Last week, the Intern Development Program transitioned into the AXP, the Architectural Experience Program. With the structure of student career development programs changing, we will be highlighting a variety of student experiences, from applying to architecture school to available experience programs for licensure. First up is a look inside MFx, a new summer program for students created by Matt Fajkus Architecture (MF Architecture) “to explore unknown variables in the field of architecture and beyond, with the intention of adding a new dynamic to the Austin creative scene.”


While MF Architecture had originally planned on a very small number of graduate/undergraduate students working with the firm over the summer on a wide variety of tasks, including physical model making, renderings, design competitions, general office tasks, and working on active projects, they received an overwhelming number of applications. In total, 11 collaborators were accepted into MFx16. Some of those selected were UT Austin students that the firm knew to be solid workers and great designers. Others were individuals previously unknown to them but who were doing really exciting work at other schools. Several students were even willing to relocate from across the country for the program.

MFx16 participants include UT Austin School of Architecture students Fiona (Yee Sang) Wong [B.Arch.’18]; Kendall Claus [M.Arch.’16]; Sean O’Brien [M.Arch.’16]; and Ui Jun Song [B.Arch.’18], as well as Zahid Alibhai of Cornell University [M.Arch.’16] and UTSOA [Bs.Arch.Engi.’10]; Ashley Dotson of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute [B.Arch.’19]; Garrett Callen of Texas A&M University [B.Envirn.Design’16]; Janet Ni of Rice University School of Architecture [B.Arch.’19]; Paul Holmes of Tulane University School of Architecture [M.Arch.’18]; and Jeremy Jackson and Laura Kurtz of Louisiana State University School of Architecture [B.Arch.’17].

This summer’s effort is in the interest of MF Architecture being a reflective practice which not only designs and realizes buildings, but also aims to learn from the firm’s built and unbuilt projects in a critical experimental loop. The firm also notes that it has created a workflow that allows the office to think more experimentally, creatively, and critically, and to put a lot more energy and effort into things the core team always wishes it had more time to do.

“For me, this moment in time represents a critical junction in the evolution of the practice,” says Matt Fajkus, AIA. “Over the past several years, we have been fortunate to develop a diverse body of creative work, and I feel that now is both a time to take a step back to critically analyze the work we’ve done and to simultaneously delve into new exploratory work. I envision this new work to be partially spawned by defined trajectories, arisen from this summer’s analysis.”

Get to know this year’s MFx class:

What are some of your favorite spaces in Austin?
My favorite Austin spaces are where you can see the city skyline in the background but have a field in the foreground. It makes the city look like a series of towers in a park, a real-life rendering of Le Corbusier’s proposal for Paris. Places like these include Town Lake, the Zilker Park Fields, the 183 on-ramp to Mopac South, and the dirt lot a block south of MF Architecture. —Paul Holmes

What motivated you to study architecture?
At first I didn’t know what I wanted to study, and architecture appealed to me simply because it required an artistic and mathematical skill set, but I fell in love with architecture because of the many challenges that one faces with design, and because architecture embraces individuals that have a multitude of ideas to solve a particular challenge. —Ashley Dotson

My engagement in architecture began with the desire to understand my parents’ architectural work in China. Since then, I have formed a more personal passion for the discipline. It is this malleable flame that has been constantly tempered and reformed, but the pursuit for beauty has always remained a consistent theme. At times I sought to broaden my scope of knowledge through other disciplines, while in more current times, the integration of other disciplines has motivated me to continue pursuing architecture. However, beautiful drawings have always been an inexhaustible source of joy for me. —Fiona Wong

Where did you grow up?
Seoul, Korea, ages 1–6; Vancouver, Canada 6–10; Seoul, Korea 10–12; Dalian, China 12–15; Savannah, GA 15–19; Austin 19. —UJ Song

What do you like doing aside from architecture?
I love photography. I started to pick up photography my freshman year of college because I liked the idea of capturing moments and people I wanted to remember. Even though it can be difficult to carry around a camera constantly, and just like in architecture, creativity can sometimes slump, I often find inspiration through photography. —Garret Callen

Analog or digital?
Analog photography. Since the question is a little open-ended, and I recently took a photography class, I immediately thought ‘photography.’ I don’t consider myself an experienced or professional photographer by any means. I took the class on a whim. We had the choice to photograph with any device. I used one camera the entire semester — a Minolta SR-T 101. The first time I developed film was a complete disaster. I developed, and ruined, five rolls of film. I could have easily just switched to a digital camera and made my life a whole lot easier. I guess I just wanted to prove I could do it, or make my life harder, I’m not sure which one. After that, I slowly improved. By the end of the semester I had 30 photographs that were worthy to be matted and framed, each taking roughly and hour or two to enlarge and print in the dark room. What surprised me the most about analog photography is the skill and patience required to get a single print. It’s not just point and shoot. Seeing an image come to life after a series of development processes, for lack of better words, is cool. —Laura Kurtz

What’s your design process like?
When encountering a new project, I enjoy problem solving on my own without researching first. When I get to a stopping point or get stuck, I’ll go back and do some precedent research. It’s a good way for me to gauge my personal creativity against what’s already been developed. After I do some research, I’ll narrow down my focus to what solves the problem(s) accordingly and develop a design from there. Sometimes I get ahead of myself and think of a detail that influences the bigger picture. For me, incorporating the user, site constraints, and engineering systems from the beginning is crucial to designing something that responds to a given context. —Zahid Alibhai

What’s a valuable memory or experience from architecture school so far?
I think the experience of constantly presenting my work through pin-ups, mid reviews, and final reviews has been incredibly valuable. Not only has it helped my public speaking skills, but it also forces me to look critically at my own work and step back to evaluate why it is important and why it matters. —Janet Ni

How do you feel architecture improves the world or solves a problem?
We make a significant impact on the human and natural environments. People spend 90% of their time indoors, therefore architecture plays a very important role in people’s lives. As architects, we have a responsibility to create healthy, inspiring, liveable spaces. We also have a responsibility to respect our given resources. I take much inspiration from Glenn Murcutt, who believes it doesn’t take much (in terms of material and energy use) to create significant, well-loved architecture. —Kendall Claus

I wish I had designed _______ .
I wish I had designed the Sha Tin hot formed glass tubing sculpture that graces the lobby of a Hong Kong hotel. The sculpture, designed by Nikolas Weinstein Studios, works seamlessly with the existing architecture, transforming the space into something extremely delicate and precise. I find it interesting to work at the 1:1 scale of the installation, building a product to learn about the integrity of detail. —Jeremy Jackson

Leave a Comment