Inside The Designer’s Mind: Andy Suzuki, AIA

Andy Suzuki

Andy Suzuki, AIA of Suzuki Designs in Irvine, California wanted to be an architect since he was eight years old, growing up in South Central Los Angeles. His dad was a mechanical engineer, his mom was interested in ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) and bonsai (miniature plant cultivation), so architecture was a good blend.

“My neighbor was an architect and although we lived next door to him for over 10 years, I couldn’t tell you to this day what he looked like – he was always working.

I should have known then that architecture, for many, is not only a profession but a calling.

“I knew that he was responsible for one of the new high rises going up in Los Angeles and I thought it was cool that he designed it, not knowing how much of a team effort it really represented.”

I met Andy at the judging for the Gold Nugget Design Awards. I think his high school class had it right when they voted him “Most Sincere.” He had a quiet, self-assured, compassionate presence with an eye toward the intent or philosophy behind the designs.

“I think clients sense sincerity, much the same way they can sense enthusiasm, professionalism and generosity thus leading to a more confident relationship.  I was an offensive lineman on my high school football team – offensive linemen rely on discipline, teamwork and endure a lack of recognition without bitterness.  They take great satisfaction in a job well done.  Unlike the more prominent positions (quarterback, linebacker or running back), it’s all about teamwork.”

Here’s more from my interview with Andy:

*) What is the biggest opportunity for architects today?

The opportunity to redefine the traditional architect’s role in the built environment is greater now than ever before.  Private, public, governmental or grass roots –

You can choose what you want to do and you can pursue your personal dream in whatever way you choose.

*) What is the one skill architects should be cultivating today?

When I was in grad school, we had some students visit us from another local university and sit in on one of our project evaluations.  Afterward, one of the visiting students tried to dismiss our drawings and models by saying that his university had “transcended the graphic experience”.  I remember thinking first, “what a jerk!” But, then feeling a little bit relieved that he wouldn’t be joining the ranks of architects with whom I was going to compete.

Architects must be able to communicate their thoughts graphically, whether it’s by sketching on a pad of paper or using a notebook computer with a stylus.

*) What is the biggest misconception about architects?

When I was growing up, people thought that we needed a lot of math to conceptualize our designs.  While you do need geometry, I don’t think you need much beyond algebra and a firm understanding of proportion via “The Golden Proportion” or “Golden Ratio”.

The other misconception, driven by television and the movies, is that there is a stereotypic architect.  Architects come in all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of perspectives and approaches.  I like to think of us as a little quirky and prone to pretentiousness, but beyond that, we’re a pretty mixed bag.

It takes a pretty strong ego to offer a design as a solution to a problem and to accept and possibly incorporate criticism into our little gems.

*) How do you prepare for creativity?  What inspires you?

Knowing that I’ve contributed to the quality of someone’s life by creating a home for them is gratifying and ultimately satisfying.  My clients are almost exclusively homebuilders.  I like working with them because we share a world defined by creativity, budgets, schedules and ultimately, the people for whom we design and build homes.  There is no greater privilege than to be responsible for designing homes for people to live their lives and raise their families.

Since my clients and I inhabit a similar world, my special exercise is researching their specific markets and identifying how much we can accomplish given the criteria.

The research defines the context in which my designs will exist and be critiqued. Seeing the challenges and creating attractive solutions within a difficult context and often conflicting program is really rewarding.  And hard.

*) How do you encourage creativity in your own firm?

I try to stimulate creativity by asking questions of the designers and other architects.  Have they considered this?  What about that?  Why are we doing it this way and not another way?  Self examination can be cleansing so long as it’s offered without rancor or an agenda.

You always critique the design, not the designer.  You critique the methodology and hope that a rigorous examination will yield the best contextual design.

I also encourage my staff to look around them in nature and in the movies and television.  Structurally, nature is the best source for elegant and simple design. Period.

As for human expectations, set designers are great at interpreting what people expect and what they want when it comes to homes.  Nancy Meyers, a director, producer and screenwriter, has made a career out of creating home interiors that are elegant, rich in detail and speak to the residential aspirations of people.

*) Do you sketch?

I don’t formally sketch, and I don’t doodle.  When I draw, it’s to explain something or to figure out a solution to a problem.  I find that writing stuff down helps me organize my thoughts and helps be communicate better than using words.  Words can be misinterpreted and conversational tone can be misconstrued, but something on paper can be pretty succinct.

*) Do you use a specific journal?

No.  I do make lists upon lists, however, and I save them to insure that I’ve really done everything I’ve set out to do.  Without a list, I can sometimes get distracted or avoid something I don’t want to do, but with a list, a troublesome line item keeps staring at you until you draw a yellow highlighter through it and are done with it.

*) Tell me something about yourself that’s not in your typical bio.

I love the beach in the early morning.  It’s quiet, with the promise of all things possible.  Design represents an equally assured confidence and expectation of a greater built environment.

I like the optimism that great design offers.

I’d like to thank Andy for taking the time to share his insight. His passion for the profession and hope for its future is inspiring to all of those with a designer mind.  If you’d like to contact Andy, email him at