From Confession to Profession: Notes From an Architectural Intern
What do you mean you want to “design”? Just sit here and draft what I tell you to draft. The client is not interested in what you design! They want a cheap solution that looks pretty. Now, I want all the layout drawings ready by the evening. … What do you mean you don’t know how to do them? What did you even learn in these four years? Such a disappointment …
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
To my surprise, I woke up to the sound of the alarm blaring. Amusing as it was, I did not go back to sleep after shutting it off. I got up and started getting ready. It was my first day at the office! The day I would meet a revered, internationally reclaimed architect and start working under him for six months. There was a kind of nervous-excitement running through me.
After I had moved past it, the second realization hit me—this is no longer a “design studio.” It’s a proper, actual office. Whatever I will do here is going to have a direct reflection in the real world. I don’t think I had grasped the responsibility of this profession before. I could not fudge my way through problems anymore, just because the deadline was looming. And what have I even learned in the past four years of school? How to cover mistakes with flashy renderings? How to ‘finish’ a drawing without actually working out the details? What good would my knowledge of outdated materials and techniques do me? Would any of it actually have a practical use?
But if so many have done it before me, why can’t I? How tough can it really be? I have been at this for four years, surely, I can draw a line or two? Let’s go to the office first, and then we shall see.
It was a small office, anyway: the principal architect, an intern (me), and two more in administration. That was it. The people required for larger projects came from the offices of the different associate architect firms. When I reached the office, I found the door locked. They did say that they all had to go somewhere, and would be a little late.
“Are you the new trainee?” I looked up. A middle-aged man stood before me in a t-shirt and “half-pants” (only later did I get to know it was his “style”). He had a bag on him, with rolls of sheets peeking out of the pockets. “Ah, yes,” I replied. Turns out he was one of the associate architects—one that I would work with the most throughout the coming months.
In a few moments we were inside, waiting for the architect to arrive. His presence was already imbibed in the interior, free-flowing, spacious volumes with subtle textures and touches of nature everywhere. For some reason, the office seemed to me brighter than the outdoors. The windows overlooked lush green trees, the balcony had plants and rocks that seemed to spill into the room. Nothing was “placed,” everything emerged from something: the furniture from the floor, the interiors flew into the exterior landscape, the spaces into each other. While I was busy taking it all in, the Architect entered. “Hello, sir,” I said.
“Hello. I hope you faced no difficulties in finding the office? I saw in your portfolio that you like reading and poetry? I am a little busy right now, so check out this book while I take care of some things here.”
The first day of my office was particularly beautiful. I was doing all the things that I loved: reading a book, looking at art, getting to know new people! After lunch, when the Architect returned, he called me for a chat. He told me about the ways of the office, what I could expect out of my time here, and what was expected out of me.
The coming months were not as hard as I dreaded them to be. I did mess things up, like the time I sketched a toilet larger than the living room, forgot to add some important dimensions, or couldn’t name a particular tree (in all fairness, I suck at ecology). Despite all that, it was actually empowering. Doing office work was not so hard. I might not know about how details were worked out, or how drawings were prepared with execution in mind. But I did have the basic skills to carry out all the instructions given to me, and the rest I picked up along the way. I made a few mistakes; I improved. Overall, I had a lot of fun.
The experience was liberating, to which I am the most thankful for. I had gotten a little lost and upset after hearing all of the criticism about how the profession of architecture treated those who toiled in it. Too much work in exchange for skimpy compensation. I had heard that architects “make nothing,” but this was not literally what I had in mind. Even as my schoolmates scouted for internships in different firms across India, they were only getting offers with meager or no stipend.
The place where I worked, I saw all that the profession has to offer: a beautiful office, a good work-life balance. Watched some wonderful projects become real, met amazing people. The irritation, the tension, the calm, and the inspiration. It had it all. I saw all that an architect is and can do, in and out of the office: a teacher, a philosopher, a rationalist, a realist, an artist and a common human being with family and friends.
My six-month internship renewed my faith in architecture. The people there all guided me and were always there to check on what I was doing, especially in case I did anything wrong. It was almost too good to be true. Maybe I was lucky? I don’t know. What I did know was I needed to make the most out of this opportunity. It taught me that I can learn things whenever I want to, I just need to keep going.
During my last week at the office, the Architect called me to his desk one morning. “I talked to your parents yesterday.”
“Your mom called me. She was expressing gratitude for taking care of her son all these months. And then your parents asked me what to do with you after you got your degree.”
“I told them, to let you be for a year or so. It is really tough out there, for sure. But you will figure it out.”
I will? I thought to myself. OK, sir, if you say so! Maybe I will. But it will be some time before I find myself able to believe it.
Featured image by the author.