From Classroom to Office: What I've Learned My First Year


The end.

Just kidding. But really, so many things! A year ago, I was a fresh graduate from the University of Arizona’s BArch program. I was still recovering from the sleep deprivation and endless caffeine overdose.

Having grown up in the Central Valley, I returned to Fresno to pursue a career. After several interviews with local firms, I interviewed with PHA. I immediately knew that this was where I wanted to be.  Finding PHA was the breath of fresh air I needed after five long years of architecture school. It was exciting to see the passion this small group of people had for making the Valley—their home—a better place to live, work and play.

And here I am a whole year later!  Honestly, how am I supposed to summarize EVERYTHING I’ve learned?? Yes, my education prepared me to enter the workforce, but there are many things I didn’t expect (or thought I knew) that really were completely different. So, here’s my best attempt at a few takeaways from my first year of employment and advice for new graduates or young professionals entering the workforce:

Work is life. Life is work.

Let me explain. This isn’t school. At first, it was so exciting to leave work most days with no homework. But as much as I don’t want to admit it, I realized that I actually missed the homework. I wanted to read, listen to podcasts and get involved in the community. Connecting with Downtown Academy (shameless plug here if you’re interested in changing your city) and getting involved with service projects have opened my eyes to the way architecture not only impacts my day job, but my hours spent outside the office as well. Granted, there are some nights you’ll work late, and early mornings filled with coffee and endless emails. But, in the same way that school consumed and often overwhelmed me, work overwhelms me with a passion for learning new parts of Architecture in each day.

Another thing: Architecture will ruin you. Mostly for good, but it can and will haunt you. In school, I’d notice pieces of history or great details in buildings. After working for a year, you have no idea how many buildings I’ve walked into and all I’ve noticed are the code violations.

It’s all in who you know.

Your parents, if anything like mine, probably told you this endlessly growing up as you rolled your eyes back at them. But IT’S TRUE people! Finding connections (and maintaining them) through positive work relationships is so critical. I’ve seen every member of our firm interact with clients, community members, owners, and consultants with a great respect and integrity. Makes me proud to be a part of a team that represents such good business practices in a field I heard would be lucrative and egocentric.

The butterfly effect.

Small changes ALWAYS = huge changes. You’ve got to think in 4D. A change in plan has an effect on the building section, on the elevation, on the aesthetic of the space. Investigate how that quick plan tweak is going to resolve itself in the other dimensions before jumping into it.

There’s a joke I shared with some of my classmates about everything in design taking “20 minutes”. Turns out, this still applies to work. Oh yeah, just change the door swing? That’ll only take 20 minutes. Cut 1,000 square feet out of a plan? 20 minutes. Review a hardware submittal? 20 minutes. Right… try multiplying that by that mysterious time factor no Architect can define.

Things cost money. Shocker. But even though they told you these things mattered in school, there weren’t real consequences for overlooking them. I’ve realized that every line drawn in CAD or Revit is someone’s money, someone’s home, someone’s investment—and it puts a lot more importance on designing each project efficiently, beautifully and practically.

Holistic designing trumps menial tasks.

This means fun schematic sketches, historical precedents, research and case studies. But it also means some days will be seemingly endless reviewing of toilet accessory submittals. But Mies was right when he said “God is in the details”. Those details are the annoying things that a trained eye will instantly pick out if they’re bad, and the uninformed public probably won’t ever notice. But nonetheless, the most important part of the design and what sets Architecture apart from Building!

Remember the part about maintaining good working relationships? This applies to understanding what your role is and how important consultants are. Even in the earliest stages, it’s important to consider building systems and how their requirements affect the design. Just a general understanding of shear walls, HVAC systems and electrical requirements will help keep consultants happy (and produce a greater environment in the end) when it comes time for them to collaborate on the design.  

In school, I said I’d never work in a small firm, because it would be too quiet and not have fun, big projects. How wrong I was! It’s been great to be in a small collaborative studio the last year, and I’ve learned how important it is to ask questions.  Although terrifying sometimes, the best way to learn is to jump in and learn by doing.

In the past year, I’ve taken (and passed) *fist pump* one ARE section, grown so much as an individual and professional, and been so much more than the intern endlessly drafting away in a windowless cubicle. All this while being surrounded by my great coworkers, willing to teach, mentor and encourage me. I hope to continue to learn more, observe more and travel more. I’m so proud to be serving my city on this team, and can’t wait to see where the future takes us.

-Stephanie Reed

“Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.”



Copyright 2011  ©  Paul Halajian Architects