Co-Op Talk: Andrew Scott Campbell @ KVA
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 Andrew Scott Campbell, a second year graduate architecture student. Here is an edited conversation with Andrew about working at KVA in Boston and how working there has changed his outlook on design. I graduated from undergrad with Andrew five years ago and he has grown immensely in his outlook and understanding of what each co-op is on a personally level and what the co-op program, as a whole, is about (but then again maybe it is me that has grown immensely).
Check back for our next interview in this series or read our previous interviews here.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Andrew Scott Campbell. I am a research year M.Arch. I started at UC in 2009 which is apparently an accomplishment for people in my grad program. It seems to be a super tenure for a grad student. I have been here long enough - I feel like I am grown into the cobwebs in the corner.
I know Marmol has construction people. Is there a construction group at Dan Pearlman?
They are just getting it started. The project team was the project manager, me and then two other people who are architects with construction experience. I started a lot of the projects, developed them schematically and then handed them off to the people with construction experience to finish when I left. I designed my own projects. It was crazy - as an expat, as a co-op. I was the first person they ever hired from UC.
Where did you co-op?
We will go chronologically. My first co-op was in Connecticut and I got it a week after everybody has started. This was 2010 so the market hadn't yet totally recovered and the they were really going out on a limb hiring me. It was Demetriades and Walker and they design modern residential, mostly new builds for rich New Yorkers who wanted a second home. I loved it. It started me off on a passion of home making and residential styles. Looking back, I realize that I was completely unequipped to provide them any sort of levitation from their work load [because it was my first semester]. I kind of wish I could go back and apologize. "If you want, I can work for you for a week and show you that I am not completely inept."
Bozzi: We all have the moment. When they did more for us than we did for them.
I know that I wasn't their first pick so I feel bad about that. But maybe I would feel worse if I was their first pick. That was an excellent experience. My next co-op was at Lehman Smith Mcleish (LSM). It was mostly office high rise interiors, lobbies and some convention centers. The great thing about the lobby is that building is already done so you work on way-finding, finishing, gates, bathrooms, escalators and reception desks.
Bozzi: I think I remember that you slept your car for a week on this co-op.
Funny enough I actually sprayed starch spray on my pants this morning because they were kind of wrinkled. That was a life saver when I was living in my car because I wasn’t doing laundry. I only lived in my car for three and half weeks. It wasn't the last time that I have done that actually. The firm was in Georgetown which is incredibly expensive and really difficult to get to on transit. I had a bike and I wanted to be within biking distance. For me being an intimidated 19 year old that had to be a 10 to 15 minute ride. I couldn't do anything further because I was too scared of Washington DC. So it took me three and half weeks to find an apartment that was in my price range within my prescribed biking distance. They didn't find out until after I moved in. It was a worst case scenario because everyone felt bad for me and wanted to help, but I already figured it out. Then I was being judged for something that I wasn't doing anymore. And I even had a defacto rent when I was living in my car because I kept getting parking tickets. My third internship was in Nashville. It was one of my favorite cities that I ever lived it. I didn't know where I was going to live but I knew I didn't want to live in my car again. I ended up staying at a hostel. I was looking for a place to live and I ended up falling in love with the hostel. It was the best communal living experience. I worked at Earl Swensson Associates. They do a lot of healthcare and it is awesome place to work if you want to do healthcare. It’s not my bag but I wanted to live in Nashville so I living in Nashville.
Then I graduated. I ended up finding a job in construction in Cincinnati. I was working as a carpenter apprentice. I was figuring it out as I went and it was probably the most useful experience I have ever had. It was the most useful resume add-on. Whenever I get an early call back from a firm, it is usually in response to that experience. It was a really cold winter and the contractor was figuring it out as he went too. For example, we put up exterior sheathing when it was a 7 degrees outside.
Then when my wife graduated [she wasn't my wife at the time] we move to L.A. I found a job in West Hollywood at a one-man firm. Because there was just the two of us, I was involved with every stage. I was there for two years and I developed close relationships with the clients. I loved every stitch of it with the exception that there wasn't as much visualization or experimentation involved.
Then I decided to come back to grad school. I worked at KVA. It has really set me off in a direction that I am headed now, as a designer.
What is that direction?
Manufacturing and prototyping. Experimentation based smaller scale architecture. Understanding materiality intricately and how it informs place. All with a heavy hand in a phenomenological understanding of how we inhabit and how we occupy things.
What did you work on?
They have their projects that they are doing to keep afloat and then they have their passion projects. They have a healthy heaping of both. They balance it really well. They have 12 or 13 young people that work in the office - all really stupid smart. They have a prototyping lab in their office which includes a CNC machine, a laser cutter, a 3D printer.
Does this serve the role of the materials library?
They do have catalogues, physical and digital. However, most of their material exploration comes from experimenting and prototyping. They have a workshop where they are testing ideas, forms, connections: detail oriented things as well as larger scale studies like facade treatments and brick layouts.
The last project that I was working was a pet project that incorporated my interests. It was really cool because I never had a firm set up something for me. It was Shelia's idea. She has on office and had just been grated tenure at MIT so she wanted to spruce up her office. She wanted to build a desk and the desk had to use a modular detail. The desk would be like a ribbon flowing along the wall with this joint occurring at the corners where this ribbon would transition. She set me off to figure out a friction fit joint detail for this desk.
What do you mean by friction fit joint?
It might need to be glued or pegged or nailed but not in a conventional construction way. If it could be disassembled without using a hammer that would be ideal.
I spent the last two or there weeks figuring that out. I finally got to use the CNC machine which is partly why she set that project up. I was like, "I have been here for 4 months and you have this CNC machine and I have never used one. I would love to use it." I did a lot of research on Japanese joinery and friction fit and came up with a design concept that we surfaced on. I would imagine they kept the project going or gave it to the new intern, but I don't know. It wouldn't be something they would ever put on their website.
How often do they get to incorporate their research into their applied work?
It is mostly competition oriented projects that get to do both. I would even say that the competition work is a little more on the experimentation, research side. The most prominent one that I worked on was a greenhouse design that used ETFE (the ballon-y translucent exterior material). The greenhouse itself made a nike swoop formal move. It started at this small promenade and then came down and came back up to this larger opening. At the end it is almost this snake extrusion of the three shapes. The shapes were houses - like a kids drawing of a house with a pitched roof and a box underneath. It housed three different environments for plant material; tropical all the way to a temperate climate. It had a tunnel connecting to this one tree that had cultural significance to the works as well.
Did you feel prepared for co-op?
I was prepared, but I didn't feel like I was before I went. The only reason I was prepared was because I didn't have to touch grasshopper while I was there.
Did they expect you to know grasshopper?
They mentioned that it would be helpful to know grasshopper. Shelia also mentioned a few programs that were specific to programing as well.
I think part of my appeal and cog for the firm at first was model maker. I had craft experience and model making experience. I spent the first month and a half down in the wood shop hardly seeing anyone. I made this this model of a garage they were doing, which ended up being a really fulfilling project even thought it was a garage. I worked on the facade system and built a 1/8" or 1/16" scale model. The garage was about a 15 inch square and 5 inches tall and the facade system that wrapped this was perforated metal that had been bent into 90 degree cut in and out. Our idea was to increase and/or decrease the aperture depend on sunlight and views. My capacity was to take their design and convert it to something model-able suing the laser cutter. I would take their perforations and covert them to different scales that could cut. This facade was incredible intricate and fragile white paper that had to be folded and assembled on the wall of this model. I had to do it with each iteration.
Did she hire you for your model making skills?
Shelia isn't someone who has only the short goal in mind. I think the biggest reason she called me was my construction experience and my hands on craft building experience. Once we talked she could tell that we gelled and that I had ideas and experimentally spirt that worked with the firm. She might have had this project in mind though.
In what what have you grown? What do you know now that you didn't know before?
This was the first experience where a couple things had aligned. The work was fulfilling and applicable to a mentality that I have been exhibiting lately. Where as in the past, the work might have lined up with that, but I was too young to see that. I think I developed a more acute eye for detail, understanding how the detail gets implemented into the design and how the detail can be a driver for the design. I am starting to sound like terry Boiling here but....
It was an explosion of figuring out how the small scale fits into the frame of the big scale. Before KVA design was about an entire, all encompassing thinking about the whole. At KVA, it was about using context of the detail to inform the design. It a first for me.
What was challenging about working at KVA?
It wasn't an easy job. What put me out of my comfort zone was the culture of how work was done. But it ended up being the thing I love the most about the firm. It was very much like a studio. You had project managers and then project leaders just under them. Shelia and Frano were at the top and then there were two managers under them who were closer to us than they were to Shelia and Frano. Maybe I am reading to far into that, it is not an insult to them but it was a benefit to the entire studio. And we were in direct communication with Shelia and Frano everyday, in fact I sat across from Shelia. Shelia and Frano where the faces and they communicated with clients. The project managers were in charge of getting the project done so they communicated with consultants and contractors. Then the team leaders led the work internally and were the liaison between the team and the project manager. But the hats shifted and everyone was trusted with responsibility. I was even trusted with the responsibility with a small project. The pressure was on to perform and be good at what you were doing. It wasn't like you show up and put something together and we look at it and then applaud when you leave. It was like you need to be good and do your work fast and well.
You learn a language that was appropriate from your critiques. You would sit down with Shelia or Frano or both once every week or two and print something out. They would sit there and tear it apart. They were not friendly about it at all. If they liked something, they liked it, if they didn't then they didn't. That was just where it went. I developed a vocabulary that was more appropriate to describing my work. The pressure to perform and the responsibility were intimidating, but ended up being the best thing about working at KVA.
If you're interested in telling your own co-op story, fill out this form and Re:SAID will contact you!