Intern Skills

Construction Sites – Critical Learning for Architectural Interns

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Posted By Matthew Von Dohre

As architecture interns we are to learn the entire process of design and construction from the perspective of an architect. We are generally only given an overview of the processes while in school and the balance of our learning comes directly from working in the industry.

The time spent interning is recorded as IDP or now AXP hours where they have specifically set aside the different aspects of the industry that you should learn to have a basic understanding about how our industry functions.

Storage Facility Under Construction

Critical Learning For Interns

One piece of the learning process that is so critical is generally left out, reserved for senior architects or treated as if it is less important then producing the construction documents is the role of construction administration.

Construction administration has many aspects to it but the most important piece of this for an intern is being onsite with a set of the construction documents where they must understand what was drawn and how these documents are being interpreted.

The experience of standing on the job site and seeing the light bulb go off in an interns mind is priceless. This is where it all comes together to truly understand that what they have drawn and how it is being built.

As architects we tend to put the focus on how exact it works on paper and we tend to joke on the job sites about how well it worked on paper. When in the reality we are providing the general contractors with the design intent of a project and how the finished project should turn out.

Hotel Under Construction

Being On The Job site

By being on the jobsites an intern will learn more about the design and construction process then they would ever learn from school or from books.

The ability to see the details that they drew come alive and to understand what worked and what did not work is extremely important. Even having the opportunity to talk with the folks who are building the building can broaden your understanding of how the construction drawings are being interpreted.

Another aspect of learning is to have an intern interpret the construction drawings for a project that they are not a part of. Have them review the drawings and details to see how they interpret what is drawn. Then the intern should visit the job site to see if what they interpret is the drawings is actually how it is being constructed.   

Bank Building Under Construction

Its All About The Interpretation

The interpretation of the drawings is the key factor to a successful project. As an Intern you need to review all of the construction documents associated with a project and ask questions to ensure you fully understand what the documents contain and how the various systems are to come together.

It is important to understand the architectural design along with the structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, life safety, low voltage and any other system that are part of a buildings design.

Studio Environment

One of the best ways for an intern to really learn the design and construction process is to work in a firm that has a studio environment.

This is where you start working on a project from the concept phase thru the completion of construction. This will give you the full understanding of the process and allows you to study the different systems in a project and how these systems are documented as well.

Then it provides you with the opportunity to be on the job site and see the building and systems being constructed.     

Push to be out there

My advise to all of the architecture interns out there are to push to be out there and on the building construction job sites, especially if your firm has a local project which you can easily access it.

I personally have volunteered to assist on CA with projects because I would drive by them twice a day and it was only 10 mins out of my way to go to the job sites.

By being on the jobsites it also helps you to build relationships with the general contractor, their sub contractors, vendors and clients which can create trust and stronger teams.

To the Interns and Firms

So my final thoughts to all of the architecture interns out there, be persistent and push to have involvement in the construction administration side of the firm you are working in. If needed explain the benefits of being to the job sites and seeing firsthand how they are interpreting the construction drawings, it really does expand your understanding and it will make you a better designer.

To the architecture firms out there, understand that by allowing your interns to participate in the construction administration process early in their career you are building a solid foundation by expanding their knowledge base which in the end will make them a better designer and problem solver which will benefit the intern and the architecture firm in the long term.

Thanks again for joining me. Besure to leave your feedback, comments and suggestions below.

Some other blogs relating to this topic to check out:

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Learn what architects do:


Matthew B. Von Dohre, AIA, ID, NCARB, sUAS

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