Post-Professional M.Arch graduate Olga Zakharova featured in "Archinect's Spotlight on 2020 Thesis Projects"


Princeton Grad, Olga Zakharova, Considers Thesis "a Territory for One to Discover Future Areas of Research, Passions, and Career Interests"


By Katherine Guimapang | Original article on Archinect


Olga Zakharova is a recent M.Arch graduate of Princeton University School of Architecture. Archinect was able to chat with Zakharova and learn about her experiences as a student who was graduating during the pandemic. Her exploration of urbanism and the historical organization of buildings, spaces, and landscapes emphasizes on the "industrialized past" of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood.

Zakharova shares with us the focus of her thesis and the pivot points she made when adjusting her model-specific project to fit a digital narrative. One of the many students whose final year was impacted by the abrupt transition towards remote learning amid the pandemic, Zakharova offers a resilient perspective. "A thesis project is not just another studio project. I would say it is more of a territory for one to discover future areas of research, passions, and career interests."

Archinect's Spotlight on 2020 Thesis Projects: 2020 has been an extraordinarily challenging year for architecture graduates. Students were displaced as schools shut down, academic communities had to adapt to a new virtual format, end-of-year celebrations were canceled or changed dramatically, and now these students are graduating into an extremely challenging employment market. To support the 2020 class we're launching a summer series of features highlighting the work of thesis students during this unique time of remote learning amid COVID-19. Be sure to follow our 2020 thesis tag to stay up to date as we release new project highlights.


Briefly describe your thesis/final project and your inspiration.

My thesis project is a design for a heritage complex featuring an outdoor waterfront theater that is located in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. The complex itself is an urban scale intervention formed by a theatrical orchestration of buildings. The buildings themselves could house various programs, including a museum, administrative facilities, and performance spaces. However, the building exteriors are a representation of a historical street appearance of Williamsburg at the turn of the century. 

The idea to focus much of the project design on the industrialized past of the area came when I was presented a summary of the site’s history by collaborator and archaeologist Dominic Bush. The stage component is a two-street historical scenography and the views of the stage from the seating area are precisely projected in alignment with Manhattan’s skyline, with the city serving as a backdrop. Additionally, much of my research also addressed the study of Renaissance theaters and theories of perspective that were a major source of inspiration. 


How did your thesis change as studios transitioned to remote learning?

My thesis project was always intended to center on physical model making. Many of the paper conceptual models were done early on, but my goal was to have three large scale basswood models that were planned to be exhibited at a gallery space in Manhattan. 

It was around three weeks before the opening of our post-professional group exhibition when Princeton School of Architecture officially closed its access to the wood shop and metal shop facilities. Therefore, things changed drastically for myself, which forced me to be more creative and quick in decision making at that moment. I am thankful to my academic advisor Cameron Wu who helped me work through these new working conditions and supported me along the way. 

The school provided an opportunity to feature our exhibition in form of a virtual show that you can see here: My project then took a drastically different form, featuring hand-drawn renderings, 3D computer models, and digital animations. Yet, I believe this still communicated the project’s original ambitions and ideas. However, I am planning to finish the physical basswood models when facilities are reopened. 


Any tips for students working through their thesis?

I would suggest that students work through problems creatively and most importantly let their thesis project be a testing ground for defining architectural arguments that they are interested in exploring after graduation. A thesis project is not just another studio project. I would say it is more of a territory for one to discover future areas of research, passions, and career interests.

However, in these unprecedented times, I think students have to be able to maneuver through any environment of change. I highly suggest embracing one’s design skills, learning new software, continue creating and fabricating within your at-home work space.