The Gibbs Spotlight: Sonia Ramirez

GCA Communications intern Kali Curtis (K) spoke with Sonia Ramirez (R), an Environmental Design alumna here at Gibbs! We sat down with Ramirez to learn about how the use of technology and design methods have changed since she graduated. She graduated with her Bachelor of Environmental Design (2019) with a focus in Interior Design from the Gibbs College of Architecture. Read on for highlights or click the link below to access the full podcast.

K: Hello everyone, welcome to the Gibbs Spotlight. My name is Kali Curtis, and I’m a web development and professional writing intern at the Gibbs College of Architecture. Today we’re talking to Sonia Ramirez. Sonia Ramirez graduated in 2019 with her bachelor’s degree in environmental design, with a focus on interior design. She worked as an interior design intern at ADG from 2018 to 2020. So, our first question for today is how have the design methods and practices changed in the field of interior design, since you were a student?

R: I think the most obvious response is going to be the pandemic, just because it completely shifted what we thought design was while being in the office, the culture of always being interdisciplinary and going with other different projects that you normally would do in the office to “Alright, it’s your own culture at home.” I personally don’t have space at my house. So, I didn’t have an office. I used to work off my dresser, which to me was really big because I was very much used to separating my home and my work environment. And so, when you put them both together, my brain didn’t really know what to do.

I don’t know, I personally don’t like working from home, just because I like the idea of going somewhere and having a purpose and being in person at all my meetings and things. But I think that’s going to be the most obvious change, just because it completely shifted out of nowhere. So, we didn’t really have any time to process or figure out what we wanted it to look like it just turned into what we had available at the time.

K: Okay, thank you. How has the use of technology in interior design changed since you were a student at Gibbs?

R: So, a little bit based on that, the culture at Gibbs whenever I was a student was always the idea of being present. So, you were in your studio for classes, you were in your studio throughout the day, throughout the night. That’s just where you did everything. It’s where you met to collaborate. It’s where you did your homework, and so we went from that to the virtual office. So, Zoom is an essential part of your office day, that kind of really wasn’t a thing, it was more of “oh, get up and ask a question, or see [your professors] for office hours,” to “oh, let me just call somebody or I can text somebody and kind of get stuff done that way.” So, I think that was the biggest change.

But it also brought in really good things like the potential to customize what you want your work to look like. I can now work from my favorite coffee shop, which I couldn’t do. That was like the thing that bugged me in college was that I couldn’t just pick up my homework and take it to Starbucks or take it to the biz. So, being able to do that now, for me, is just a really big convenience. You can do that, you can work on vacation, you can work for companies that you’ve never met before. And so, it really broadens the opportunity that you have to learn from companies that are in a different region in a different state. And you don’t physically have to be there. So, it’s more of the immediate physical resources that you have that just kind of opens up another world for you.

K: Yeah, thank you. And it’ll be interesting to see, like, the long-lasting impact of all this too. Working in the virtual environment is going to be a lot more prevalent even when everyone’s going back in-person to work.

R: Right. And so, people are going back. I have, you know, a couple of friends here. One of my best friends right now has an internship in Connecticut. Never moved to Connecticut and never met their company. But she gets to work for them, like from the comfort of her home. And then I have a couple of friends who just decided they didn’t want to go back to working in person because they really enjoyed working from home. So, it just kind of gives people the liberty of being a little bit outside of the mold of what corporate is supposed to look like. So, I think that’s just a really neat detail that we get to keep after the pandemic.

K: Yeah. And then, how have the changes and methods of design and technology personally affected your own career and your own projects?

Sonia at ADG, where she interned for 2 years.

R: I think that one is very similar to what they do at Gibbs. You know, your first year, your first projects are all by hand. Drafting by hand, learning how to do everything by hand, the symbols for everything, then transitioning into computers. You know, when you go in, you’re obviously one of the youngest people in the office. And so, for me, that meant everybody automatically thought you were tech-savvy. And so, it was you know, you got to build the standards on Revit you got to do the BIM work, you got to incorporate other things that maybe your bosses didn’t know how to do. So, at some point, it kind of flips the roles of who’s a teacher and who’s a student, which, to me, creates a more balanced environment in the office.

But also, you know, a prime example, I did site visits a lot. And so, for Bank First tower, which was the project I worked on at ADG, they didn’t have everything they needed for the blueprints. So, it was up to me to go in, and I probably did it two or three times a week. And it went from, okay, take your paper, take your pen, we’ll print out everything that you need, and then you just mark it up, to being able to, you know, I got an iPad, we have Apple pencils. So, you would just kind of pick one of those up.

And I could do the exact same things that I did on paper, but it was automatically on the cloud, which the cloud I think saves a lot for technology, it was automatically on a cloud. And it didn’t require me to finish my work or to have to go back into the office because it live-updates. And so, somebody in the office who was also on the same project could automatically have that information as soon as I wrote it down. So, I think that’s been one of the major things is being able to automatically transfer that into the technology, and then have it available for you.

K: Okay yeah, that is really interesting though. Pretty much, you know, it just syncs up and you can see each other’s work without actually having to be there?

R: Yeah, and so whenever I went to get something specific, as soon as I got the information, I wrote it down, my boss had what she needed to continue her work. So, it was a lot less waiting time between other people, so that somebody else could do their own job, too.

K: Okay, thank you. What would you say is the most valuable thing that you learned at Gibbs?

R: Oh, that’s a hard one. Probably that there’s always another way. And so that was a big thing, you know, with the pandemic, figuring out how everything you normally did, and figure out how to completely transform that and either do it from somewhere else, do it from another way, or with other resources that you didn’t have. And so, I think that translates to, you know, within your studios, in your classes, everybody gets the same set of instructions. But nobody’s projects look the same. And so, I think that puts a really big emphasis on what your background is, what your own experiences are, who your influences are, and how that translates into your work.

I think it is the same thing that goes into the office. So, you know, you start going to coworkers who went to a different school. I am an interior designer, right? But my major is not interior design. So, I have a different educational experience than everybody else, which automatically brings in different ideas, just because I’m used to being out on the field a lot more than they are. And so, it just, I don’t know, it brings the idea that that’s kind of what you need to complete a team is that everybody comes from a different background, where they have had a different experience in design.

K: So how would you say, since you majored in Environmental Design, with a focus on interior design, how did that change your outlook compared to the other people who majored in interior design?

R: Well, for one, it’s kind of harder to get a job. Because most people that are looking for an interior designer are looking for somebody who is on the way to NCIDQ or already has it. And because I don’t have a major in interior design, I don’t qualify to take the exam until I have 10 years of experience. And so that automatically takes you away from a lot of job opportunities. But it also brings in the experience of — are you familiar with the Environmental Design program?

K: No, I’m not.

R: Okay. So instead of going into one specific discipline, so interior design, architecture, landscape, you study a general overview before. So, I studied interior design, architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design. And it’s meant as a segue degree. And so, you go into your master’s degree and pick one of those four, to get your degree in. But as a general overview, you know, it helps me to go into interior design and look at it from a perspective of what does an actual city need from a specific building? Or how does that material affect the culture of it?

I studied the culture and psychology behind architecture a lot. And now, I have my LEED certification and things like that. So, I studied more environmental sustainability with interior design, which changes the way I look at materials, it changes the way I select my materials, and it also changes the way that I approach certain projects, as to somebody who has an interior design degree. It’s very different. It usually kind of throws people off when I say Environmental Design.

K: Yeah, when I saw that I was, you know, kind of confused, because I wasn’t sure if I should ask you about interior design, or about environmental design.

R: Kind of all tied together.

K: Okay. And what thoughts did you have about the field when joining, and how did your thoughts differ from reality?

R: I didn’t know what I wanted to do going into college. And so, it was more of I really wanted to do everything. So, the reason I went into the world of the built environment is that it gave me the ability to touch every field. And so, you know, I studied hospitality so that I can design for hospitality. I studied K through 12, Montessori’s, universities so that I can design for education and safety for all that. You can do it with sports, you can do it with stadiums, you can do it with concert halls, and anything like that.

So, it kind of just gives me a really well-rounded experience of what it’s like to be in every field so that I can design for it. So, to me, that was just kind of the big thing was being able to touch everything. And it hasn’t really changed just because I still get to do that. And I work on a really wide range of projects. And you know, a really big workplace, I do a lot of education, I’ve done some government work. And so, it really changes your perspective, and it shifts what you need to know. And since for me, that was like the ideal goal of being able to work in this field. And I think that’s exactly what I’m getting.

Sonia Ramirez (left) at the Capitol Hill Pop-Up Plaza meeting.

K: Okay, yeah, that sounds great. So pretty much what you’re saying is through your work, since you majored in Environmental Design, you just kind of got all aspects, like all across the board, rather than one specific area.

R: Right.

K: And then would you like to share some projects today?

R: Yeah, so with the IQC, my favorite project is the Capitol Hill Pop-up Plaza. And just because for me, the idea of being able to design and being able to, like, grow in my career is also the idea of circling back and bringing it back home. And so, I actually grew up in Capitol Hill district in Oklahoma City. And I got to design the pop-up Plaza for that.

So, for me to come in, and take everything I learned and implement it into my own community is a really big deal. It gives you the end-user experience because I grew up there, I go to the stores, I go to those coffee shops, I go to that movie theater. But I also get the ability now to design what I want it to look like. And so, working with the IQC team, I worked there with Shane, and getting to work with the Capitol Hill district, who I already knew, like the people that were on the board, it was just a really unique experience to be on both sides. And I feel like that’s kind of the end goal is to always take what you learn and be able to bring it back to your community.

K: That sounds like a great opportunity.

R: It was kind of weird, honestly. Shane and I talked a lot and he just kind of happened to know that I was from Capitol Hill. So, he just walks up one day, and he’s like, “Hey, I have a project in Capitol Hill. Let’s work on it.” And so that is also what I really like about Gibbs is that you know, you get to know everybody personally. And so, when you get opportunities like that, they’re always looking out so that you can be able to participate in them.

K: Yeah, so he basically had you in mind immediately when he heard it, probably.

R: Yeah. I don’t know if Mia and Suchi are still there, but it’s always been very thoughtful, what they want you to participate in according to what you believe in or what your experience has been there.

K: Okay, thank you so much.

R: Yeah, no problem.

K: Thanks again for listening to the Gibbs Spotlight. Tune in next time to hear more stories from the Gibbs College of Architecture.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.