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Lisanna Remmelkoor: New York, architecture and COVID – my life-changing year in the U.S.


BAFF Professional Internship Program aluma Lisanna Remmelkoor from the architecture field in New York reflects on her time during BAFF program: “I spent my year in the U.S. at the most unexpected time – the year of COVID-19. As my supervisor said, I was literally witnessing the history.” In more detail:


1) The life in New York

New York is a metropolis in its truest sense. I still remember a taxi ride from the airport to my place in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn when I saw a completely different cityscape and human density than I was used to in my hometown, Tallinn. I later realized that this is the charm the city is world famous for: the unique urban landscape with high-rise buildings, the fast pace of life and the constant occurrence of events, different cultures and a large population, thus admirable tolerance for everyone and everything. Although being already back in Estonia, I am still following an Instagram account @whatisnewyork, which always brings joy to see how coolly diverse people you can meet in NYC. I believe that this tolerance, openness and acceptance is something that should be seen more in  Estonian as well.


2) Work

I was an intern in one of the largest architectural firms in the U.S., HOK as an architect and parametric designer. Compared to my home country Estonia, the scale of the architecture in the U.S. was imperceptible. My host company designed gigants: hospitals, airports, offices, laboratory complexes and other buildings worldwide with an area of ​​more than 50,000 sq2. I worked in the Advanced Technology Group and my supervisor was the Director of Innovation, meaning his task was to develop architects’ working methods and software – a field I found super interesting. In more detail, my work focused on both architectural design and technology: I was able to do a test-project in Brooklyn (Gowanus canal), where I proposed a master plan and tested innovative tools, methodologies and was part of the communication with world-leading software developers. And the design process was more exciting as the canal is one of the most polluted bodies of water in the entire country. I find the experience invaluable because I was able to be both creative and technical: thinking in a foreign context and on a large scale, as well as acquiring new skills that I can use in my current architectural work in Estonia. In addition, I am very grateful to my supervisor and the company culture that I was part of. Whereas, it was surprisingly similar to the culture Estonia – architects are also very hard working and the design methodology is largery similar because of the global software (Revit, Rhino …)


3) Witnessing the history

I started my job in November 2019 and was able to live a „normal office life“ for about 4 months, until in March 2020 the whole company started working remotely due to COVID-19. Looking back, it seems unbelievable how the staff in my office (200 people) had to cope with the change so rapidly. It continues at least until 2021 and it is still unclear when the office will be re-opened. This was also the reason why I decided to return two months before the end of my internship and finished it remotely – more than 4000 miles away. In the end, I find the shift in mindset positive: it is not necessary for architectural design office to have face-to-face contact all the time in order to work and things can be done remotely quite successfully as well.

In addition to COVID-19, I was able to witness Black Lives Matter movement – it literally passed my home street. And I also briefly saw the the presidential election, although I missed the end because of returning earlier.


4) A life-changing year

In retrospect, it still seems unbelievable that I lived in New York City for almost a year, met other inspiring people including BAFFers and my colleagues,  got to see the different culture and made great professional progress. I am infinitely grateful for my BAFF experience, due to which I now appreciate my life in Estonia more and believe that I grew as a person both personally and professionally more than I have in the previous years. As of today, I am using this new knowledge every day when working in one of the largest architectural offices in Estonia. Many thanks BAFF!