Like most young, aspiring architects, I sat down in my first design studio with a package of assorted sharpened drafting pencils with only a vague understanding of what it is architects actually do. The simplest explanation seems to be “design buildings” which manages to completely summarize the entire profession while giving no indication as to what architects do at all. Perhaps that’s best for a young design student.
There is a lifetime of architecture I still don’t know but when I sat down in my interview at WRA, I was ready to learn. I was a third-year student, with limited BIM experience and a nervous smile. Other students, more personable than I, with better portfolios, had been interviewing at firms all week. As inexperienced designers, we were looking for a firm to take a chance on a blank resume. I had little else to sell beyond an outstanding work ethic. My portfolio had a heart, conveniently in WRA’s signature red, alive on the cover with the caption “architecture is passion.”
WRA informed me of their decision to hire me a couple weeks later. Terrified I wasn’t cut out for whatever it was “real architects” do, I watched software training videos, hosted by a suave British man, for two weeks before my start date. Luckily, WRA has wonderful mentors, some with East Texan accents, to show me exactly what architects can do.
WRA is welcoming.
Whether they were glad someone else was taking the mantel of “new hire”, or genuinely curious about this girl from Oklahoma, WRA staff were friendly and helpful from day one. They asked about my schooling, my experience and my aspirations. When I started in on a thread of questions like “what do all these different lines on the site plan mean”, they didn’t laugh at my ignorance. Instead, people seemed to appreciate my desire to learn. Some folks returned the favor by testing my pop culture trivia to decades I had never seen. At 20 years old, I hadn’t heard of half of the musicians, but they were determined to teach me that too.
WRA is challenging.
I want to do more than go to work, brush off the day at five o’clock and collect my pay every two weeks. I want my work to mean something. Clients don’t have to know I did the work. In fact, I would prefer if the entire team, as a unit, took the credit. But I wanted to be involved in something beyond my short summer. Which is hard for an intern.
But After an initiation of detail drawing and 3D modeling, the work became more than lines on a page. The work started to have faces, real people with hopes and dreams of their own. Even though I never met these clients, their words were translated down to me by my project managers. I realized I was in an office of people that wanted the same thing I did: to make people happy. Of course, there were still red lines; there will always be red lines. But now those lines have a purpose.
WRA is encouraging.
Cut forward two years and WRA welcomed me back for a second summer. I was temporarily assigned to help finish a construction set going out at the end of the week. The team was up after-hours trying to make everything just right when a principal called me out on making mistakes. He coached me through the issue, to make sure I had worked thru to the solution. It was important to him that I understood why I worked the problem all the way through. Not to put me down nor make me feel bad, but to make sure I became better and more proficient.
I appreciate the opportunity for growth. I have friends who have had work yanked away in similar situations. But the staff at WRA are diligent. When one person grows, everyone else does too. Now, I don’t make that mistake anymore. I will make other mistakes in the future. WRA has taught me to view those, not as problems, but as opportunities for something greater.
WRA will be missed.
The staff at WRA have left an impression on my professional career. Project Managers tackle problems which seem like mountains to me – to them, just another Wednesday. Staff, only a couple years ahead of my own path, design places people enjoy. All those software videos I watched two years ago, the BIM manager could have taught.
I leave WRA still in awe at the complexity of construction. At least now I have a concrete definition of what an architect is – good thing I love it – and new hopes for the future.