Co-Op Talk: Connor Kramer @ Woods Bagot
said by: Caroline Bozzi
We are excited to present a new series of #CoopTalks this semester. This interview series provides an opportunity for students to share co-op experiences with students, faculty, staff and beyond. We speak to fellow students who we collectively admire to hear what co-op means to them and the insight into what has contributed to their growth as a student at The School of Architecture and Interior Design at DAAP.
Next up in our series is Connor Kramer, fourth year B.S. architecture student. Here is an edited conversation with Connor about working at Woods Bagot and how he handled the hustle of New York City. Check back for our next interview in this series or read our previous interviews here.
How many offices do they have?
They only have two offices in North America; New York and San Francisco. They are based in Australia and they have offices on five different continents.
Did it feel like an American company?
In the New York office, it did and it didn't at the same time. There were a lot of people from different countries working in the New York Office: There were a few Australians and a few Europeans. Culturally it was American but, there is so much communication and collaboration with the international office that I constantly felt that there were more than just the American offices.
How did you decide to co-op there and what kind of work did you do?
I was lucky enough to receive three offers for the summer co-op. I knew I wanted to be on the east coast, New York specifically. The UC co-op contact at Woods came here to Cincinnati so I had the opportunity to talk to him in person. More than any of the other firms that I spoke to, he was excited about both the work that they were doing and the things that I could be doing and where the office was going. The other firms that I talked to spun the office like, "come for a summer internship!" Whereas, Matt, at Woods, expressed all the things I could be doing there and how the office was on the up and up. Before he even formally offered me the job, he sent me an email about all the exciting work they were doing. I was sold on it at that point.
Once I got there, like any co-op, it was a little bit slow moving at first. I started working on a project they are doing in Jersey City across the Hudson. I was working through Design Development. It was a high-profile project for the office, but it was AutoCAD work. Once I proved myself in the office, if I can say that, I teamed up with one of the design leads who previously worked at SOM. The majority of my time was on competition project for a two-plot development in China. There were 5 towers total, the tallest being 300 meters. We collaborated with the Hong Kong office which is located a half hour from the site. It was me and two other people in the office on this competition -- so it was everything from sketches to rendering and putting together boards. We ended up getting third. And knowing the other offices that we beat was pretty cool too.
So, who did you beat?
Zaha. So that is the accomplishment right there.
We found out later that the Aedas and 10Design were first and second place winners. They both design a lot of mega developments going up in China right now. But we also found out that they had both been working on the project almost two months before we even started it. The developer was looking to receive money from the government, so they had to host an open competition even though they already decided who they wanted to work with. In some ways, we won.
I know some collaborations between offices in China and the US work around the clock because of the 12-hour time difference. How was the workflow -- did you pass off work at night or did you use them more as a consultant?
They worked on the master plan of the two sites and the podium. And we worked on the towers. It was frustrating at times because sometimes we would come in to the office in the morning and they changed something at night. We would have to completely change one component of the towers that we just spent the previous day flushing out. There was a lot of back and forth. Then when the projects picked up steam, more people in the firm became involved. All of a sudden everyone was giving feedback and at times my boss was maybe a little bit too receptive to other feedback to the point where every single day we had a new massing scheme and a new tower for a while. That was the hard part. It was about a month and a half of work, but what we produced was so little compared to the actual amount of work that we did. It was a great experience.
I told them up front that I wanted to work on schematic design, and they really worked to make that happen for me. Well... and the timing worked.
Do they do any research at Woods Bagot?
There are about 2 or 3 employees out of 50 in the office that are full time R&D employees. I know they are working on research for performance driven design and VR. But also, one of the employees in New York, the guy who can write you a script for any facade in grasshopper, is super interested in project workflow -- different ways to collaborate between offices and programs using BIM.
Is this research client driven?
I think the work flow research is about solving issues they have and the other research is speculative.
If you could pick one things that Woods Bagot does "the best" (or maybe just really well) what would it be?
Everyone from the design leads to the production staff in the office love what they do. There is a wide range of talent and skill sets. I actually sat next to one of the design leads who previously worked at BIG. He was the project architect on VIA 57. There are some pretty important people in the New York design scene in the office so in a lot of ways these employees have options. They don't have to work at this firm, but they chose to. And everyone is passionate.
What was it like to work in New York?
Everything is a little bit amplified in New York. In New York, you might work a 10 or 11-hour day where that translates to a 9-hour day anywhere else. In Chicago, I felt that people viewed their job as their career but, at Woods this was their passion and their life. That was reflected in their attitude. They were always willing to help me.
What did you find the most challenging?
I never felt like an intern or a co-op. I became a vital part of the team. I would have to change personal plans if the team needed me, or not go out with my friends on the weekend because I would have to go to work. It was great! It was the most challenging and also the most rewarding part of my experience.
What made your experience unique?
I did get to experience working in two different neighborhoods. For the first half of my term Woods' office was on 57th. I had a good 45-minute commute each way. But then in July they moved to the office to FiDi (Financial District), right next to the stock exchange and my commute was reduced to 15 minutes. To work in two contrasting settings was a cool experience.
Did you learn something that you didn't expect to learn?
To be completely honest, I learned the most from my second co-op. But the timing worked because without that co-op I wouldn't have been able to be as successful at Woods. In Chicago, I learned a lot of soft skills, like how to collaborate in a professional environment. It is completely different than in school. So then at Woods' I was given the opportunity to apply this when I worked on the competition with the Hong Kong office. I was better equipped to handle professional collaboration.
If you're interested in telling your own co-op story, fill out this form and Re:SAID will contact you!