Sustainable Design, Sustainable Future:
Nicole Rusk’s MAF+AIA Michigan Bridge Architecture Internship Involved Designing a Net Zero Energy Project


The pandemic has disrupted many traditional experiences over the past year, but for graduate architecture student Nicole Rusk, it also catalyzed an opportunity to gain beneficial career experience – made possible through the MAF+AIA Michigan Internship Bridge Program.

The goal of the six-week MAF+AIA Michigan Internship Bridge Program was to help bridge the gap in available student architectural internships in Michigan due to COVID-19, and preserve educational, work experience, and career-boosting opportunities normally provided through the traditional internship experience.

Last summer, Nicole did a six-week virtual internship at PLY+ Architecture in Ann Arbor, funded with an educational grant provided by the bridge internship program.

She is currently in the thesis/2nd year of her Master of Architecture program at University of Michigan’s A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

“I had admired PLY+’s work, and was excited about the opportunity to work with firm principals Craig Borum and Jen Maigret, regardless of the internship format,” said Nicole. (both Borum and Maigret are architecture professors at University of Michigan, and Borum is one of her professors in the current academic semester).

During her PLY+ internship, Nicole assisted on the design of a Net Zero Energy and renewables-focused housing project. She worked through initial design concepts and massing, using 3D programs and taking particular consideration to respect the site’s goal of restoring and maintaining a natural oak savannah habitat.

“A favorite feature of my bridge internship experience was having the opportunity to work on a project from the beginning, where I was able to propose and apply design concepts at the earliest project stages,” Nicole said. “In my previous internships, I typically carried out technical work on designs already created. I also learned more about the initial stages of the design process, including understanding site planning and the project in its neighborhood context, and how to take a holistic approach to the project beyond the client’s program.”

The internship and the project also support Nicole’s future career goal of designing Net Zero Energy and passive buildings, including residential and small commercial. She is a Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC®), which has trained her to design homes to be more energy efficient and net zero energy ready, in the event clients want to add solar panels or other systems in the future.

She adds, “The funding and support from the Internship Bridge Program made my internship possible, and the experience will help me more easily transition to my post-college architecture career. I’m grateful to MAF, AIA Michigan, and PLY+ for making it happen.”

How does Nicole think architecture enriches life? “Architecture can provide beautiful and inspiring spaces that enhance the surrounding community and environment. The ideals of net zero energy and Passive House building can help improve the way the built environment interacts with nature, as well as create healthier, more enriching places to live and work.”