Simply Architect

  • Seven things I made note of during my first internship at BLT Architects

    By NFucci
    Sep 11, '14 10:46 AM EST

    “Large accomplishments are made of many smaller accomplishments; don’t 
    get overwhelmed... keep your eyes on the prize and have confidence...”

                                                                                     - Nicholas Brown AIA, LEED AP B+C
                                                                                       Architect, BLTa

    In a quick 10 years, a person can go from being a high school senior who thought, “Architecture seems cool,” to a licensed professional decorated in business casual attire and armed with nothing but a pen, a mouse, and his or her brain. But what happens in between is an absolutely chaotic explosion of late night studying, even later nights in the studio, and most inevitably, the first internship. Every step along the way is both exciting and challenging, but what’s important is to remember the friends and experiences you gain along the way.

    Having just completed my first internship at BLT Architects, based in Philadelphia, PA, I was able to compile a list of advice based on my own experiences, as well as from those who’ve mentored me on a daily basis.

    1. Fake it till you make it

    The biggest issue with the first internship can be, most obviously, the lack of experience. You’re diving into a new profession that you’ve only ever practiced in theory, and now have volunteered to throw yourself head first into a kiln in hopes that you’ll come out a stronger and better individual. So how do you prepare?

    Get involved.

    There’s a whole culture to the architecture profession, and the more you expose yourself to it, the more opportunities you’ll find along your path. If your university has an AIAS chapter, join it. If it doesn’t, create it! Attend lectures and read. Read. Read. Read. Learn. Absorb. Then create. The only limits put on you are those you put on yourself. Challenge yourself and then go above and beyond your own expectations.

    Learning how to learn is one of the best ways to spearhead those things which you know little or nothing about.

    A completely inaccurate representation of my experiences at BLTa - but is a hilarious example of the profession’s culture.

    2. Have a life outside of architecture

    "On Friday, always put your pencil down (mouse to the side) and go to happy hour; no matter how close your deadline is..."
                                                                                         - John Bastian RA
                                                                                           Architect, BLTa

    In balance with the last piece of advice, don't neglect other areas of your life. Your family, your friends, and your childhood hobbies are all things that should still be important to you. A well rounded individual is exponentially more valuable than the individual who clocks 20 hours a week of overtime.

    3. Don’t be such an intern

    Don’t walk in on your first day with the mindset of “I’m just the intern” because instantly you are limiting yourself. You carry with you a fresh new perspective to a team that has probably been staring at the same project for five months straight and could use your input.

    “Don’t assume you don’t have anything to contribute... 
    At the same time, don’t underestimate the value of experience... 
    Any task you take on can be a learning experience.”

                                                                                            - Susan Sakiyabu AIA
                                                                                              Architect, BLTa

    As Susan has put it, understand that gaining experience is of upmost importance. Ask to attend important meetings you’re not invited to - worst case scenario, your boss says no. Best case scenario, s/he says yes, and you expose yourself to a whole new level of work that you would otherwise be missing. Regardless of permissions given to you, suddenly you’ve become the intern who is striving to learn more and who is pushing to break the bonds of the lack of experience; and so, when the opportunities arise to gain that valuable experience, you’ll be top of the list.

    4. If anything, know yourself

    "Know what you know, and know what you don’t know. Under promise and over deliver."
                                                                                  - Michael Prifti FAIA
                                                                                    Managing Principal, BLTa

    Of course, you want to be impressive when you start your first job - but overstating your skills will get you nowhere except deep in a hole. Know what you’re capable of so that when you encounter something you’re not sure you’re able to do (which will happen), you can vocalize your concerns. You’ll most likely be asked to do it anyway, because that’s how you learn - but then, expectations are varied. Learn from those experiences, so that the next time the task arises, you’re prepared.

    5. Ask questions - good questions

    “People are hesitant to delegate work because they are concerned that it won’t get done the way that they want it done, but if a supervisor knows an intern is going to ask questions, they may feel more comfortable working with the intern.”
                                                                                         - Robert Lubas                                                                                                                                        Design Staff, BLTa                    

    Robert hit the nail on the head, because asking questions can sometimes be tricky. On one hand, it’s better for everyone when an employee asks questions and clarifies miscommunications in order to prevent constant repetition of the same task. On the flip side, it shouldn't seem like you’re incapable of working alone. Work until you can’t possibly proceed without answers, then compile a list of questions and get the answers you need. Make sure your questions accurately address the matter, and make sure they’re not questions that a little bit a researching could answer.

    Find a balance - be sure to ask only the necessary questions, but ask questions!

    6. Communicate

    "The first language I spoke was...

                                                       - John Bastian RA
                                                         Architect, BLTa

    Know how to communicate like an architect. Practice sketching, brush up on office lingo, and always keep an ear open to learn new phrases. When you don’t know what an acronym means - ask. How else will you learn it? Reach out to others - especially those you don’t directly work with - and learn what they do. Be personable. Learn. Absorb. Then create.

    Learn to communicate without words; that is, your body language, your appearance, and the like. Always arrive a few minutes early, and when possible, dress better than your coworkers, but not better than your boss. Gentlemen, keep your facial hair clean or trimmed, and ladies, wear work-appropriate makeup. When you dress for success, prosperity will follow. People will notice.

    7. “Don’t give anyone more than six pieces of advice.”
                                - John Bastian RA
                                  Architect, BLTa

    For most people, it's hard to even pinpoint when it happened - when they absorbed the persona of an architect. Was it the first time they put 23 hours worth of work into building a model that was brutally criticized by a jury of people they didn't know, or was it when they felt the thin piece of paper between their fingers that finally read , "License Number: 123456?” The important thing to remember is, no matter what stage you're at, never stop learning and never stop growing. And although it may be intimidating, just take it one step at a time.

    Then create.

    As a fourth year undergraduate student at the University of Hartford, Nicholas Fucci submitted an award winning design to BLTa’s annual Sketch Competition. That following summer, he relocated from Connecticut to Philadelphia, PA where he was hired by BLTa as a summer intern. Nicholas was assigned to work on several projects throughout the office until the end of his term, at which point he returned to the University of Hartford to earn his Master of Architecture degree, set to graduate in May of 2016.

    BLT Architects, now in its 53rd year of practice, is a diverse architectural and interior design firm specializing in higher education, hospitality, multi-family residential, and parking/transportation projects. BLTa, an award-winning practice, is ranked in the top 100 architecture firms in 2013 by Building Design + Construction Magazine and on Architectural Record’s 2013 Annual list of top 300 firms.

    For more information about BLT Architects, go to their website: or find them on Facebook!

    Be sure to check out BLT Architect's Design Competition - First place receives a cash prize and a paid summer internship! Find all the details you'll need under the "More" tab on their Facebook page! Deadline is October 11, 2014!

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About this Blog

Follow Nick as he travels through the University of Hartford's Master of Architecture graduate program. Learn the "do"s and "don't"s for surviving any architecture program, as well helpful tips for nailing that first internship. The goal here is to help current students, future students, and young professionals - to guide them towards licensure with as few headaches as possible.

Authored by:

  • NFucci

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