18 NOV 13 | elle’s adventures in architectureland

by Elle Withaar
Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning
class of 2015


Hi, my name is Elle Withaar and I’m 16 years old. I attend a high school in Denver, but for the past three weeks I’ve was up in Boulder hanging out with the cool folks at WORKSHOP8. That’s because I was given an opportunity to do a short “internship” in order to explore possible careers and gain real work experience. After some searching, I found out that WORKSHOP8 often mentors middle and high school students in the field of architecture and design so I contacted them. Brandy and the team warmly welcomed me into the studio and it was such a wonderful experience being there. (see W8’s blog post on its mentor program)


On my first day, Ulla and Joseph took me to an OAC meeting at an apartment complex in Boulder that W8 is doing with Element Properties and Narvaes Western. I learned that an OAC meeting involves the owner, architect, and contractor and is a way for all parties to check the progress of the work.



Joseph and Nathan invited me to join them at their weekly MP6 team meeting in which the owner (Denver Housing Authority), general contractor (Deneuve) and sub consultants (various engineers) get together and discuss the new multifamily housing structure called Mariposa Phase VI. This gave me insight into the technical aspects of the design process and the collaboration that happens between architects and engineers.


On the left is the smallest member of the WORKSHOP8 team—Kaku! He quickly stole my heart and welcomed me with soft ears and a wet nose.

“Lunch and Learns” were an enjoyable part of my experience. I got to eat a yummy sandwich while learning about 3form lighting, eco-resin and art glass. On a different day, a rep from Sustainable Flooring came and we had fun sorting the flooring samples into “sustainable” and “non-sustainable”.


When it comes to interior design, there are a lot of samples and catalogs involved. Ulla needed help sorting the piles in the basement, so I spent some time working with her. While it was laborious, I received an inside look at all of the beautiful materials and fixtures that are available. Look how cool that sample is on the far left!


For my final project, jv taught me how to draw on tracing paper and play with different housing ideas and floor plans. I decided that I wanted to design a house based on shipping containers, which is a concept I liked because containers are very affordable and can be repurposed.


I transformed my drawings into 3D models in SketchUp with the help of jv and Emily. Architects use both drawings and computer aided design to design their buildings. Although I’d never used the program before, I picked it up fast and it was so fun. I plan on designing many more houses on this program in the future!

I also did an ArchiCAD training class with Nathan and some students from CU Boulder and Brandy showed me some of the management tools she uses and taught me how to prepare the images in this blog post using Photoshop. Don Saal from AEC-Architectural Energy Corporation came in one day and taught me about alternative energy like geo-thermal and PV systems. And I got to sit in on a critique of Graham’s student project too.

Before this internship , I didn’t know what a day in the life of an architect really looked like or how an idea is transformed into reality.  Now, thanks to WORKSHOP8, I have more insight into the field of architecture. I’ll never forget you guys and the things I learned here!

Thanks so much,