Design Life: An Interview with SVA Alumnus Ambar Margarida

April 17, 2013

Ambar Margarida (BFA 2009 Interior Design) came to New York in pursuit of a design education, but has found life after college to be more than she could have imagined. After traveling the world, and working multiple part time jobs, Margarida is now pursuing her dream at Spacesmith, LLP, a New York-based architecture and design firm. In her time there, Margarida has worked with corporate, hospitality, retail, and creative clients, helping them create harmony between the built and natural environments. Margarida recently took time to speak with SVA Up Close via email about her latest project in the Empire State Building and how her studies at SVA helped prepare her for her new role as Associate, Interior Design at Spacesmith.

How did your studies at SVA prepare you for the work you’re doing at Spacesmith?
At SVA, we worked in a studio environment, very much like the one at a professional firm. The faculty—who are also working design and architecture professionals—exposed us to the realities of the marketplace. This was instrumental in providing real-world knowledge, advice, and internship opportunities. I also learned how to work with my hands (model building, drawing, and drafting) as well as how to work with the latest digital technology used in today’s marketplace, including AutoCAD (drafting software), 3D Studio Max, Sketchup, Adobe Creative Suite, and more. I also learned about other practical matters like building systems, construction detailing, sustainable design practices, and how to present my ideas to others. These are all very valuable lessons that I use every day.

How have your responsibilities changed or grown since you’ve been with the firm?
When I graduated, there weren’t too many jobs in my field, so I decided to take a month to travel around China with some friends. When I returned to New York, I started contacting my colleagues, SVA alumni, and past employers. Eventually, I met with Jane Smith of Spacesmith—I had worked for her previously—and she mentioned that there were no design positions available at her company, but that I could help in the marketing and business develop department. At the time I didn’t know what marketing and business development really meant, but I decided I’d rather work with a firm that does what I love than work in an unrelated industry. I was offered a part time job at Spacesmith and also worked part time as a waitress.

At first, I was working closely with the partners writing proposals for new business projects; I also worked on the firm’s website and marketing materials. Soon after, I was offered a full time position and then had the opportunity to move into a design role for a new retail project the firm had just won. I was recently promoted to Associate, Interior Design. I am involved in various aspects of the firm and really enjoy the variety of my experience every day. I collaborate with my colleagues on some projects, and also manage other projects; I create new client relationships and maintain old ones while continuing to work on the firm’s marketing efforts. I’ve worked on projects ranging from retail design to nonprofits and financial firms, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Can you talk about your role in the Empire State Building project?
Spacesmith was hired to provide executive architect services for two floors (104,000 square feet) that house a leading footwear company’s corporate offices. We were to create a work environment that not only allowed the executives to work efficiently and comfortably, but that was also sustainably designed and constructed to contribute to employee and environmental wellbeing.

I was the project manager and the main contact for all project related matters. I took a lead role in developing our drawings, coordinating architectural and design elements, and working with all project consultants, including the mechanical and electrical engineers; fire safety and plumbing specialists; as well as lighting, audiovisual, security, and telecom experts. I also oversaw construction to ensure that the project stayed on schedule and progressed according to the agreed upon plan. We were able to do this, and we achieved the highest U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) certification of LEED Platinum. As a result, the company asked us to work on another project—an additional 200,000 square feet on three floors.

Do you have any advice for students/aspiring designers looking to work in the field?
I would recommend students have the experience of working at a design firm while in college. Internships provide hands on experience and help students understand the things they are being taught in the classroom in a real world setting. They also help students create contacts, which will be beneficial when looking for full time employment after graduating. I would also encourage participating in design competitions (IIDA & ASID Student Design Competition, Figment City of Dreams Pavilion on Governors Island, Donghia Design Competition, DIFFA, etc.). Competitions show initiative and design capabilities and are a great addition to a portfolio.

Some other suggestions are:

· Start a profile on Architizer with your student work

· Identify designers and architects whose work you like and admire. Find out more about them, how they come up with continuously fresh ideas and good designs, and how they get the work they get. Try and meet them!

· Visit architecture and design showrooms and develop relationships with vendors.

· Attend some of the many A+D industry events in NYC and network with fellow professionals.

· Always give it your best, develop conscious designs, and think sustainably. Remember, if all goes well, your design will be around for years, but if and when it is demolished you want it to have the smallest negative impact on the environment possible.

· Work smart and hard.

Images: Photos from the Empire State Building project by Paúl Rivera, archphoto.

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