Susan Truesale

 

People looked at me strangely when I told them that as an interior design student, I was going to take an internship as a field engineer in commercial construction. It wasn’t glamorous or even hands on design. In fact, it was dirty, noisy and long hours on my feet. But I thought I would make some money (really important for any full-time student) and hopefully make some contacts with the architects and designers.
What I got was a great opportunity to work on the Trip Advisor World Headquarters and an invaluable education in organizational culture, process, expectations and what really happens when design meets construction.

Multi-purpose space                                                                    Dining Area                                                                                   Forum Meeting Area

Multipurpose SpaceForum Meeting SpaceDining Area

 

When I began my internship, the construction company had just sealed the exterior of the building and was ready to begin the interior work on the six story, 290,000 square foot, Trip Advisor world headquarters. The job timeline was very aggressive, with just under six months to complete all the remaining work before the move in date.
I spent the first few months adjusting to a dangerous work place and rough culture. My primary responsibilities were to read and mark up plans to track and report back on work status. In a short time though, I had proven myself and was building relationships with the contactors and working to ensure that work was completed on time.
When word got out that I was a 20 year Information Technology veteran, I found myself with even more responsibility. All of a sudden I was working with site management to roll out and implement an electronic punch list application and process to streamline procedures and manage a huge task in a short amount of time. It was great, I became the point of contact for the construction staff, architects, designers and contractors for everything punch list. It gave me great insight to the work in progress and challenges facing all of the participants on the job.

The construction and design processes were very dynamic, with RFIs and change bulletins issued daily and weekly. Despite the vast experience of both a highly respected and proficient construction company and a decidedly accomplished design firm, sometimes the job site was just simply controlled chaos. In short, anything could and did go wrong. I learned very quickly that the challenges on the Trip Advisor job are a normal part of the design and construction process. Necessary changes in construction of a space result in conflicts with the design specifications. Designers make changes during construction that can and will affect execution and timelines. Communication between the designers and the construction
company (and their subcontractors), accurately updated plans and drawings and an on-going negotiation of expectations are essential to the successful execution of beautiful design completed on time and on budget.

As aspiring interior designers, we all have the potential, at some point in our careers, to work with contractors and construction professionals. It is important to understand that the designer’s priorities are likely not perfectly aligned with those of the construction company and the subcontractors may have yet another set of priorities altogether. To prepare ourselves we need to develop and maintain good project management skills. They are essential. Additionally, we all need to not just deal with problems as they arise, but expect them. Stay cool, be professional and work together to find solutions. In the end, my internship was a great experience. I met designers and architects with whom I will keep in touch. I was able to contribute to a successful project and demonstrate a skill set that will only be enhanced by my design education. The Trip Advisor building is a beautifully executed, cutting-edge office space, and I am proud to have been a part of the process.