Summer Intern Series: Benjamin Olsen


For the past 18 years, David M. Schwarz Architects has maintained a travel fellowship program which offers undergraduate and graduate architecture students an opportunity to travel and intern in our office. Benjamin Olsen is the 2018 Summer Fellow from the Yale School of Architecture and will be receiving his Master of Architecture degree from Yale in 2019. Keep reading to learn more about Benjamin Olsen and his plans to travel through the United Kingdom.


Favorite place to eat in DC: Lincoln’s Waffle Shop

Favorite DC place to hang out: Lincoln Park

Favorite neighborhood in DC: the rowhouses in Capitol Hill

What is the most surprising thing about DC? It is so leafy!

What music are you listening to? I am currently obsessed with Audra McDonald’s new album “Sing Happy.”

Favorite book: The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

Favorite ice cream flavor: Arethusa Farm Dairy’s coconut dark-chocolate chunk

Do you have any special talents? I can provide a musical theatre reference for just about any situation.

How do you like your eggs? Eggs Benedict! (but I’m not picky about my eggs)


What are you currently working on?

The Chevy Chase Lake mixed-use development project

What is something you have done during your time at DMSAS that you had never done or tried before?

I am learning to use Revit!

What do you hope to gain from your time at DMSAS?

Understanding the principles of classical style (proportion, materials, composition, vocabulary) and how they engender architecture today.

What is your favorite DMSAS project? Is there is another project (past or present) that you wish you could have worked on?

Must be one of the performance halls—probably the Smith Center with its hard, Deco styling, though I love the forced perspective stage picture at Severance Hall.

Why do you study architecture?

Architecture is a rare synthesis of design, culture, history, and ideology. It accommodates basic needs, delights the human spirit, and enshrines collective values. I also love making the things that make the things.

If you weren’t studying architecture, what would you be doing?

I would either be designing stage sets for plays and musicals or growing a garden.

What do you hope to gain from your travels? Is your trip in support of an academic project or thesis?

One of the travel outcomes is field work for an independent research project I am doing at Yale School of Architecture about adaptive-reuse architecture. I am developing a framework or approach, an “ethics” if you will, for the practice of adaptive-reuse. I am interested in how architectural interventions at adaptive-reuse sites respond to the source material or original building. Adaptive-reuse as a practice thoughtfully done has the potential to honor, amplify, or erase historical and cultural meaning and make certain sites relevant in the present day.

Why did you choose your particular destination(s)?

England, Scotland and Wales have a rich and richly-preserved heritage landscape. Within a relatively small geographic area there are many culturally or historically significant sites. This concentration makes the United Kingdom a wonderful place to study adaptive reuse.

How are you preparing for the trip: language lessons, planning an itinerary; researching the architecture, local customs, etc.?

Planning an itinerary, yes! I am consulting several “locals”—practitioners, professors, residents—about which sites to visit. I am also compiling a bibliography of resources including texts, articles, and websites that will inform the project.

Once you arrive, what are you most looking forward to?

I am looking forward to two sites, in particular. The first is the Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery in Laverstoke—a compound of mill buildings converted into the Bombay Sapphire production facility. The second is an espresso bar in London called Attendant that is housed in a men’s public toilethouse from the Victorian period. These are but two among many sites that exhibit a range of adaptive-reuse techniques and approaches. I look forward to discovering a lot on the ground.

Are there any souvenirs (free or bought) that you want to bring back with you?

I collect busts, so maybe I’ll find a head along the way…

What techniques do you most enjoy using to document architecture—photos, sketches, watercolors, 3D models, etc.? What techniques will you use during your travels?

I use several techniques for documenting architecture: sketching, photography, and lots of research. Research often includes uncovering historical photographs and maps (maps are essential to my work), along with legal records, postcards, and promotional material. I also find that contemporary promotional matter about the buildings can tell a lot about what values are in play. I favor photo-montage and digital drawing in my own work, layering historical imagery with original drawings. And I love designing with models! You can check out some of the work at