Portrait of Brooke

Brooke is from Santa Cruz, California. During her sophomore year, she made the switch from Architectural Engineering to Environmental Design. In summer 2017, she interned with the architecture firm Fuse, and in summer one of her designs broke ground. In her spare time, she listens to podcasts, "because you can learn so much about a subject in 20 minutes."


Brooke's first day in RomeWhere are you from?
I’m from Santa Cruz in northern California. We’re closer to the San Francisco Bay area. Santa Cruz is really cool in the fact that it’s a small coastal community. It’s very similar to Boulder in size and demographics, and they have similar urban layouts. 

Why did you choose CU Boulder?
I didn’t actually know what I wanted to study until December of my senior year, when I finally figured out that architecture was what I wanted to go to school for. I applied to a lot of liberal arts schools and I applied to CU Boulder and Tulane University in Louisiana as my two schools for architecture. I got accepted into the Tulane architecture program, which is a five-year program, but it ended up being really expensive.

I was then accepted into the engineering program at CU Boulder and I decided that CU was the way to go, because I really liked math in high school. I was very good at it and passionate about it, so I thought, “you know what, I might as well try my hand at engineering.” It was a better fit for me coming from California.


How did you end up in Environmental Design?Brooke's first time in LA.
I started out with Architectural Engineering as my major. I did two full years in the engineering program before I started with ENVD as my minor. I had heard about it through one of my friends and thought it sounded great. I missed design and it was something I realized the engineering school didn’t offer. But, when I originally thought of architectural engineering I thought it was going to be half design and half engineering, because you’re doing architecture. That wasn’t the case. It’s all engineering.

I picked up the ENVD minor and it only took me one class to realize that I was in the wrong major, and that design was my passion. I could have continued in engineering if I wanted to, but it wasn’t for me.

As soon as I graduated high school, I knew wanted to be an architect. That was always my goal, even if I went to engineering school. I thought, “I’ll just join a firm right after school.” But, I realized that engineering wasn’t giving me the tools that I needed to go out and apply myself and be a good candidate for an architecture firm. But ENVD did have all that

Once I got here, I realized the ENVD crowd were just my people. I really fit in here, and I felt a sense of community that I’ve never felt in any other school or in any other class. It was very competitive in engineering and I just didn’t fit in. It was a great experience though, and I don’t regret it at all.

I’m able to relate back to my engineering side while working on the Lighting Design Certificate. I’d say that it’s been a great, sort of hybrid and an easy transition.

What year of study are you in?
Technically, I’m a senior, but in ENVD I’m a junior because I studied abroad in Rome. I’m specializing in design studies, even though my focus is architecture outside of school, and what I want to do in life.

What was it like to study abroad in Rome?     
It was when I was only an ENVD minor, so it was hectic. It was my second class in ENVD and was a 3000 level studio, which is a junior praxis. I didn’t know anyone other than a friend that I met from engineering. That said, it was still amazing. I learned so much in that studio just from watching and being around other people that are now seniors or have graduated.

It was incredible and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone… to really get out of their comfort zone, go to a new country, live there, be there. It was the hardest I’ve ever worked. We had class from 9 to 5 and it was such an enriching experience.

Taking a walk before dinner, while in Italy for an internshipHow long was the program?
It was a six week summer program and it didn’t detract from the rest of my schedule, so it was perfect. I got to travel throughout Germany a little bit before the program started, and we got to travel a few weekends during the program as well. We went to Venice one weekend and separately, I went with my friend from engineering to Florence for another. I try to go back to Europe or new places as often as I can. I find that I learn and become more inspired the more I travel.

What do you like most about your major?
That’s a hard question. I equally value the curriculum and the fact that they give you such a wide breadth of study, and encourage you to really think and understand the entire human-built environment. It’s not just about architecture and how space works inside of a building. I think it’s so important to understand the scale of architecture, the scope of landscape architecture and the context of urban planning. That’s just really cool and unique and it gives me an edge that no one else will have in the field. It gives me a wider understanding that opens my eyes to more.

The other half is the people. I feel like ENVD is such a tight-knit community. I can walk around upstairs and say hi to everyone. I think it’s also because I’m in a few different class levels, but at the same time it’s so supportive and cool that I can do that. Everyone truly cares and is there to help you, everyone is passionate about creating and innovating. You have such a unique relationship with faculty too. They don’t treat you necessarily like a student...like, “call me professor so-and-so.” They let us call them by their first name. That’s so unique and it feels a little bit like high school, where everyone kind of knows everyone and teachers know the names of their students.

What was it like to be a Teaching Assistant?
Being a TA was really great. I was able to sort of integrate myself and give back, and I’ve always loved helping out. Talking about architecture, inspiring kids and helping other people with technology or anything I can is extremely satisfying. There was this one time I gave an impromptu mini lecture about the importance of making models. Students clapped for me afterwards, and I thought it was so cool, because I heard two girls mention how excited they were to start their models. I actually inspired somebody. I couldn’t believe that my own passion and my own enthusiasm for a subject could inspire the same excitement in others. It was probably one of the coolest moments I’ve had to date.

How do you stay involved on campus?Sketching in Rome
I try to stay involved in as many clubs as I can, and the clubs I’m involved in tailor to what I’m passionate about. For example, I’m doing the Lighting Design Certificate, so naturally I joined the Illumination Engineering Society club (IES), and I try to go to as many meetings as I can.

I joined the Design Build Institute of America (DBIA) by hearing about it from friends. I’m also in American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS), because I’m really passionate about architecture. I also try to attend the ENVD 5:47 lectures when I can.

I guess I stay connected by sort of exploring what I like and then seeing what else is out there. School comes first and then clubs are second for me. Sometimes you may not feel like going to a meeting, but in the end I never regret going, and it’s really fun to be with a group of people who are passionate about the same things you are. The opportunities are really great, and not many people take advantage of them all. For example, I have a meeting for lighting design coming up, and they’re bringing in professionals to look at our resumes and portfolios; one-on-one, for an hour.

Being involved is something I’ve had to work on. I was bad at it when I first started school. I was not involved in anything my freshman year, and then in my sophomore year I started to come out of my shell and my junior year I became really involved. I found that it was helpful and great to be a part of something.

What is DBIA?
It is the Design Build Institute of America. It’s a design build deliverable. I got recruited into this because a friend in the engineering school asked me to be the architecture/Environmental Design liaison. I think people in my class are trying to integrate Environmental Design and the Engineering school more and more, so I was sort of a bridge of the two.

Basically, this club is about the design build process of construction and building projects. They do a competition every year where we respond to an RFQ, and in a team of five, we have ten days to respond, which is a full 60-page document, and you have to go through the whole system. We submitted mock-up resumes explaining why our team is the best fit for this project and create mock projects that we’ve worked on and describe it to them. In addition, we had to come up with a design concept, renderings and construction schedule, which required special software skills we had to learn.

I ended up being team captain of the competition this year, and I was able to recruit four other members, one from ENVD, and three from engineering. It was scary, but we learned a lot as a team and we got third place. It was really cool to collaborate with a team who all had very different skills. I had my hand in everything, which was really cool. I was able to help with the graphical layout, our company logo, making the resumes, and help with the design and Revit tasks. It made me realize that I would really like to have my own firm one day, and to just kind of help out and have my hand in everything, and not have to be responsible for one thing, and to be able to encourage people.

What do you like to do in your spare time, outside of class and work?
In my spare time, exercise is really important to me, so I go to yoga or barre. I try to go for a hike when I can, because I found that it brings a lot of clarity and calm into my life. I also love cooking! Cooking is so fun for me, and I love looking at new recipes and trying new things.

My number one thing to do outside of class is travel and I’m trying to get in as many new experiences as I can with as many new people as I can. I find that I feel most grounded and most inspired after I come back from a trip. When I go somewhere I’m sort of challenged in a way. For example, I just went to New York, and I got so much inspiration that I was so excited to come back here and have it inform my designs. Just being able to talk to people and how their lives interact with design, and society.

I also really like to listen to podcasts. They are second next to travel, because you can learn so much about a subject in 20 minutes. It’s just so cool.


Winter Break in AmsterdamWhat do you want to do when you graduate? 
When I graduate, I’m on track right now to work as an architectural intern for a few years or be a job captain at an architecture firm. I hope to work in lighting design for a little bit, or be able to incorporate lighting design into my work in some way. And, possibly grad school. Depending on what happens. I plan to get my architecture license, and that may or may not involve grad school.

It would be really cool to own my own firm one day and have it be made up of about 12 people. Probably in San Francisco or Santa Cruz would be awesome, next to the ocean, and I would love to do residential work. It’s my little dream.               

So, you’ve had an internship? What was that like?
I had an internship this past summer with Fuse, an architecture firm. At the time, I didn’t have any connections with them, even though they are in my hometown. I used to walk around town and I loved this one particular coffee shop. It was a beautiful space with its lighting design and use of unique materials. There was also this house I used to walk by when I walked my dog, which was right along the ocean. I would always walk by and say, “I’m going to live in this house one day.” I thought it was so beautiful.

One day, my dad sent me this link saying he had found my favorite architects. I had emailed them from their website with “Hi there, my name is Brooke Williams. I’m from Santa Cruz and I go to the University of Colorado Boulder where I study Environmental Design. Do you offer any summer internships?” They got back to me saying that they do offer internships and that I’d need to submit a resume. I was so excited.

I didn’t have a resume at the time, so I had 24 hours to create one and send it off. I had no previous work experience besides at a restaurant. They didn’t ask for a portfolio, which I thought was interesting. But, they called me in to interview while I was home for spring break. I was so nervous that I was shaking in the car. I wore my best architect outfit with my glasses, a button-up shirt and jeans, hoping I’d fit the part.

The office was so cool with a wall covered in hand-drawn renderings. I sat on the couch and they just asked me a few basic questions about design, why I like it and what my skill set was. They told me they wouldn’t get back to me for a few weeks, and when I didn’t hear back from them for 4 weeks I emailed them to follow-up. When I received their response offering me the internship, I was working in the studio around 7 at night. I had tears in my eyes I was so excited.

I started working for them full-time right after school let out. The contract they sent me with my duties included items like basic graphic design, material library organization and filling up water bottles. It seemed pretty basic, like entry-level duties. I thought it was perfect. At least I would be in an environment where I'd be around the things I want to do, because I truly had no idea what working in an architecture firm was like. So, I started out doing the basic duties and on my first day it happened to be a job captain’s last day. He had graduated from his college and was going to grad school at Columbia. So he left the Brooke visited friends in Germanysame day I arrived and his leaving created a void in the firm. He had projects he had been working on that no one could pick up and work on, because they had other projects and no time. So, they asked me to kind of step in his shoes.

A few days into  the internship, my boss at the time, turned around and asked me how well I knew autoCAD, and asked me to draw up some renderings for a client. I was so bad at autocad when I first started. It took me so long to draft up this particular project, but I ended up asking my co-workers for help and they taught me so much. By the end of the week I had a full set of drafts, labeled with everything done for the client to review. I was able to sit in the meeting with the clients, where I mostly listened and took notes for my boss, but they allowed me to participate in the conversation and the process. After that my boss began to give me more responsibilities.

About a month into the internship, there was this client who wanted to open her own cake shop. I was tasked with taking the as-builts (the existing building measurements). It was a really small and narrow space and created a big design challenge. Long story short, I was able to come up with the schematic design for her cake shop, and it’s being built now. I was able to show the finished design to my bosses on the last day of my internship and they loved it. I just felt like they were being nice at the time, but it was the real deal and they chose to move forward with my design.

I’m planning to work for them again this summer where I’ll be able to pick up the project where I left off, and see it through the entire construction process, from start to finish. It has been the most enlightening experience and has confirmed that I am in the right field. This is exactly what I’m passionate about and this is what I want to do the rest of my life. It was so exciting and gratifying for me to have this experience so early on.

What advice would you give to underclassmen and future students?
I would say go out and get as much work experience as you can, because it will help you understand where you want to be after school.

Take time to fully appreciate school for what it is. Working in the “real world” is very different from school, in that it’s geared towards budget and building code design and working with clients and contractors. School is almost the opposite, where you don’t really draw construction documents and you can think more theoretically. You really need to separate the two, which is something I really struggled with when I came back from the internship.

When you’re in school, enjoy school. Use all the resources you can. Use 3D printers, use your faculty, and use your peers. Take full advantage of school and learn in school, but also in your free time try to get in as much work experience as you can, because the more work experience you have the more you’ll know, and you’ll be able to shape your education more towards what you want to do with your life.