Harvard Graduate School of Design Student Sihan Zhao Reflects on Her Summer Internship at Finegold Alexander

Sihan Zhao concludes her internship at the firm and shares her experience as well as several projects she worked on throughout the summer.

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August 22, 2023
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Sihan Zhao joined Finegold Alexander for the summer and made a significant impact during her time at the firm. She is a student at Harvard Graduate School of Design and is returning to her second year this fall. Sihan reflects on her time here at the firm and shared some of the key moments from the summer.

Q: What originally drew you to architecture?

I have been doing art and design since a very young age. And since my mother owns a construction business, I learned about residential building and making plans and sections for fun as a kid. As a grow up, the more I learned about architecture, the more I liked it.

Q: How did this internship affect your perception of the architecture industry as a whole?

Interning at Finegold Alexander Architects is wonderful because I was exposed to multiple types of projects at various stages. One of the most touching moments during this internship was when we went to interview judges, building managers, and security members for the Framingham Regional Judicial Courthouse Project preliminary research. We learned about some of their difficulties working in this profession with a high amount of pressure and tried to do our best to alleviate this pressure using architectural design. This experience reassures my belief that architecture should always be designed from the user’s standpoint and become an instrument that provides better goods for society.

Q: What are three key things you learned during your time at Finegold Alexander?

One of the great things about interning at Finegold Alexander is that the firm has people in charge of different specialties, such as the sustainability team and graphic team, and therefore people know who to reach out to when they need help on certain area that they are not familiar with. My coordinator, Josephine Penta helped me to set up multiple crash courses with one of the specialists from different teams, and I got to learn about subjects such as ARE/AXP, building codes, sustainable architecture, etc. It is very helpful to get all these insights from the professionals, and I really appreciate how everyone at Finegold Alexander is passionate about architecture and generous to share their knowledge with others.

Q: What was your favorite memory from your internship?

My favorite memory at Finegold Alexander is going on-site visits. I have visited multiple project construction sites, attended OAC meetings, and have been given detailed tours about the design and construction of each project. I was even able to participate in a construction punch process, which helps me to understand how architects oversee and ensure the quality of construction.

Q: Did you work on any special projects during your internship? If so, can you tell me more about them?

I have been working on two project proposals (Hopkinton Elementary School Proposal and Lexington High School Proposal) for competition and one render postproduction for Gladstone Elementary School.

The Hopkinton Elementary School proposal requires a new addition located at the existing playground area surrounded by wetlands. The role I am taking for this project is to develop an initial study for different design options and produce graphics and diagrams for the final proposal.

The Lexington High School is surrounded by wetland and protected landscape, and we collaborated with William Rawn Associates to develop two design schemes, one focusing on renovating the current building and building new addition, and the other one proposing a new building with a concept of “immersing in the forest and wetland.” The role I am taking for this project is to develop renderings and graphics for the two designs.

Gladstone Elementary School uses treehouse imagery. The ground floor, which is partially underground, represents the part that is underneath the tree. The second floor and third floor represent the canopy and the leaf of the tree. The third floor represents the sky. The primary job I am taking for this project is to produce renderings for 11 different views that best showcase the interior of this school. By adding texture, colors, and entourage, these renderings come to life and bring to client a closer vision of what the project will become.

Sketch of Gladstone treehouse scheme

Q: Who was your biggest role model at the firm?

This question is difficult to answer this question because everyone in Finegold Alexander is so talented and gave me help and direction so many times throughout my internship.

Q: If you could describe Finegold Alexander in three words, what would they be?

Communicative, innovative, amiable.

Thank you, Sihan, for your impact on the firm and all of the hard work you contributed this summer. We wish you the best of luck in your next year at Harvard Graduate School of Design!