Final-year student Sasha Lesiuk has received a paid internship at the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) in Genoa, Italy. Established by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect himself, the workshop is committed to promoting architecture through study and research.

UNSW Sydney is the only university in Australia to offer a prestigious Renzo Piano Foundation internship, joining the likes of Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Ecole Nationale Architecture Superieure Paris-Malaquais and Brazil’s Facultad de Arquitectura, Urbanismo.

The underlying principle of the internship is 'learning by doing'. Ms Lesiuk will be involved in every phase of architectural projects, including design and experimentation and construction.

For Ms Lesiuk, Architecture is a family affair.

“My parents are both architects, and my grandfather was also an architect. So, architecture is a little bit genetic,” she says.

“During high school, I tried to steer away from architecture and find something else that I wanted to do, but when you’re constantly surrounded by it, you get to know and understand it really well. I think subconsciously, architecture became a passion of mine.”

Ms Lesiuk says she had the “fantastic opportunity” to meet Danish architect Jan Utzon when she was 16.

“I was invited to show him some of my drawings, and I think that was the beginning of it all. I can’t imagine doing anything else now.”

Discipline Director of Architecture at UNSW Built Environment Dr Phillip Oldfield says the RPBW internship will provide Ms Lesiuk with a one-of-a-kind learning experience.

"This internship is a life-changing opportunity for Sasha. To work alongside an eminent practitioner such as Renzo Piano will be invaluable to her development as a future architect. She will carry that learning experience well into her career."

Big-picture thinking

The internship marks Ms Lesiuk’s return to Europe, having undertaken two intensive summer studio courses at Venice and Vienna while completing the Bachelor of Architectural Studies.

“I always had the feeling that I would spend time in Europe after I finished my Masters. Having the opportunity to work in Italy for six months in the office of a Pritzker Prize-winning architect is incredible.”

Ms Lesiuk is familiar with Piano's body of work, having studied the architect's philosophy throughout her time at UNSW. 

"I really like Renzo Piano's work. It has a wonderful combination of big-picture thinking and refined detail design, as well as a strong focus on construction.”

She hopes to pass on her experience at the RPBW to future students. 

“Over the past two years, I have been a tutor for a first-year Architecture course called Communications. It teaches students the basics of architecture and how to communicate their ideas graphically. Helping students realise what architecture is and find what it means to them opened my eyes to the joy of teaching. After having the chance to go and learn from someone like Renzo Piano, I would like to be able to bring this knowledge back and share it with future students.”

Ms Lesiuk also hopes to use the experience to help her decide where to land in the architecture field when she graduates. 

“With both my parents being residential architects and having worked only in small-scale architecture practices, this internship is an occasion to branch out,” she says.

“I hope that through my experiences, I will have a better understanding of which direction I want to go in – whether I end up continuing to work on small-scale residential projects or if I would rather be part of a larger team working on bigger projects.”