Learning the Virtue of Designing

I’m Ivan SHEN. In June 2020, VIRTUARCH kindly offered me a chance to do an internship at VIRTUARCH while blocked in Shanghai before I would leave for Syracuse University to pursue undergraduate study in architecture. Looking back at the past six months, I undoubtedly gained much experience, beyond my expectation. I came in with a passion for design, but completely ignorant.And now I have developed some basic skills for designing, a deeper understanding of the industry, and a clear learning goal for university. Most importantly, I’ve learned the virtue of design from this company — always design in high quality, even in a limited budget. 

The Most Rewarding Project I Participated in

During my internship, I was granted chances to participate in all types of projects in all stages, from factories to schools, from competitions and site researches to renderings and final presentations. Among all, the Taizhou Cathedral Renovation project, in which I experienced the whole process of designing, was the most rewarding one. Mr. Daniel Heusser, the chief architect of VIRTUARCH, assigned me to this project for two reasons: The project was of a size which allowed me to understand it and I was educated catholic, giving me the tools to understand the needs of the client. He wanted to alter some detail designs of the church which were inappropriate for ritual usage. My first business trip, first meeting with clients, first designing sketches, first working over midnight… I independently used multiple software to produce drawings, renderings, presentations, and changed the design multiple times according to the Senior Architects, Mr. Daniel Heusser and Mr. Ian Corris and of course also the client’s comments.

Apart from designing skills, I learned how considerate and responsible an architect must be. Mr. Heusser and Mr. Corris paid attention to every detail — whether the dimensions are logical considering ergonomics, whether the material is sustainable, and whether the design harmonizes the space.

I learned that even a small detail has functional, cultural and practical aspects which need to be developed; I could experience this in designing the altar table for the Cathedral and spaces like the library and community center. 

I was impressed that the architects were not only designing, but were really thinking for the clients, not merely fulfilling their needs. From them I knew to what level of depth should an architect think when creating things.

I was also excited that they are planning to build based on our drawings. This means I created something real during this internship.

The Most Unforgettable Thing I Experienced in VIRTUARCH

All the colleagues, also teachers to me, were helpful and supportive. They always assigned me tasks which were challenging, but doable, and they offered help during the process, and they never put too much pressure on me. 

They patiently answered all my questions and showed me a range of knowledge in the disciplinary. The manager of the Architecture Department, Mr. ZHANG Haitao encouraged me to take part in competitions and trusted me to do some AutoCAD drawings. Mr. Heusser and the manager of the Interior Design Department, Ms. JIANG Yu, took me to sites under construction.From them I’ve witness the personalities and problem-solving abilities of extraordinary leaders. The one I want to thank most is senior architect Mr. Ian Corris, who selflessly guided me throughout my whole internship. He taught me software-using, the basics of an architect, and an attitude towards life. There are so many people who have offered me help these six months, and I cannot mention their names one by one here. From them I’ve not only learned knowledge of design, but also how to communicate with co-workers, how to balance between the design, requirements, regulations, and budget, not to mention a decent way of treating people. l will pass down this spirit of helping younger generations in the future. I’ve learned the virtues of designing from my predecessors, and I will hold on to these virtues.

The Influence on My Aspirations of Career

Before I started interning, I was just a high school graduate with naïve obsession with architecture and the ambition of making a change to this world. Mr. Heusser joked that maybe I will change my mind after seeing the reality. 

Now I would say, though the real work in this industry is truly not as exciting all the time, and sometimes tiring and repetitive, I am not discouraged. After communicating with colleagues from different background, I discovered many existing problems we face when wanting to do extraordinary projects in the architecture industry in China. I realized VIRTUARCH is an exceptional company striving to maintain high-quality design in such a difficult environment. I’m still keeping my passion for architecture, and I still dream of making architecture that improves human’s living condition. I have seen how we can make a difference for people’s lives in our work, even if the project at first glance does not request for that; This internship makes the path clearer in my mind. It is a perfect initiation of a limitless future. I am honored and grateful to have this opportunity.


Haimen Cathedral was built by French missionary Li Sicong (李思聪; 1864–1930) in 1894. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, it was used by a school. Currently, the church is being renovated and will serve as church of the Roman-Catholic Diocese of Taizhou, Zhejiang Province.

VIRTUARCH offers internship positions to talented, ambitious architects and interior designers. If you are interested, please apply to:

Zurich: ch@vai.ch

Shanghai: cn@vai.ch

Bangkok: th@vai.ch

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