Intern Harry Hooper shares key experiences from his year-long experience at MBB and provides insight into what future applicants to the firm’s internship program can expect.
by Harry Hooper
What is the MBB internship program?
The internship program at MBB is an accelerator for students, recent graduates and individuals looking to kick-start their career in architectural design. It immerses new hires in all aspects of professional practice while remaining highly receptive to the individual’s background, skills and interests. Every team member has a mentor for personal support and professional development. Technical experience in design software is beneficial, but in no way a prerequisite. For reference, I started my internship at MBB with an art history degree and a foundational understanding of CAD. And with that, I was able to immediately contribute to several projects and outline a personal curriculum to advance my skill set.
What did you work on?
My first assignment was a children’s library project entering the Construction Documentation phase. I assisted Mary Burnham (Design Partner), Taylor Aikin (Project Manager), and Kate Brown (Project Architect) in developing a comprehensive drawing set rich in custom millwork elements. I also conducted field surveys with MBB’s Director of Preservation, Katherine Malishewsky to determine key areas for historic restoration, balanced with improvements to building envelope and user accessibility. Working through the CD phase was a brilliant crash course on “reading” and “writing” architecture, the fundamentals of thinking spatially and communicating graphically. I quickly improved on my drafting abilities and gained additional skills in design presentation, project management, and client relations. After completing the set, I pivoted to a project which required renderings of an academic research center. This was an opportunity to familiarize myself with 3D render engines and produce compelling visuals that accurately convey our ideas.
But then the Covid-19 pandemic struck New York City, upending all aspects of our daily operations. The entire office is still working remotely today. During these past several months, I joined Luiza Otto (Project Manager) and Hillary Davlin (Project Architect) to participate in a design competition for a net zero energy library sited in California. It was incredibly challenging to adjust our workflow for online charettes, consultant collaborations, and general discussions as we found ourselves double or triple booked with virtual meetings. But gradually, we managed to temper the distance in creative ways, like leaning into the webcam with sketches on our foreheads or raiding our snack drawers for an afternoon break and holding the occasional check-in as we would in the office. The pandemic required us to adapt our practice and reevaluate the role of architecture during a global pandemic. Part of this effort meant envisioning a more environmentally responsible future in advancing net zero building design. Another effort involves contributing to an on-going study on how design thinking can address potential school reopening.
What is it like to work at MBB?
MBB is a mid-sized studio that embraces diversity and the talents of each team member. I was immediately struck by the openness of communication among the staff. We are always available to help each other, regardless of department or project. This inclusive attitude often results in lively discussions, copious sketching, and the occasional (friendly) debate. Everyone has a unique approach to problem solving and my perspective is always welcomed in both team meetings and client presentations. There is a genuine enthusiasm for collective problem solving and skill sharing. We regularly host in-house symposiums, attend lectures around the city, and participate in study groups for learning new design tools or achieving professional licensure. I was applying to graduate architecture programs during my internship and the team was incredibly generous with their time; some even provided desk crits of my portfolio which ultimately strengthened my application. My mentor, Jean Li, is always receptive to my questions regarding the profession and I can always count on her for honest advice.
How does MBB engage with communities and practice civic minded design?
Interning at MBB is a rare opportunity to work with local communities to design cultural and educational institutions. Every voice deserves to be heard, from city officials to community board members to parents, teachers, and certainly the children who will learn and grow in these spaces. I have learned how to be receptive to current needs and considerate of how architecture can serve future generations. Beyond the office, MBB staff serve as leaders on nonprofit and education boards and create initiatives to promote civic-minded design practices. In the second week of my internship, I was able to organize and lead MBB’s team at the 2019 Global Climate Strike to advocate for transformative climate action. This collective effort is just one of MBB’s Initiatives to engage the design community, build solidarity, and work towards a more sustainable built environment.