After years of building foundational knowledge and experience here at Northeastern, Architecture alumna Felicia Deonarine catalyzed her future path in sustainable development through her co-op at The Aedes Metropolitan Laboratory in Berlin. We spoke with Felicia about her international experiences, and what the future holds for her, below.
In your position at Aedes, what were your responsibilities, and what did an “average” day at work look like for you?
My main responsibility at Aedes was the management of the Zumtobel Group Award, which is an international sustainability award for architecture and urban development. I had the opportunity to work with and be exposed to many of the projects that firms from around the world submitted, which was truly inspiring since sustainability is a great passion of mine. My main tasks were to organize and manage the documentation and to design information pamphlets and brochures for the jury. Aedes is an internationally known gallery for architecture and planning, so we would often hold large events that brought architects and designers from all over the globe, so I also helped in organizing and implementing those as well.
What would you say was the most rewarding part/experience of your time working at Aedes?
I don’t even know where to begin – there is so much to be said! I would have to say the relationships I built there and all the people I met. My coworkers were extremely friendly and welcoming and great to work with. I was more than happy to wake up and go to work every morning and it was better than I could have ever imagined. But I can not say enough how much I valued meeting architects and designers from all over the globe and learning from them! I think it is so important to learn from people from across borders, cultures, environments, backgrounds, and perspectives. It was also incredible to be working at a place where the greats such as Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid once exhibited their work! I am extremely grateful for the opportunity and I wish I could turn back time and relive the whole experience again.
What were some challenges, highlights, or other notable facets of living and working abroad?
I always knew I wanted to do my co-op in Europe because I am very much an adventurer by heart! Europe has always been my dream and it is my utmost goal to move to there one day. The biggest highlight for me was traveling and exploring everything and everywhere I possibly could. During the week I would explore places around Berlin, and every weekend I would travel to a different country! It was the most amazing experience to wake up sometimes and ask myself “wait, what city am I in again?” So far, aside from Germany, I’ve traveled to twelve countries and countless cities, and still with so many more to go! It is super cheap to travel within Europe so I wanted to take full advantage of it in the near seven months I was there. The only challenge was of course the language barrier while living in Germany, but majority of the people spoke English. It wasn’t until I went to Spain that I realized how much of a difference it can make when you speak the language of the country you are visiting. You can connect at a much deeper level with the people and the culture and it just gives you a whole different experience. I wish I had listened to my mom and taken a German class while I was there, but I am trying to teach myself now in hopes of returning. While having the language barrier was difficult in some respects, I think it was all part of the fun and experience. I miss Berlin more than I can express so the biggest challenge for me was leaving!
What are some of your interests and passions, and how have you been able to incorporate them into your academic and professional experiences?
While I do love architecture and design, the environment is even more important to me. Working and traveling abroad helped me figure out what I wanted to do in my career path and to rediscover my passion – sustainability. Throughout my college years, I knew I wanted to do something with architecture, I was just never sure what specific direction to go in and always felt a bit lost. It wasn’t until my experience abroad that it clicked. I loved working with the sustainability award and the projects I came across. They were all so innovative and fascinating and really pushed what it means to be sustainable. Additionally, my travels helped me realize how efficient and green Europe is, especially Germany, so it made me wonder of all the other possibilities for architecture and cities everywhere else. Just as a small example, all the lights in my apartment building in Berlin were motion sensored, so they are not on 24/7 for no reason wasting all that energy. The building I live in here in Boston, all the lights are on all day, when there is more than enough sunlight and at night, when no one is there. It frustrates me, to be honest.
Also, a little anecdote, I sometimes thought the escalators in Europe were not working because they weren’t moving. But it turns out that the escalators just don’t start moving until you walk onto them. Even in the older towns, it is obvious to see how innovative people were for the era and the resources that were available. After my experience abroad, my plan is to go to graduate school in Europe for sustainable development.
Beyond this co-op, are there any particularly notable experiences (extracurriulars, dialogues, classes, organizations, etc.) you had at Northeastern that you feel were instrumental in gaining experience?
Definitely! I did a Dialogue of Civilizations to Italy the summer of 2015 to Mantua. It was my first time to Europe, so it certainly was a huge milestone for me and it was all love at first sight. It was an amazing experience getting full Italian language immersion and learning about the culture first hand. And of course, the Italian art and architecture was breathtaking. Additionally, even though I discovered it a few months before graduating, I was a member of Northeastern’s Sustainable Building Organization. I was in an introductory class for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and another student there told me about it. We would meet weekly and sustainable architects and designers would come and present their projects. It was this class as well that solidified my decision to pursue green building as a career and I am very eager to begin!
Scenes from Berlin, Germany, taken by Felicia.