what they do at their desk every day. Perhaps those are the lessons that I value most of all.

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