Part Four: James Caruso — "Step outside your comfort zone"
April 26, 2022
Many architecture students dream of working at famous international architecture offices. This four-part series tells the stories of three students from the Azrieli School of Architecture & Urbanism who landed at high-profile firms and the insights and opportunities they gained from their experiences.
James Caruso in the BIG model shop in 2019. Image by Yerin Won
Where and when did you work?
Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), New York City
MOS, New York City
How did you get the job?
BIG: I sent what felt like a long shot of an application through the general online portal and was very surprised, yet excited, to receive a response from a human. The interview process was quite short, a single interview of only 15 minutes, during which I spoke about my portfolio, skills, process, and interests.
MOS: I cold emailed the general office email and was incredibly surprised to receive a response from principal Michael Meredith. The pandemic was still fresh at this point, so after a brief phone call, we were able to coordinate a remote internship opportunity.
What do you think helped you obtain the job?
BIG + MOS: Before the thought of applying for an internship at either office was on my mind, I would find myself deep diving into their work respectively to try and understand some sort of office “DNA.”
I would find my portfolio becoming more tailored to the offices I was interested in working at, as their work was typically the source of inspiration for my projects. I truly think what helped was representation and alignment on how each office represent their work — whether renderings or words.
What skills, attributes are they seeking?
BIG + MOS: I think the main attribute for both internships is time efficiency. It required a level of competency using software and not being too afraid to speak up when there are things you are unsure of.
What did you work on?
BIG: Models for various projects. A few projects are still unpublished and protected by non-disclosure agreements, but a few of the public things I was lucky enough to work on were:
Schematic design studies for 670 Mesquit, a mixed-use building in the Los Angeles arts district.
FORMGIVING Exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre
MOS: Similar to BIG, most projects are unpublished, but I was lucky enough to work on furniture and objects found in their most recent collaboration with Maniera in Brussels.
Was it a good, bad, or so-so experience, and why?
BIG + MOS: Both internship experiences were amazing. I was constantly inspired and amazed by my colleagues. It is incredible how steep a learning curve can be when you are surrounded by brilliant minds.
Work culture at respective offices typically entails long hours, which can invade your personal life and impact your health — physically (sleep), mentally (taking breaks), and emotionally (at times, intense environments).
Reflecting on my experiences, I would recommend stepping outside your comfort zone to be around incredible designers who push your thinking and skills to new levels you did not know you were capable of reaching.
What stands out for you?
The main thing that stood out to me during my time at BIG was how close you grow to your colleagues, especially the interns. It is such a diverse group of students, spanning from amazing North American schools to countries all over the world. There is so much to learn about so many different topics related to the work we were doing and life outside of it.
How do you think Carleton helped/prepared you?
I feel incredibly fortunate to have been surrounded by the peers that I had. It feels like I won the classmate lottery. I owe 99 percent of my achievements to them. They were there during the long days, nights, problem solving, troubleshooting, sharing inspiration, teaching, failing, and learning. I look back at my time at Carleton as possibly the best and most defining four years of my life.
What was the big takeaway from this work experience for you?
It showed me that practice really can be an extension of school in an abstract way. That any design task, even what is considered mundane, can become amazing opportunities. It isn’t even a matter of budget or client per se, but an open mindset.
James Caruso graduated from the Bachelor of Architectural Studies program in 2020. He is a candidate for the MArch I program at the Yale School of Architecture. Caruso is currently living in Vancouver, BC, where he practices at a range of scales spanning architecture, interior design, furniture, and objects.