Name: Andres Ortiz
Hometown: Bogota, Colombia
Where did you intern? What did you do there?
I’m currently interning at STRANG Design. I’ve been at STRANG for about a year-and-a-half now, which is longer than your usual internship. This has allowed me to really immerse myself in the world of architecture as a profession. I’ve worked on everything from schematic design diagrams (when the project starts to take direction) to taking those ideas from a concept and refining them to buildable drawings, and then finally the CD phase where you really see architecture as a builder would.
How did you get your internship?
Before STRANG, I interned at Design Within Reach (DWR), which is a mid-century modern furniture company that offers design services along with their products. While I was there, we worked with STRANG, so I knew I wanted to start an apprenticeship with a residential firm that shared the modernist vision I had been exposed to at DWR. After a couple of conversations with one of my colleagues who was the representative for STRANG, I managed to set up an interview that yielded an internship offer. So, in a sense, it was a perfect transition.
What advice do you have for those beginning the internship process?
As important as it is to develop a strong portfolio and skills before entering the internship process, it’s just as equally important to look for the right firm. If you don’t really have the experience of working for a firm, it’s best to always look for a smaller size studio that’s willing to teach you and be patient. Not to discourage anyone from aiming for those top-tier international firms, but I feel that having a nurturing environment is a lot more beneficial in the long term.
What projects have you worked on?
I’ve worked on numerous single-family residences - some I’ve been on longer and some I might’ve worked on for a couple of weeks. But, I think everyone that’s in the practice can agree that there are some projects that you feel more attached to than others and become what we call in the office your “children”. This is a fair statement to make when you spent countless hours dealing with the ups and downs that involve any project.
How did your internship connect back to your coursework?
It’s no mystery that there’s some disconnect between practice and academia, which is not necessarily a downside, but rather two different stages in the early part of your career. Places like FIU really aid the innovative part that’s essential in the overall practice of architecture. To paraphrase [Italian architect] Renzo Piano: At 10 in the morning, you need to be a poet, for sure; but at 11, you must become a humanist, otherwise you lose your direction; and, at noon, you need to be a builder.” At FIU, you become so acquainted with the language of architecture that the poetry side of the equation is almost a given. The rest really culminates once you’re in the practice, and that integration is almost seamless.
What was the coolest thing about your internship or that happened during your internship?
Every day in the office offers a new experience. But, if I were to pick one or a couple, somehow they all tie back to site visits. Architecture is not an “instant reward” profession; it takes time (construction can take years). One can argue that architecture exists in the 2D world but there’s just a level of satisfaction that’s unmatched to seeing a project either at construction stage or when you're doing that final punch list once construction has concluded.
What did you like most about your experience?
The whole experience has and continues to be an extremely gratifying opportunity. When you’re in an environment that really values not only the learning experience, but sparks curiosity within you and the work you’re currently doing, one could say its as fulfilling as an internship can get. With that being said, the collaborative part of the work is really the most thrilling aspect of it—feeding off people's drive to create the best possible interactions with architecture becomes almost an energy source. People like the founding principal of the firm, Max Strang, and all those working at STRANG have an uncanny sense for spatial awareness, which is an unparalleled learning experience.
What did you learn about yourself?
Working in a new environment can serve as self-reflection and can really put you in tune with your strengths and weaknesses. I adapt quite quickly. Things that seemed foreign to me back [when I started]—coming from a conceptual and theoretical way of looking at architecture—now adhere seamlessly to how practical architecture can be at a professional level.
How did the position increase your professional confidence?
Being flung so far off the theoretical side of architecture became a catalyst to learning. There wasn’t a day in the office when I wasn’t trying to pick someone’s brain on how they operated. Being able to obtain answers directly from those with years of experience—that have succeeded and failed far more times than I have—really gave me the confidence to be wrong. In the field of architecture, I think, it is the most important trait you can have. To have this confidence makes you almost immune to the daily challenges of having to accommodate to so many people, and in turn, this generates the curiosity to innovate.
How did you expand your professional network?
STRANG has become almost family to me now. They’re not just colleagues but close friends, mentors and teachers. I know that whenever the time comes to move on to other opportunities, I’m always going to have this supporting backbone to rely on, whether it comes to helping bridge connections with other individuals in the industry or just providing advice on moving forward. Having this strong foundation really sets up a promising future. I would go on to advise anyone that is starting or is currently in a firm to really give time to and nurture these relationships because, not only can it yield lifetime mentors, but it can open up future opportunities.
How did it help you prove yourself in the “real-world?”
Going back to Renzo’s quote about the poet, the humanist, and the builder, I can say that I’m starting to feel like I’m walking in these three shoes simultaneously now. I wouldn’t dare say I’m any of those three yet, but as time goes by, you start to feel those shoes fill up a little bit more each time.