an old brick building with a window on the side

Henson Intern Dispatch #4

By: Grace Cheng

Intern Dispatch August 12, 2021

Learning is a non-stop activity at Henson. Whether it be historic preservation or passive house retrofits, the Henson team is always puzzle-solving and piecing together every piece of information they can find to come up with the most appropriate recommendation. Historic buildings require architects to be creative when handling deteriorated materials, and each project offers valuable lessons which the office utilizes as a collective learning opportunity. We had a team meeting at Eric and Marc’s façade restoration project on the Upper East Side where we learned about the challenges they encountered and the solutions they arrived at. Opened probes and stripping of stucco uncovered a composite of brick, brownstone, and rusted cast iron making up a structural wall that could fail at any moment. As Eric explained the project’s evolution and the proposed design, the rest of the team asked questions and inspected the exposed wall.

I have been learning by observing, questioning, and doing. I learned about the elements inside a window jamb from studying a book on repairing old and historic windows. I discovered reasons for how a drawing set is put together by asking questions. Most importantly, I retained these lessons by making mistakes in drawings and correcting them. Through rounds of drafting, I understand better how a building is put together. At Henson, learning is also very independent and free. When given drawings to work on, I am not handheld every step of the way. Instead, I work through things on my own first and ask for clarification when needed.

Learning continues outside the office as well. Scott assigned me to visit the Tenement Museum as my internship wraps up, and what a fun trip that was. The neighborhood holds generations of immigrant stories, and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum tells the tales of ordinary families who lived in tenements on Orchard Street. The Hard Times: 1880s tour transported me to a time when the Lower East Side was primarily occupied by German immigrants. Standing in the recreated 300-square feet apartment on the second floor that is accessible only via a dark hallway and wooden stairs, I imagined the single mother, Natalie Gumpertz, working on the sewing machine in the parlor, cooking on the coal stove in the kitchen, sleeping in the bedroom which shares a thin wooden fire door with her neighbors, and juggling chores and childcare in the meantime. These recreated apartments show how far building codes have evolved. Now, ventilation, daylight, heating and cooling, and water are basic amenities that were unimaginable in the 1880s.

While I have gained many hard skills during my time here, the most valuable lesson I take away is my expanded perspective on the practice of architecture. Before, I had a myopic vision infatuated with new construction. Now, after sampling a range of projects in historic preservation, adaptive reuse, and sustainable development, I envision a career with more possibilities. I am so grateful for this experience, and I cannot wait to carry the lessons I have learned at Henson with me to my next chapter.

Till next time!


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