• Katherine Jones

A co-op is essentially a series of paid work terms where you have the opportunity to apply skills you have learned in your studies to a working office. Students often alternate between periods of study and periods of work terms, but the structure of your co-op varies from university to university. At the university I currently attend, I chose to defer my final year of undergraduate studies to pursue a 4 term (15 month) long co-op; bumping the time it would take me to complete my degree from 4 years to 5. Was it worth it? YES and here is why:

You will have a developed portfolio and resume right out the gate. Even before going to any real interviews with architecture firms, your co-op program advisors will help you develop your portfolio, resume, and interview skills. Don’t get me wrong, you will still have to do the majority of the legwork, like applying for job positions and going in for interviews, but the guidance really helps. For example, my program offered portfolio reviews and mock interviews to our year of co-op students prior to us going in for real interviews.

You will make valuable connections with people in the industry. This will be super important when you graduate because during your work terms you will come into contact with people that could hire you or help you get hired once you graduate. For example, the previous firm I worked for offered to critique my portfolio before I applied and attended an interview for the co-op placement at Jason Fung Architect. This helped me improve my portfolio significantly and I was also able to add some of the work I did at that office to my portfolio as professional work experience (this looks great to future employers).

A co-op placement is going to give you an idea of what it is like to work in your field of study, before you even graduate. The firm(s) you work for are going to rely on you to do billable work for clients. At Jason Fung Architect, some of these tasks are: performing a site measure, 3D modelling, drafting building plans/ elevations, submitting projects to competitions, running social media, meeting with clients, and consulting with structural or mechanical engineers. These are all tasks that you will most likely be doing in any other office once you graduate, so having this experience prior to getting your first job in invaluable. Take in as much as you can!

You will know where you want to work once you graduate. All firms are different and you will get a taste of this during your co-op terms because it is encouraged you work at multiple offices. The size and culture/ work life balance of an architectural practice is what makes it unique. Some may be 7 person startups that focus on residential construction where the boss works directly across from you, checks your work, and holds weekly morning meetings with the team. Other offices may focus on industrial design and be a 120 person firm where you report only to senior staff and come in at 9am, leave at 5pm. By having this experience, you will complete your co-op with a better understanding of what type of work environment makes you most excited about architecture!

Every building and renovation starts with an idea. All around us, from that Victorian home you may pass on an evening stroll in your neighbourhood, to the futuristic condo building you pass on your morning commute, there is architecture that inspires the question: But why…?

Why did they chose that material? How did they decide on that shape? Or even, why is there only 2 bathroom stalls (usually while impatiently waiting for one to become available)? Essentially, how the design choices were informed. In fact, exercises such as this can help identify elements that you enjoy, so if you don’t already, try to look out for elements you like or dislike and take note!

If you are thinking about starting your own construction project you may be curious about how you get from your initial concept to a well-designed piece of architecture. While many architectural projects can be inspiring, and at times mystifying, it can be overwhelming to start a project of your own.

You can access the overview of our Design Phases in an upcoming post! In this article we are focusing on the stages of our design process in more detail.

How does the design process work?

The design process for any field is an approach for breaking down a project into steps, and its pursuit is to arrive at a holistic and refined project completion. The fascinating thing about the design process is how each person may develop their own way of working through it. That being said, there are typically 3 main stages 1 Pre-Design, 2 Schematic Design, and 3 Design Development.

As we work through the stages there are also 3 elements we pay special attention to throughout the process: form, function, and construction.

But first, function?

Form and function are extremely important elements when designing a home or any other structure, and the construction elements, which includes method, technology, and economic considerations, play a crucial role as well. Each have a piece to play in the design process, but depending on the project, some elements may have more importance than others.

These 3 elements are ever present throughout the design process, and each is given appropriate consideration. It is our goal to provide a holistic approach, and our process is calibrated to align with your goals. Reflecting on which element(s) are important to your project can be beneficial to the process!

Fun fact: in the late-19th century and early-20th century, there was a belief that a building’s function or purpose should be the starting point for its design, rather than its form or aesthetic. The principle ‘form follows function’ is generally associated with modernist architects, although it is not exclusively a modern conception.

Guaranty Building, Buffalo, Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan, 2007-2013

New York, 1894 Zaha Hadid (Form)

Louis Sullivan (Function)

Stage 1: Pre-Design

Pre-design is the first stage as it usually occurs in the first few conversations and meetings. Overall, this stage is primarily the gathering of information. We discuss the goals, needs, and requirements concerning your project, and although this information is compiled at the start, it will act as a program we can refer back to throughout the project (and can be revised at any time).

Within this stage we may also inquire about additional information you may be able to provide, including precedent or inspiration images, and any existing documents or plans such as a property survey.

A site measure is conducted in this stage to create a set of as-built drawings, and this will provide us with a base for the next stages. At this point you can expect to see as-built drawings in progress, and perhaps some sketches that convey initial concepts such as layout or basic form.

For example: A client would like to renovate the main floor of their home to move their dinning space beside a new kitchen, they would also like a large arch to be placed within the space, but are not sure where.

A common question we get asked: “what do you need from me (the homeowner) at this stage?”

Just your thoughts and ideas, and if you like, you can start to save some images of anything that inspires you, or that you would like to incorporate into the design!

Stage 2: Schematic Design

In this stage we really start to dig into the project. The concept is developed, and time is spent analyzing the relationships among spaces, and exploring the form and function graphically. Depending on the project, we may sketch, use 3D modelling software to study mass, and/or create several iterations of floor plans to investigate one or many ideas.

Example floor plan iterations

Example preliminary 3D visuals (model + layouts)

Based on our findings and with the guidance of our program requirements (discussed above), we will present a preliminary schematic design package.

For this package we select the best option(s) and present them to you as a first pass. We bring our concepts to the table, highlight opportunities not previously discussed, and use it as a platform to discuss your thoughts and/or re-visit the project requirements. It is possible that we have several schematic design meetings until a strategy is chosen to move forward with, although, it is typically confirmed within a few meetings.

At this time material options will begin to be discussed and the budget is confirmed.

Stage 3: Design Development

At this stage we are developing the confirmed design strategy! The graphics evolve and the drawings are refined as we work towards a fully coordinated and resolved design package.

Within this design package, material choices are decided, and specifications are reviewed. We may obtain information and coordinate with other consultants such as structural or mechanical engineers throughout this stage as well.

While we are conscious of all three design elements throughout the process, construction and function are a focus in this stage. Revisions made at this time are often more minor in nature and they generally do not greatly impact the overall confirmed design, but rather aid the construction requirements and techniques. We want your project to not only look good, but perform well and be efficient too!

Depending on the project, you can expect to see drawings with more detail and information graphically, more developed 3D renders depicting texture and material finishes, and/or a ‘fixtures, finishes & equipment’ schedule to organize project information (if applicable).

Example 3D render development

We would meet to discuss all of these elements along the way and make sure that each choice made is suitable for your needs and goals.

Remember: Have some fun! Material selection is a big component of this stage and can greatly impact the look of a design, what material or finishes do you love?


Thanks for reading through our brief overview of the design stages! I hope this has shed some light on how we get from an initial concept to a resolved design.

Of course by no means is the project complete, but from this point it’s some paperwork and hammers (if only it were that easy).

So be on the lookout for our next post about What to Expect from the City.

At first thought, it’s easy to say that my transition from academia to industry was challenging. There were moments when I thought “I don’t think this can’t get any more difficult,” and as the reader, you’re most likely thinking, “Yes, it probably got more difficult…how predictable.” And you know what? Yes, you are indeed correct. It is predictable, but nonetheless, a reality. In fact, looking back, it’s quite humbling to see how incredibly wrong I was going into my first job in the field, post-graduate degree.

To give you a little background on my educational experience, it’s pretty straightforward. Graduated high school, straight into four years of university, and then another two years of graduate school (for that sweet master’s degree and street creds). Throughout those six years of university, I never once successfully managed to land a job at an architectural firm. To say the co-op program at my university was actually helpful would be a blatant lie. And after paying all the fees to be enrolled in the program without any success, I was coming toward the end of my third year of undergrad faced with the decision of having to take the next year off of school to complete all of the co-op work terms or drop the program. Out of fear of not being able to find a job in that year off, I decided to not take the risk and dropped out of co-op.

Fast-forward to my fourth year, and yet again I’m faced with the contemplation of pursuing a master’s degree or finding work at an architectural firm after graduation. At this point, most of my peers had already worked a few summer jobs in the field and I had yet to land my first one. I couldn’t understand why I was having no luck with finding professional experience, let alone even getting an interview to begin with. Let me tell you, that I had not a single employer reply to any of my applications after several years of attempt. I went to professors, friends, and peers, asking to put in a word for me, attended networking events, even tried my luck at cold-calling some firms.

In retrospect, I think that I found comfort in the “academic bubble.” It’s a space I knew I could do well in, push the limits of my critical thinking with little to no boundaries - and frankly, building technology was never what interested me the most about architecture. I knew that once I entered the industry, it would be rare to find a place where I could do the kind of explorative work I was doing in school. Not to mention that whatever you propose in the “real world,” has to actually be feasible.

I think it’s safe to say that I was dealing with some major feelings of inadequacy during this time. So naturally, I chose to go for a master’s degree at the same university as my undergrad. Once again, out of comfort. Perhaps it would’ve been more beneficial to have a varied educational background, but I suppose I approached it from a strategic standpoint. I knew I could get this degree in the shortest amount of time and seeing as I had already established relationships with various professors for the past four years, it seemed like it would be my best bet at a smooth two years of masters. Which it was definitely was. I can’t say much else other than I greatly enjoyed my graduate experience.

The problem with my approach was that I let my imposter’s syndrome get the better of me. Because when graduation rolled around this second time and it finally came down to applying my education to practice, the adjustment was a very steep one. I was lucky (and extremely grateful) that Jason was willing to give me a chance, knowing I had no prior professional experience.

What your professors don’t tell you is how little your paper on the “phenomenology of space” or your absurd studio concepts will come in handy when you find yourself talking to a client about the most specific and mundane things, like their HVAC system in their home. Making the transition to the industry and finding my footing was one of the biggest learning curves I’ve ever had to endure (so far). Everything that I had learned throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies didn’t quite prepare me for many things I was confronted with in practice. But here are just a few of the things that really stood out to me:

1. The adjustment pace

2. Budgets (ha, money doesn’t exist in your fictional studio project)

3. Specificity!

These are just a few of the hurdles that I was met with during my first 8 months at JFA. Because I was so accustomed to an academic structure – you know, which is usually the “ideal” situation with the “perfect” clients and extended amounts of time to complete these projects – I never learned how to design or solve problems that were outside of the professor’s syllabus. What I’ve grasped throughout this transitional period was to be patient, to listen, and to be comfortable with making mistakes. It’s in my nature to overachieve and to excel. Initially, I would try to get everything right on the first try – this went on for several months. And when I saw that I wasn’t performing well, that was a difficult pill to swallow. I’ve come to find that things just don’t sink in quite as much as when you mess up. So I decided to really give into Jason’s advice and let myself make as many mistakes. Once I started caring less about fumbling, that’s when I unconsciously committed myself to grow, and things finally started to click.

Now that adjustment pace… I was always under the impression that academia was already fast-paced. Assignments are due on the date they are due and compounded with all the hours dedicated to the lectures themselves; there was never enough time (it seemed). But everything is so much faster in practice. There’s no time to make that perfect drawing anymore. Everything is due, now. With new jobs and projects coming our way, that unsettles the schedule you thought you had for the week. So yes, I had to learn how to adapt and think on my feet very quickly. Learn fast and act fast. Regardless of the adjustment, one thing I was most worried about was the work itself – if it would excite me as much as the conceptual work I did in school. And to my surprise, that was far from the truth. When working at a smaller firm, it affords you the privilege of being able to exercise your creativity a little more, because unlike a lot of corporate firms, here you can actually do some design work!

Although I’m nearing onto my 1 year at JFA, I know there’s still a lot of more growth to be made as a young intern architect. This first experience in the industry has allowed me to gain an insightful perspective on professional practice and appreciative one at that. If I could go back and take that year off to get that experience, sure maybe it would’ve made things slightly easier coming into the workforce. But I do know it’s possible to transition into the industry with no prior experience and that they are employers that are willing to take a chance on fresh graduates. I’m an example of it. It makes things much harder, but it’s not impossible.

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