BAC Externs: The Next Generation of Boston Architects and Designers

02.07.24 | Mark Borreliz + Lauren Harness | Events

This January WRA hosted three Boston Architectural College students for a week-long "externship" as part of the school’s ConnEx program. The goal was to immerse the students in an active work environment and introduce them to the real experiences of design professionals and those adjacent to the field of architecture.

As a firm we have sought ways to engage Boston youth and get them excited about the field of architecture. We were eager to provide a glimpse of WRA’s day-to-day life as well as showcase our role within the Boston community. The week we planned for them was structured around our core tenets and how they we engage those tenets in the various design phases.

Day 1: How We Work

We kicked off on Friday, January 12th and provided an opportunity for the students to orient themselves to the firm in advance of the Holiday weekend (MLK Day). The morning included an introduction to WRA, an office tour, and an overview of our design process and tools. The afternoon included an introduction to the typical design phases and detailed meetings with the members of various project teams.

Day 2: Design for Community

Associate Principal Andrew Jonic met the students on a beautiful snowy morning for their first tour - the Boston Public Library’s Boylston Street Building Transformation, completed in 2016. There, the students learned about what it takes to work with a beloved civic institution steeped in history - both honoring its past while also ushering it into the future. The tour aligned with a live broadcast of ‘Ask the Mayor’ taking place at the GBH studio housed in the new renovation. In the afternoon the students learned about a range of other projects and got an introduction to some of WRA’s Master Planning work in preparation for the next day’s site visit.

Day 3: Site / Patterns of Place

The snowy scenery continued to impress on the following morning at the tour of the National Historic Landmark, Mount Auburn Cemetery. The tour included a behind the scenes look at the Bigelow Chapel and New Crematory, which was completed in 2018. Katelyn Leaird, Mount Auburn’s visitor coordinator, provided an in-depth look at how the space operates and highlighted some key considerations that WRA took into account during the design process. We used this opportunity to showcase how a thoughtful user engagement process can benefit a wide range of building typologies.

Day 4: Placemaking and Sustainability

The next day began with a tour of the recently completed Brookline High School Expansion Project. The tour focused on the challenges of building within a historic setting - including how to balance both old and new, and how our firm took on the challenge of designing a building that spanned over an active branch of the green line. WRA Designer Colleen de Matta accompanied the students and spoke about considerations taken to help create a space that worked well for the students, teachers, administrators, and parents at Brookline.

Day 5: Sustainability and Construction

The weeklong externship culminated in a tour of the renovation of MIT's East Campus undergraduate residences known as the “Parallels”. The students got their shoes dirty on this active construction site, learning what it takes to take a project off the page and into the ground. Additionally, it built on earlier themes from the week while further promoting the importance of designing for community, accounting for patterns of place, and sustainability. WRA Designer, Dan Shen lead the group through her experience of undertaking a role in Construction Administration.

Wrap Up at the BAC Reception

The externship officially wrapped up with a reception at the BAC where the students presented on the week from their point of view. The three students hosted by WRA shared their experience and provided great moments of reflection (documented here on a BAC tumbler blog).

As a firm, it was gratifying to invest our time in this future generation of architects and simultaneously allow ourselves an opportunity to reflect on our practice and impact. We were amazed with the students’ continued engagement and enthusiasm throughout a week of conversations, presentations, and hands-on experience. We look forward to future engagement with the students and their BAC colleagues.

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