PRP Now! Claire Fontaine and Josh Lamden // Lake|Flato

November 12, 2015
PRP Now! is a series of interviews that highlight a current UTSOA Professional Residency Program student every few weeks.

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 mostly recently had the pleasure to speak with Claire Fontaine [B.Arch. '16] and Josh Lamden [M.Arch. '16] about their experiences.

PRP: Tell us about your PRP firm. Where are you working?
We’re at Lake|Flato Architects, located in downtown San Antonio.  Lake|Flato produces modern, sustainable, site-specific architecture.

PRP: Do you enjoy the city you're working in? Favorite aspects?
Claire and Josh: Despite Austin’s reputation, San Antonio may actually be the “weirdest” city in Texas. So many people are moving here, (SA is currently listed as the 7th biggest city in the country) and the city has been experiencing a significant growth spurt in the last 5 years or so. We are constantly hearing San Antonio natives and coworkers saying things like “Oh, just 3 years ago we didn’t have a convenience store downtown!” or “Oh, 5 years ago there was absolutely no reason to go to that side of town!” It’s exciting to be here during such a transitional time. Kind of feels like we’re part of a revolution or something, especially working at an architecture firm that has contributed to this growth spurt, development-wise.  San Antonio is different from Austin in that there’s a lot to explore here, but it requires some digging. You make your own fun. There aren’t festivals and flocks of people migrating here every week like there are in Austin, which can be a good or bad thing, personal preference. There are plenty of divey hole-in-the-wall gems here to find. And it’s remarkable how much better the Mexican food is here, even just 80 miles South of Austin.

PRP: What is currently on your desk? What are you working on?
Claire: Trace Paper! Sketchbook! Material samples! Schematic Drawings! Construction Documents! Coffee! Watercolors! Paint Fan Decks! I’ve been placed in the “education” studio which is fitting because I’m learning a lot, ha. But I’ve worked on three schools since starting residency – one in particular I’ve worked on since concept and now we’re in Design Development phase. It’s very cool to be working on one project consistently, but I’m also doing tasks for various projects here and there in-between. I’m keeping very busy.

Josh: Trace paper, scales, trail mix (because it’s impossible not to snack while working), and lots of thicknesses of black pens.  I’ve been primarily working on the schematic designs for a small development of cabins in Montana.  We recently received the go-ahead on the designs so it is now time to crank on design development drawings/construction documents to be sent to a modular construction company by the end of the year.  It is going to be a serious push from here on out!

PRP: Describe the firm culture? The office atmosphere?
Claire: We wanted to work here because of how many students have returned from residency here with raving reviews about the firm culture. Everyone here is smart, talented, creative, and ultimately- just really good people who care about their work. The firm values design that is rooted to its place and connected to the outdoors, and this is clearly reflected in the lifestyles and mindsets of everyone here. Every year there’s an office retreat hosted at Ted Flato’s ranch just a few hours west of San Antonio called Flake Lato. This weekend consists of camping, canoeing, fishing floating, swimming, and dancing. It’s so “Texas.” This celebration is a manifestation of the culture here at LF.

Josh:  There are also plenty of activities integrated into the regular work day such as Watercolor Wednesdays, Lunch and Learns on Tuesdays, and Peanut Galleries/ 3x6x9 Presentations every other Friday. Peanut Galleries and 3x6x9s are pin ups of current and past projects where LF’ers outside of the projects can critique, give feedback, and learn about some of the projects built years ago. I’d describe Lake Flato as a very laid-back, yet extremely productive workplace. 

PRP: What is the first thing you'll tell your classmates upon your return to UT?
Claire: It’s going to be weird, I’m not going to lie, after an entire 6 months of complete immersion into a work environment, going back to school and completing my last semester is going to be interesting. I have mixed feelings about this- I’m excited to take one last stab at my coursework having learned everything I know now from doing residency and to see all my friends I’ve grown to know so well over the past 5 years, but I am definitely going to miss working!  

Josh: I came to school with 2 years of work experience, so the working world is no stranger to me (actually I think I prefer it to school), but doing residency allowed me to understand the workings of a much larger firm (Lake Flato is around 90 now), vs the 7 person firm I worked for before.  I think it is very important to have experience at both small and large firms in order to understand what works best for you. 

PRP: As you're finishing up the week, what are your plans for this weekend? 
Claire: This week I just attended a neighborhood forum and participatory design exhibit which was really cool. I live in an up-and-coming area which means there are a lot of issues to discuss and resolve. Mayor Ivy Taylor was there along with some other key players in San Antonio development. And this weekend there’s a contemporary art festival called Luminaria with a series of light installations, live performances, and food. After that I suppose I’ll hop on over to the Michelada Festival at Alamo Brewery. Should be a good time.

Josh: Because we live so close to Austin, we have both spent a fair share of weekends back at home. It’s definitely an advantage to doing residency here- you are far away enough to establish a new and different routine while it still feeling like an adventure, yet if you are missing home or have a significant other in Austin, the back and forth is quite do-able!

PRP: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Claire: Uhhhh…Go Spurs?

Josh: No, I will not condone that.