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Top tags: (PARK)ing Day  architecture critique  guerilla urbanism  INTERSTICE Architects  mentorship in architecture  WRT 

Mentorship Spotlight: Orange Buensuceso

Posted By Laura Ng, AIASF Staff, Friday, March 16, 2018

Taking inspiration from the vernacular of extensive travels, Orange Buensuceso, AIA talks about how being active in the design community—from participating in international competitions in China, Denmark and the UK to leading a historic preservation project team in Cairo—opens opportunities for an architect's career. This AIA Redwood Empire Merit Award winner serves as a mid-level licensed professional to her group in the AIASF Mentorship Program.

How did you find your path and aesthetic in architecture? 

I was born and raised in the Philippines and immigrated to the US when I was 18. The disparity in the cultures, climate, and architectural response between the countries intrigued me. This curiosity has led me to travel to almost 40 countries and live in three continents. I observed and photographically documented vernacular architecture—how it shapes the environment it is in and how it is defined by the local culture or religion. In this journey, I discovered that the design philosophies of Toyo Ito and other Japanese architects resonate with me: they draw inspiration from nature, create spaces that stimulate all senses, and are designed with the intention to create fluidity between nature and humanity.

In a competition for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, at Stefan AI Architects we created an innovative system that uses locally harvested bamboo and rattan that the local labor could assemble. Joints for the customized structures are CNC cut in a facility where workers could follow an easy to understand, illustrated construction manual. The use of locally available materials, sustainable practices and local flavor are ideas that can be universally applied. 

What’s been your most challenging/invigorating project so far? 

I have always been interested in the business side of architecture. By organizing different events inside and outside the workplace, providing excellent work, and with a bit of luck, upper management at Flad took a leap of faith in me; two months ago, I stepped into the role of Project Manager for a 150,000 sf core and shell project in San Diego. Talk about trial by fire! The learning curve is steep to go from managing only myself to managing 12 consultants and a team of 5. Despite the tight schedule, I can safely say that the client is happy and so are my principals. 

What do you value about participating in the Mentorship Program (which intentionally matches AEC professionals into groups from all different points of their career) as a mid-level professional? 

Mid-level professionals in the Mentorship Program get to have the best of both worlds. We have a seasoned-professional mentor whose vast experience is a resource and someone you could turn to for advice. At the same time, you act as a mentor yourself to emerging professionals in areas that a seasoned professional might lack experience in. Every member has different experiences and perspectives. Seeing how things once were and the potential of the industry provides insightful advice in trying to map out your career path. This mutually beneficial environment also opens opportunities to create lifelong friends, especially during team building activities.

Extracurricular involvement seems to play a big part in your personal/professional growth.

During my early years as an emerging professional, my friends and I would jump into any competition we think sounds interesting. It pushes your design capabilities and problem solving in a short period of time, and it hones your skills with the myriad computer programs you use in everyday work. You learn to manage your time and how to collaborate with different disciplines to help create a well-coordinated design. My team’s greatest achievement was being named Honorable Mention by Sir Tomas Cook and Brett Steele in the 2008 Adaptable Architectural Gallery Competition in London. We designed a gallery that would float along the River Thames made of recycled wine barrels. LED lights in the wine barrels would change to mimic the colors of different architectural landmarks as it passed through.

I also organize AMMO Hour at my firm. It is a once-a-month happy hour event hosted by Flad that creates an environment that fosters creativity and collaboration, and piques curiosity and connects networks. We bring artists, designers and thinkers to speak about their work, design process, and theories that set them apart. Learning from other creative practitioners is one of the best ways to find inspiration for our own design work and to stay engaged with the creative community in the Bay Area.

What piece of advice would you like to share with an emerging professional, or an earlier you?

Architecture has 3 main streams: Project Architect, Project Designer and Project Manager. Each requires a different skill set. You don’t have to know your career path right away; it will become clearer as you discover yourself. Find your “true self” and cultivate it by being involved in activities that grow your experience and expertise. It doesn’t have to be architecturally related. Volunteer at a nonprofit, explore the world, organize events- anything that you would find joy in. Then it will come to you.

Favorite Mentorship group activity or memory? 

We meet pretty regularly. James Kaentje, the seasoned professional in our group, is very good at lining up activities. Everyone is always excited about doing something together. We meet over food and drinks, go to events, shop tours or outdoor activities. One of the members, Jocelyn Cambier, is a paddleboard enthusiast and she invited the whole group to paddle board in the Bay! It’s nice to change things up. 

March 27 is the annual SpeedMatch for 2018 Mentorship Groups - Register to join!


Tags:  mentorship in architecture 

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Mentorship Spotlight: Joel Tomei

Posted By Laura Ng, AIASF Staff, Friday, February 9, 2018

Joel Tomei, FAIA has a diverse background that ranges from custom single-family residences to new towns for populations of 200,000. He finds this diversity inspiring and is able to work comfortably at all scales of design. Throughout his career, Joel has shared his knowledge through mentoring and serves as the seasoned professional to his group in the AIASF Mentorship Program.


Why did you decide to become a mentor? What do you value most about the experience?

For years in conventional private practice, I always saw the value of mentoring and being mentored. My motivation was to give back to the profession as best that I could through the AIASF Mentorship Program, where I have been involved for 5 years. The key, in my career, has always been to have the “fire in the belly” for whatever my goals. For me, the greatest value is to see those inspired and elevated by a particular educational experience.

Is there something you wished you could have learned earlier in your career, or misconceptions about the profession that people don’t hear enough about?

There will be huge amounts of work and time commitments expected of you. You have to have a love of what you are doing to be able to make the kinds of commitments that are expected to help generate exceptional and satisfying results for the team.

I was very lucky not to have many misconceptions about the profession. At a very early age I knew that I wanted to be an architect. When I was 12 years old, my mom took me to an architect’s office so that I could see for myself what it was like. Both my wife and I were dedicated to our careers in the first 15 years of marriage before we decided to start a family; this gave us time to get an early foothold and be able to adjust to the new demands of a family and combine that with our careers.

What do you feel is important to share with someone interested in becoming a mentor?

In my opinion, to become a valued Seasoned Professional you must be the primary motivator and lead by example. If you are successful, others will follow. Everyone in the group brings something to the table, and should be recognized openly for their contributions by organizing an event.

When planning group tours, I have tried to make sure that the scale of projects is varied—the intent being not to be afraid of working on any size project since they all share many commonalities. Also, not to be afraid of any size office for the same reason. I was at Berkeley, working in a two-person office and I took a job with SOM Chicago (a 1,000-person office) and found many commonalities. For example, large offices are usually composed of smaller studios which are similar to smaller offices. I also found that enormous projects (for example, the Yanbu new town of population 200,000) can be designed within a year’s time frame, which is very similar to a custom single-family residence which can easily take a year to design.

The goals of all participants need to be recorded and updated each year. 

Was there a pivotal project or moment that made a turning point in your practice?

Early in my career, I became involved with a large project at SOM Chicago: a masterplan for a Dow Chemical Headquarters in Midland Michigan. I became so inspired by the scale of this experience that I asked the General Partners if they recommended that I gain further experience in large projects in the office or go back to school to pursue another degree with large-scale project emphasis. They left the decision up to me, and I decided to take a leave of absence from the office to pursue a joint master’s degree in Urban Design and City Planning at Harvard. After graduating, I continued to work with SOM in Boston and San Francisco on many large-scale projects. As a result of these experiences, I cannot think of any project, whatever size, without considering both the small and large-scale aspects when evaluating the constraints and opportunities in the design.

Your favorite recent group activity?

My favorite activity in the past year was our customized tour of the renovated 9th Circuit Court of Appeals because of its historical uniqueness and diverse architecture in the courtrooms, not typical of courtrooms and courthouses today. It was truly inspiring. This tour included a viewing of the new base isolators which required Government Services Administration (GSA) clearance in order to see, so this was quite a unique experience for all.

Learn about the coming Mentorship Program year at


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Mentorship program does PARK(ing) Day

Posted By admin, Thursday, October 5, 2017

By Remya Ramesh

What began in 2005 from the art and design studio Rebar converting a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in downtown San Francisco has evolved into a global movement—PARK(ing) Day—that effectively re-valued the metered parking space as an important part of the commons.

On September 15, 2017, the AIASF Mentorship Committee continued its five plus years’ participation in support of the project’s mission to call attention to the need for more urban open space, improve the quality of urban human habitat, and taking architecture to the street to engage face-to-face with the public on issues in the public realm.

Photo: The AIASF Mentorship Committee's 2017 (PARK)ing Day installation at 130 Sutter St.

After building out their own installation in front of the AIA San Francisco office at the foot of Hallidie Building, the Mentorship Committee organized a touring critique of creations by (PARK)ing Day enthusiasts around the city to identify the best installations this year. Of six submittals, INTERSTICE Architects’ Mirror Mylar Forest-Field: Pedestrian Safety Along the Polk Corridor was recognized as the best installation on design, concept and overall experience, with WRT’s Howard Street Collaborative as runner-up.

INTERSTICE Architects’ interactive installation on Polk Street at Hemlock Alley invited visitors to the wind-activated Mirrored Mylar Forest-Field to explore questions of pedestrian safety. Recording individual experiences as a pedestrian, cyclist or driver, the public was asked to register their information directly onto the installation surface. An enlarged map of the Polk Street Corridor built from data collected from the California Highway Patrol & highlighting pedestrian-related traffic incidents created the “ground” for discussion. 

The installation was inspired by the recent Polk Streetscape Project improvements by a collaboration of the City of San Francisco agencies and INTERSTICE’s involvement in an initiative to enrich The Lower Polk Alleyways District. In the new Lower Polk Alleyways Vision Plan (LPADVP), recently adopted by the Lower Polk Neighbors, INTERSTICE Architects guided the community-driven process to form strategies and guidelines to understand the 12 blocks of alleyways located within the boundaries of the Lower Polk Neighborhood, not as singular backstreets or isolated funding opportunities, but to consider them as a whole—as a District.  

Photo credit: Mirror Mylar Forest-Field / © INTERSTICE Architects

Howard Street Collaborative began in the summer of 2016 when WRT, O+A and Techshop, three businesses on Howard Street, joined hands to participate in PARK(ing) Day. To celebrate the lively and eclectic history of this street, the community-driven initiative designs and installs temporary, low-cost interventions on the block of Howard Street between 5th and 6th streets in San Francisco to highlight immediate needs for social integration, pedestrian and bike safety, and a positive identity for the block. 

WRT invited the community to show their vision of Howard Street by drawing trees, murals, or other ideas right onto their installation, bringing enthusiastic community members, students, tourists and many curious passersby to help them imagine a better streetscape. Even as the event passes, they aim to test incremental solutions and keep experimenting to bring about permanent and positive changes.

Photo credit: Howard Street Collaborative / © WRT

Tags:  (PARK)ing Day  architecture critique  guerilla urbanism  INTERSTICE Architects  WRT 

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