22nd Jul 2020 — Access to Architecture Internship

Access to Architecture Internship

Now that I’ve come to the end of my second year of architecture school, I reflect on how architecture and especially architectural education has changed in the recent months. It has been an interesting time, with the growth in the use of technology in everyone’s day to day life. From messaging someone to have that small conversation you might otherwise have had in the corridor at university, to arranging game nights with your friends and family, all of this now takes place over video calls.

There’s nothing new with technology being used for architecture, and it’s a key aspect. In both training to become an architect and working as an architect, we use this software daily to create our technical drawings, renders, 3D models etc, but we also hand sketch and make models as a way of testing idea’s and representing designs. Conversation rarely happens without pen and paper being involved and these hand sketches are just as important, if not more so than a CAD drawing.

 

Second year final project - axo view

My tutorials at university went from a sketch over the top of a drawing, to trying to use the trackpad on a laptop to draw on a screen, whilst also missing out on every 5th word due to technical connection issues.  The ethos of Kingston School of Art is “thinking through making” and for architecture that means models. As part of my final submission I was originally tasked with making a large 1:100 scale site model of my project. However, due to the Covid-19 situation, this was no longer possible, which meant a digital 3D drawing was done as its replacement.

Gaining Professional Experience

At the beginning of my second year I decided I wanted to spend the summer working in an architects’ practice. I wanted to do this so that I could develop what I’d learnt in university and gain practical experience and learn how an architects’ practice runs. This will then enable me to focus my future education on what is important for finding future employment. When it came to the end of the semester, Covid-19 made it seem like it wasn’t going to be possible, because most practices had started to work from home.

 

Thankfully, Sarah Wigglesworth Architects (SWA) and Kingston School of Art were still offering their Access to Architecture internship.  Kingston informed us that this year it was a remote internship and the details of how this would work were partly unknown. The team at SWA were supportive and understanding, enabling me to successfully complete my internship remotely.

My working from home setup

Why SWA?

I first came across Sarah Wigglesworth’s work when I watched her on Grand Designs with the construction of Stock Orchard Street. Years later I rediscovered SWA’s work during my first-year final project. I was using strawbales as insulation in my design and came across Stock Orchard Street as a precedent. This project really interested me with its experimental and daring design features. So, when the opportunity to do an internship with SWA came about it was of great interest to me. Firstly, because of my interest in the Stock Orchard Street project, but also because many of the projects they work on are the type and scale I’m particularly interested in.

 

SWA’s approach to design is very community focused. It’s clear that as a practice they carefully design for the individuals that are going to come into contact with the building. It is also their approach to sustainable architecture, which is of real interest to me. This focus on sustainability is clearly seen in projects, such as the refit of Stock Orchard Street and Mellor Primary school with its habitat wall. Although I didn’t get the chance to be working in the office during my internship, the year before I had the opportunity to visit the SWA office at Stock Orchard Street on one of their open days, which gave me a insight into their culture and a glimpse of the space.

Open day visit
Coventry Cathedral

As well as taking part in this internship with SWA, I have been writing my dissertation. This has been another aspect of education that has changed due to the restrictions of Covid-19. I am writing my dissertation about Coventry Cathedral and due to lockdown, I have not been able to visit it, apart from virtually through my computer.

This got me thinking about how we focus our training in architecture on grand buildings such as Cathedrals, when the reality is that it’s not something that people experience on a daily basis. Whereas, our homes are something we do experience daily. While being locked down in our homes, we’ve all experienced how it feels to walk through a doorway, the way light comes through a window, and how one wall meets another, creating a sense of place and purpose.

Reflecting on that, I think we can learn so much about how to design for the individual at any scale. The architect and critic Michael Sorkin wrote a list, “Two Hundred Fifty Things An Architect Should Know” Number 169 is “what makes you happy”, I think this phrase is appropriate to that way of thinking and very fitting for this current situation.

The Internship

WEEK 1

I began my first day in the weekly Monday morning resource meeting over video call, which was an interesting way to meet the team. I was then introduced to a project I was going to be working on during my time at SWA. I started with working on a masterplan housing and school project in London, finding precedents for intergenerational housing and housing with an additional half room. These half rooms were something I had not come across before. The idea behind them is to be used as either a private room or to open them up to be part of the living area. They could act as a single bed guestroom or a small office for example, intriguingly accommodating ‘the new normal’ of home working during lockdown and beyond. I was also able to sit in on a client meeting for this project and this was an insightful opportunity to see what conversations take place at the early stages of a project.

WEEK 2

Continuing with the same project, I was tasked with creating concept plans for housing with the extra half room, 1.5 bed and 2.5 bed apartments. It was interesting creating these spaces and thinking about how different generations would use the space. For example, one plan had a central core, which created a circuit around the apartment. This is a useful layout for people with dementia (continuous circulation with no dead ends), but also an entertaining space for children. The space could then be closed off to form the half space. A new challenge for me was following the National Prescribed Space Standards, as this wasn’t a restraint I’d had at university.

WEEK 3

One specific thing I wanted to get out of this internship was seeing the side of architecture that we don’t get the opportunity to see while studying at university. I had a chance to see this when I was shown the process of SWA’s project ‘Highbury Roundhouse’ community centre from the start to near completion. Something that I found particularly interesting was how the buildings position, height and material changes around the site as a response to its location.

I was also further developing the plans I had worked on the previous week with support from Sarah Wigglesworth. This was a really useful experience, seeing how small changes to my plans made a big impact. Sarah also shared with me some really useful elements to think about when designing.

WEEK 4

I was able to sit in on another meeting with the client from week one. This meant I was able to see the progress that had been made and also hear their feedback regarding the plans I had been working on. A comparison I noticed between university projects and real-world projects is the compromise that has to be taken into consideration, for example the plans drawn were double aspect (in line with planning policy and healthy homes), however, single aspect layouts were also considered for scenarios where that might not be possible on a constrained site with increased density.

Highbury Roundhouse

Thank you to Sarah Wigglesworth and the SWA team for welcoming me into your team. While not a traditional internship in an office, it has been a great experience regardless. Thank you for the opportunities you’ve given me, the knowledge you’ve shared and for facilitating me to be able to do this remotely. It’s been good to get to know you. I look forward to seeing the development and completion of the projects I’ve seen and been involved in.

 

Written by Joshua Nash.