By Kate Silber ’20
I’m not sure I’ve ever introduced myself as a Growth and Structure of Cities major and Visual Studies minor at a liberal arts college without some kind of self-deprecating comment about how my studies are the epitome of interdisciplinary and therefore perfect for an indecisive person like me. But while I joke about my inability to choose a more clear-cut path, I think choosing Cities and Visual Studies has been one of the smartest decisions I’ve made. The business that interests me, that of spaces, places, and the people in them, is anything but clear-cut with all of the layers of experience, context, and stakeholders involved.
I’m interested in a career in architecture or something related to it. Even having that general direction has been a long time coming for me. That’s why I’m so excited to have the opportunity to be interning at MKThink as part of the Whitehead Internship Program this summer. MKThink is a small, San Francisco-based firm offering services in “Architecture, Strategic Consulting, and Applied Innovation to create intelligent places.” A small firm with such a focus on comprehensive solutions to problems related to the built environment has been a perfect place for me to interact with a team of interdisciplinary professionals in my field and get a taste of what their work is like.
MKThink’s office is located in an historic roundhouse (where trains used to turn around) across the street from the piers that line the San Francisco Bay. It’s an open space that invites collaboration; people are organized across the stylishly refurbished, arc-shaped space with architects on one side, planners/urban designers/landscape architects in the middle, and then researchers/strategy consultants, where I sit. Next to the researchers and strategists is the area belonging to RoundhouseOne, a “Spatial Auditing firm providing data services for the built space.” RoundhouseOne started out as part of MKThink and has since evolved into its own company that still works very closely with MKThink on projects where real-time sensor data on occupancy, thermal comfort, and more can be used to back planning decisions. Also in the office is a lab for prototyping and 3D printing, stocked with the ultimate collection of windows, walls, tables, and other surfaces made to be written on for all the brainstorming that goes on.
Haverford alumni lead the efforts of both MKThink and Roundhouse One: Mark Miller ‘84 and Chris Anderson ‘01, respectively. Mark studied Growth and Structure of Cities when he was at Haverford and even took the same architecture studio course I took this past year. The small office culture I’ve experienced here has been friendly and collaborative, so I’ve felt right at home coming from the similar environment at Haverford. A small team, as opposed to a large corporation, also means each person has to be more flexible and gets to take on a wider range of tasks; I am interested in how the steps in the planning process fit together and in having a general scope to fit my wide range of interests, so I’ve been enjoying that aspect of interning here. For many projects, being small with a unique, forward-thinking approach can be an asset, which has helped MKThink attract high-profile clients like Stanford University, Fannie Mae, WeWork, the Hawaii Department of Education, the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, and the San Francisco Zoo. The comprehensive and innovative approach to problem solving constantly in action here also makes me feel right at home as a Cities major; I have experience with considering the history, politics, anthropology, physical organization, aesthetics, etc. of spaces all at once from my coursework.
There’s a broad range of projects in progress now, and I’ve had a chance to help in a variety of ways. Research forms the important backbone of any planning project, so I’ve gained lots of experience finding, digesting, and presenting information on topics such as behavior-changing energy usage dashboards in educational settings, emergency operations plans for multi-facility institutions, the future evolution of human-animal bonds in social media and disaster response contexts, workplace efficiency solutions… even orangutan habitats in zoos! I’ve helped put together system diagrams, envision future scenarios, write user interface design guidelines, compile presentations for client workshops, draw icons for deliverable documents, and recommend furniture options. A site visit to a client’s building and a walk around its surrounding neighborhood gave me a good opportunity to practice my observation skills. I watched a meeting with engineers in which everyone gathered around the same drawings to discuss balancing structural and aesthetic concerns, and I participated in calls with a client about the progression of a project on which I worked.
Most importantly, I have been receiving lots of helpful mentorship. Part of my internship has been an independent research project of my choice. I have received tons of feedback throughout the process of developing an idea for a pop-up public art installation that raises awareness about sea level rise (an extremely relevant concern in the not-too-far-off future for the San Francisco coastline). The opportunity to talk to people who started their first job out of college at MKThink just a year ago as well as people with experience shifting their career path has helped me continue thinking about what I want to learn and do next.
In the background of this awesome internship is the experience of living somewhere other than home and Haverford for the first time in my life! It’s my first time living in a city too, and I love how walkable it is here (and hilly–I’m not used to that back home in Illinois)! I’ve valued input from people at MKThink on design-related events to attend and cool neighborhoods, natural areas, museums, and restaurants to check out. It’s been good practice for my next urban adventure: going abroad to Madrid in the fall!