PRP Now! Alena Savera // Perkins + Will

October 10, 2016
PRP Now! is a series of interviews that highlight a current UTSOA Professional Residency Program student every few weeks.
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PRP Now! aims to showcase the great experiences students encounter within the Professional Residency Program. PRP offers upper-level architecture students a unique opportunity to expand their education through work experience in the architectural profession. Over the past twenty years, our students have been linked with 260 firms in 29 countries. We will feature a handful of students within each session, graduate and undergrad, domestic and international firms. PRP staff most recently had the pleasure to speak with Alena Savera [B.Arch. '17] about her experience. 

PRP: Tell us about your PRP firm. Where are you working?
I am working at Perkins+Will in Dallas. I'm working on the design team. There are about 15 people on the Design Team, and about 180 people in the office. The Design Team here is unique because we work on important projects from all market sectors and work almost exclusively in the Schematic Design and Design Development phases. 

PRP:  Do you enjoy the city you’re working in? Favorite aspects?
I really enjoy being in Dallas. A lot of people think of the stereotypical Uptown Dallas scene when they think of the city, but there is a lot more to it. There are a bunch of different neighborhoods, and each neighborhood has its own character. There is so much good food, lots of museums and events, and the night life is really fun and diverse. And Dallas is extremely affordable. I am living right next to the Perot museum and Klyde Warren Park, am a 5 minute walk to downtown, and I have a ton of space at my apartment. You can't get that as an intern in most cities. The Perkins + Will office is in North Dallas, but they are moving to a really cool location in Downtown by next summer!

PRP: What is currently on your desk? What are you working on?
There are a bunch of physical models, 3D printed things, sketches, trace paper and pens, presentation packets, and some various items from Chiptole (our whole team is obsessed). As far as programs go, I have primarily used Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Rhino, and Sketchup while here and have worked exclusively in the Schematic Design and Design Development phases. I've been fortunate to be able to work on a variety of tasks and projects, so nothing has felt monotonous while working here. One of the coolest parts is that I get to help discuss the designs and get to be a part of the decision making. I even got to help out with a couple photo shoots and model in some of the images. 

I have been working on some really exciting projects. The first one was the Deep Ellum hotel project, and got to be a part of the design process for the massing and facade. I also worked briefly on some education buildings at different universities.. Another project I have worked on is really cool, but is confidential, so I can't say too much about it. I get to be a part of the design process of really exciting projects in the area, which means I get to be in meetings with clients and get to see the sites. I honestly can't imagine having a better internship experience. 

PRP: Describe the firm culture? The office atmosphere?
First I have to talk about the design team. We have our own section in the office with two rows of stand-up desks, which allows everybody to interact much more easily than the traditional cubicle. I love working on the team, I feel so lucky to go to work to hang out with my friends every day. I told them I had to take a photo in the office and they all wanted to get in the photo, which is awesome. Each member on the team is hilarious and so passionate about design. One minute we are having a very serious debate about ornament or meaning in architecture, and the next we can't stop laughing at somebody's joke or funny video they sent us. We have weekly architecture discussions and debates to keep us thinking about design and theory. We all eat Chipotle and Thai food every single week together. A lot of us also work together on Canstruction, which is a community service event and design competition where you make sculptures out of cans.

The Perkins + Will Dallas office has a very fun atmosphere. There are a lot of social events, tours, and happy hours happening every month. And there are so many ways to get involved here. The size of the office is great because you have lots of resources and meet so many people. You get to know everybody in the office because everyone is so friendly and open to answering questions. Also, we got SO much free food this summer, which was really great. 

PRP: What is the first thing you'll tell your classmates upon your return to UT? 
I think the most important thing for people to know is to follow the path YOU want to take. Think about the firm size, firm culture, city, and the work itself that is best for you, not what is best for your peers or family or professors. I struggled to make a decision on my top choice because I was getting advice from so many people, but I ultimately chose where I knew I wanted to go, and I couldn't be happier. Also, start recording your NCARB hours as soon as possible! If you wait a year, you will only get 1/2 of the hours for your experience report. 

I would also tell my classmates how much I missed them and will miss them when we graduate. Architecture school creates incredibly strong friendships, and being here for several months makes me realize how much I appreciate the intensity of architecture school because it brought us all closer together. 

PRP: As you’re finishing up the week, what are your plans for this weekend?
I just finished studying for the LEED Green Associate exam, so I will definitely be celebrating this weekend! I will be going out to Uptown, go on a run on Katy Trail, go to Sunday Brunch (a classic Dallas activity.) I am also going to see a Broadway play at the AT&T Performing Arts Center designed by Norman Foster this weekend, there are a lot of student discounts and ways to enjoy the arts without spending a lot of money in Dallas.  

PRP: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
The architecture industry is much different than school. Even on the design team, we have to talk extensively about budget and the client's wish list, we don't get to just make our own decisions like we do in school. You should embrace these things and think of them as a design challenge with opportunities, not as a design obstacle. I have had the opportunity to listen to our Design Director, Ron, talk about design and how he approaches everything as a design opportunity to make an even better building than if the challenge wasn't there. I believe that this mentality is crucial to succeeding in the architecture industry.