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During this current coop cycle, three of our undergraduate students are working together at Utile in Boston. We asked them about working at the firm and working with each other

Melanie Hashiguchi
Class of 2017
Honolulu, HI

Ben Garbow
Class of 2017
Ridgefield, CT

Davae Gibson
Class of 2019
Charlotte, NC

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Where are you working and what type of firm is it?

We are working at Utile, a multidisciplinary architecture and urban planning firm in Boston. Utile’s work encompasses a lot of different typologies, but the firm specializes in housing and master planning.

Where is the firm located and what is it like to be working in that location?

The office is in the Chinatown neighborhood of Boston, just outside the Financial District and down the street from the food truck oasis of Dewey Square.

Davae: This is an area that I wasn’t familiar with until coming to work at Utile. I really enjoy exploring the area and getting to see a different side of the city beyond Northeastern. Utile is located between South Station and Downtown Crossing so I get to explore the many shops and restaurants in the area.

Ben: It’s also three short stops on the Orange Line from my apartment, which is a plus.

How did your experience in the studio prepare for your co-op experience?

Ben: The Urbanism studio really prepared me for working in a firm that also tackles urban planning. Exposure to design work at the scale of neighborhoods, towns, and cities helped acquaint me more fully with the kind of work Utile does. We’re also working alongside some of our former (and maybe future) professors; I have met or studied under a few of my coworkers at Northeastern in the Architecture department.

Davae: Through studio, I became familiar with working with a variety of software packages. This has enabled me to work on various assignments that require that type of skill. Utile has a strong urban design focus and in our studios, we completed site analysis diagrams and had to consider our projects in relation to the sites in which they were to be built. I am able to bring that training to the projects I have been working on here at the firm.

Melanie: Utile employs a research-based process. Whether relating to architectural applications or in the broader scope of urban planning, this process is one that feels familiar to me. The Urbanism and Housing courses at Northeastern gave us a taste of this kind of methodology and it also shed light on the ways that a rigorous research-based approach can inform design.

 What has been your favorite project you have participated in on coop?

Melanie: Much of my time has been devoted to Imagine Boston 2030, an ongoing initiative for Boston’s first citywide master plan. The research that is conducted relies on community engagement across Boston’s neighborhoods to explore opportunities and challenges facing residents of Boston, from transportation, housing, and climate action, to arts, culture, and education. Utile’s role in this community-wide project has been to help establish a vision plan that responds to those issues and addresses priorities for the future of the city.

There’s such a wide variety of work for the project, with each piece going through multiple iterations – it keeps things new and interesting.

(You can learn more about it and contribute to the discussion here:

Ben: I’ve been primarily working on Union Point Town Center, a housing development in South Weymouth, MA that just began construction last month. We’ve essentially been given a blank slate, both metaphorically and physically. The site is a decommissioned naval airfield so there are literally acres and acres of open space in all directions. More importantly, though, the project is also the beginning of a new town center which will continue beyond the three buildings in the scope of our work. Our buildings will form the basis of an entirely new area of South Weymouth.

Davae: I was working on renderings for renovations for a major company in Cambridge. Personally, working in Photoshop is one of my favorite things to do, so whenever I get the opportunity to create renderings, I am thrilled. I only worked on it for a few days, but it was something different from the other projects that I have been doing. I also really like working on 242 Spencer Ave, a residential development project.

“Melanie, Ben, and Davae are fully integrated into our practice and are not treated any differently than our full-time staff. Like all of our younger designers, we work hard to make sure that our co-ops are exposed to a wide range of professional experiences, from doing front end conceptual design with the firm principals to working closely with experienced project architects on constructions documents. Giving co-ops a well-rounded experience helps them – and us – better understand their unique skills and talents. Investing in the professional development of our co-ops also increases the chance that they will come back to work for us when they graduate.”

Tim Love, Principal and Associate Professor

How do you think your coop experience will influence you back in the studio?

Davae: I think that co-op will allow me to think about architecture from a pragmatic perspective. In studio, we always had projects with different parameters and requirements, but co-op had made me realize how intensive and truly iterative designing a building actually is. My process for design has definitely been redefined because there are so many other aspects that go into a design that I didn’t consider in studio.

Ben: Utile is a very collaborative office. Our next studio back at NU is Comprehensive Design, which is an inherently collaborative studio semester. Working with so many different people here should help me get into the mindset of a cooperative design method as opposed to the solo approach of past studio courses. I think this experience will be crucial in the design-team environment of our final studio course.

Melanie: I agree. The open layout here at Utile promotes a sort of collaboration among designers in the office. It’s one thing to accept that there are always differing opinions and approaches to a project, but it’s another thing altogether to be able to discern what the priorities are for a specific project and how those priorities can guide the process.

Tell us about location of the firm. How is that influencing your design thinking or your approach to your work?

Ben: Utile recently moved into their new offices on Kingston Street in Chinatown. We have the entire first floor of a late-1800s retail building. It’s been completely renovated with an open office layout that encourages collaboration and conversation. Some industrial flair remains; a giant metal sliding door that divides the two sections of the office is painted bright yellow and the curtain wall along the Kingston Street facade is lined with text about the history of the architecture of the building. It’s an incredibly unique environment to work in.

Melanie: I’ve spent nearly 4 years studying here in Boston and was also able to spend part of my first co-op here, but this opportunity has been a new experience altogether. For one, it’s my first time in a real office environment (I worked from home for my first co-op) and a really cool one at that. We’re at a crossroad between the “hustle and bustle” of Downtown and a part of the city that is more culturally rooted. The juxtaposition of these aspects creates a dynamic work environment for us.

 What are the fun things you have been able to do?

Davae: There are many opportunities for me to attend meetings and go on site visits. It’s so fulfilling visiting projects that are being built and realizing that the projects that I get to be a part of will eventually be built. I’m still getting to know my co-workers and I’m really hoping to develop more relationships within the firm. Aside from co-op, I appreciate the amount of free time that I have I get the opportunity to be more active at my Church and on campus.

Melanie: Most summers I’ve spent at home, but this is one of the few times I’ve been able to experience Boston’s summer weather. And what a nice summer it’s been! With so many sunny days in Boston, there’s been many opportunities to go outside and actually enjoy it! We Utilians have been actively organizing a running club and even our own softball team.

Ben: I’ve had the distinct pleasure of playing on the softball team, which competes in the Boston Area Architect’s Softball League Division C (which, yes, is a very real thing) for a few games this summer. We play against other Boston area firms like Gensler, NBBJ, and Perkins + Will. Our season came to a somewhat unceremonious end in the first round of the playoffs, but we gave it a good fight. Also, we have three office dogs (Penny, Domino, and Rhubarb) and they are all adorable.

What it is like to work together?
Davae: It’s cool! We’re all friends. It has been awesome working and becoming friends with Melanie and Ben, especially because they are a couple years older than me so I can learn from them.

Ben: It’s interesting to compare the kinds of work we’re all doing. All three of us are on different projects, each in varying phases of completion, so it’s cool to compare our respective projects and hear about what everyone is doing.

Melanie: Exactly. What I like most about this dynamic is that we e­­ach bring something different to the table-whether it’s a different skillset or just a fresh perspective. In this way, we bounce ideas off of each other and can learn from one another.