Member Spotlight: Interview with Leticia SooHoo, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Leticia SooHoo is a licensed architect, experienced project manager, green building advocate and mentor in the AEC industry.

With 20+ years of experience, Leticia has been involved in many green building projects and various projects of complexity and innovation. Currently, she is an owner representative / project manager at CBRE @ Google, responsible for procuring and executing commercial construction projects. Her higher goal is to optimize the owner-architect-builder process to ensure the best project outcome and build lasting relationships.

Leticia is also an avid educator and speaker. She has taught at university level and spoken widely at roundtable conferences and webinars and provided training in green building and sustainability in colleges and corporations. She continues to contribute to the profession by advocating, mentoring, and making design matter.

What sparked your interest in becoming an architect?

My father was an architect and had his own firm with a couple of partners. He managed to do some good size ground up development and infrastructure projects. When I was a child and visited his office, I was often fascinated by how lines and shapes on paper and scaled models could become a physical building. That was like magic to me. But as a 7-year-old, I didn’t immediately say “I want to be an architect when I grow up” because I had many other interests. It’s only when I graduated from college (my undergraduate degree was industrial design) that I wanted to become an architect.

What skills have you developed in your architectural journey that you have been able to apply into other aspects of your life?

I think it is mainly the ability to observe the physical environment with a critical eye and troubleshoot issues and provide a solution as an architect and a cultural observer. Also respect all things in nature and the interventions different cultures made – that’s why I love traveling and exploring different cities.

What are the kind of projects that you currently work on?

I have been on the owner’s representation side in the past 3+ years. I am currently working on a variety of Google workplace projects. I really appreciate the well intentions of the client wanting to innovate in the workplace and its lofty goals on sustainability (going carbon zero 24/7 on all these assets by 2030). I enjoy the process of collaborating with Google, my colleagues at CBRE, and my AEC teams.

How is your current role different from previous experiences of working with a traditional architecture firm? How has this experience shaped your perception of the profession?

By being on the owner’s side, I can get a bigger picture on why and how we build and find opportunities to contribute on a higher level.

Having said that, I think the architectural profession tends to narrowly focus on providing architectural services and misses the bigger picture in strategy. It is an area for the profession to grow and expand their expertise in their services.

What is the most interesting aspect of your job?

I realize that what I do is all about understanding people’s needs. Design and construction are the manifestations of that ask and are somewhat secondary. What I really enjoy the most is working with people to problem solve and deliver a good space at the end.

You are an active member of AIA Silicon Valley’s Women in Architecture Committee. Can you elaborate on this experience?

I am relatively new in this committee and have already met some many incredible and powerful women. Our voice is strong, and I look forward to continuing to contribute to the committee. I would tend to steer away from the conversation of “female designed architecture” or any kind of gender biased space. Architecture should be built for all and we can explore how a diverse group of people experience the same space in different ways.

The Architectural Intelligence 2022 Conference was a great success this year. What are your key takeaways from this event?

I think AI.22 was a critical success and I enjoyed it so much. So much thought and planning efforts were put into the learning content and the participant experience. The keynote speakers were amazing, and we all came out of the conference being energized and inspired.

The pandemic put a huge challenge in planning this conference – our committee worked throughout the pandemic and had to reschedule the conference twice. I would encourage the future committee to make some decisions earlier, so we didn’t have to rush many tasks at the very last minute. And scheduling the event on Friday instead of a Tuesday might help with attendance.

How do you think the architecture profession can improve equity and diversity?

Just like many other fields are going toward, let’s consider allowing staff to have flexible hours and ways of working, flexibility not to work full time, and giving allowance and acceptance to staff who have caretaking needs and other responsibilities.

I also think that AIA has to do a better job at reaching out to high schools and the public in general to advocate good and sustainable design and introduce to underprivileged communities that the architectural profession is a viable path for them. We have different voices to contribute to our profession.

What ways do you think women leadership can be better supported by AIA other than WIA?

I think it is great to have the WIA committee deep diving into topics regarding gender equity and inclusivity. I would like to see more topics in LGBTQIA cross engagement and have AIA publicize these topics in a more visible way. One idea is to team up with LGBTQIA organizations to cross promote events. That way we can reach out to a wider audience.

What is your advice for emerging professionals especially for women in architecture? What does it take for women to break the glass ceiling of this profession?

Understand your worth and the power of your voice and demand flexibility and inclusivity.

How does having an AIA networking set you apart from other design professionals?

I think AIA is a powerful network to get people together to propel the next generation of practitioners to rethink the profession. The profession must stay relevant and agile to address critical challenges such as climate change and urban problems such as homelessness, and tool up to provide a bigger picture (as well as more specific) solutions to solve many problems.

If you had one message you wanted to share with the community, what would it be?

I love this profession. It is very tough due to long hours and the process of design through delivery is often exhausting but I remain optimistic. There is so much more we can do!

How do you think sustainable architecture can be better integrated to the design process? What are some of your experiences on designing sustainable buildings?

“Sustainable architecture” (as I put into parentheses) should be designed into code NOW. It is too expensive down the road in terms of operating and environmental costs not to deliver a net zero energy / net zero carbon building in the first build. I think it is a matter of educating the cost of building something new – the first costs will always be more expensive, but it is better to pay a smaller premium upfront than to mitigate a building that is costly to operate and constantly doing harm to the environment. I think the architectural profession must start pushing harder on zero codes and make it a mandate.

Interviewed by Madhubala Ayyamperumal, Assoc. AIA, WELL AP, LEED AP BD+C

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