Each academic quarter, Robertson/Sherwood/Architects (my firm) provides one student from the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture & Environment with an opportunity for a practicum experience. During a practicum, the student’s primary task is to learn from watching our staff. While the student does participate in the work in a limited way under our supervision, the practicum is first and foremost an observational learning experience. Concurrent with the practicum experience, the student enrolls in the practicum course, which outlines goals and expectations and confers academic credit. Our participation in this program stretches back decades, an almost unbroken string of students passing through our office since then.(1)
Fast forward to Spring 2020. The COVID-19 health crisis has profoundly impacted universities and colleges around the globe. Most are attempting to provide instruction remotely to comply with physical distancing orders. The University of Oregon is no exception.
Otto Poticha, FAIA, has helmed the School of Architecture & Environment’s ARCH 409/609 practicum class for many years, but offering it this spring posed an entirely unique challenge for him. Like his fellow faculty members, Otto has reinvented the course, by necessity turning to video teleconferencing as the means to provide students live interactions with local practitioners. During this time of shelter-in-place and physical distancing, no practical alternative exists—especially since everyone among the participating firms is working from their homes.
As occurs with a conventional practicum experience, Otto’s goal for his students is for them to understand the scope and range of typical tasks a professional architectural practice routinely undertakes. Toward this objective, he arranged four virtual office visits via Zoom, one each with four Eugene-based firms: 1) GMA Architects; 2) Robertson/Sherwood/Architects; 3) PIVOT Architecture; and 4) TBG Architects + Planners. The visits are spread through the Spring quarter; RSA’s turn is this coming Thursday, April 30; as one of our firm's principals, I will serve as the host.
My task will be to present Robertson/Sherwood/Architects and the work we do. I’ll recount our firm’s history and our general approach to running our practice. I’ll describe the skill sets we look for when we need to add staff. I’ll touch upon how we secure new projects, and then the process of designing and developing appropriate solutions to a wide range of design problems. Additionally, I’ll discuss how we administer our internal fee/budget structure and also help manage our clients’ budgets.
Per Otto’s directions, my presentation will be limited to one hour, to be followed by a half-hour student question period. Otto asked his students to visit our website prior to the scheduled virtual visit and presentation. They are supposed to then prepare and submit prior to our Zoom session a set of three questions based on what they have learned about us; these will be the questions Otto will ask me to address during the visit. Afterwards, the students’ assignment is to prepare a report that summarizes their understanding of our firm and the methods we use in our everyday work
As out-of-the-ordinary as it may be, I am looking forward to hosting the “virus practicum” visit. My office has always regarded the practicum program as an important option for students who otherwise may have no exposure before they leave school to the genuine workings of an architectural practice. My own practicum experience in the Vancouver, B.C. office of Arthur Erickson Architects in 1978 was eye-opening and informative, one I am truly fortunate to have enjoyed.
Big props to Otto for maintaining the practicum program, albeit in abridged form, during this difficult time.
(1) In fact, one of RSA’s senior partners—Carl Sherwood, AIA—was a practicum student with our predecessor firm, Lutes/Sanetel/Architects. Don Lutes and Ron Sanetel were so smitten with Carl they offered him a permanent position upon his graduation. He has not left the firm since.