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

Survey suggests opportunities for architects


When blogging for Inside the Exterior, I posted a surveyed asking architects, “What are the opportunities for architects today?”

Here are the highlights:

Take a leadership role, get involved in shaping the future, be creative in getting your  ideas out there. (I have faith you’ll do better than this mobile billboard in Paris, but it caught your eye, didn’t it?

  • Understand the market is being driven by consumer trends.
  • Pick up a hammer. Become a “small scale master builder” and be involved in the full aspect of design and building in a manageable human scale.
  • Opportunities lie in remodeling. Do so with sustainable products and clever uses of space.
  • Assume leadership roles in community oriented design efforts.  Communities are starving for objective, effective leaders who can separate reality from hype and deliver relevant solutions.
  • Render an idea, share it with others, express, dream, invent.  Designing a “far-out” structure, then figuring out how to build it…this is “American Ingenuity.”

Do you agree?

Survey suggests skills for architect success

Construction, communication, collaboration and ecology… here are a few of the answers I received when I asked architects, “What skills should architects be cultivating for success?”

  • Construction, engineering, marketing, design, and computer drafting.
  • Study ecology. Study how the earth is a fragile eco-system.
  • Build skills to take one’s passion to new heights. Get it out to the media.
  • The modern architect requires a greater understanding of the associated trades that build the projects we design.
  • Engineering, build it green components, energy analysis and good design priciples will set the modern architect ahead of the rest.
  • Good public speaking, drawing and writing skills: a solid set of communicative skills that rises above the crowd.

One architect suggested young architects head back to school for a business degree… While that may not be possible, a class or two on accounting, public speaking and drawing couldn’t hurt, along with an easy-to-read reference on marketing, lifestyle trends and human mindset.

Essential skills you won’t learn in a webinar

New Zealand architects in Habersham, SC, learn about neighborhood design on a "Streetscapes Tour Across America."


Whether you’re designing buildings or writing blogs, creativity rarely presents itself conveniently between the hours of 9 and 5. Ideas come when you least expect them – when you’re out for a walk, sketching in a coffee shop, or on a two-week design tour in a different country.  If you’re struggling with a project, a decision or a blog post, it might be more productive to take a break than power through.

But, will you let yourself (and others) go?

It’s easy to agree in theory, but notice your reaction when someone starts their day at 10, leaves the office early, or takes every allotted vacation day.  Do you think it’s self-indulgent or careless? Would you ever dream of taking two weeks away? Or, do you encourage and respect their way…no matter how much it differs from your own?

Getting past self-imposed guilt and judgment of others is tough, but it’s essential.  Success is going to look differently going forward. It will depend on our willingness to try a different way and our encouragement of others to do the same.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a skill we can master in a webinar.

We’re programmed to produce on a schedule, within an environment that’s not the most conducive to creativity. A corporate culture that’s as prolific as it is productive is going to require a sincere appreciation for the creative process.

Look at your own life, your own reactions.

Do you allow quiet time in your day? Are you always too busy to exercise, eat right, read a book or relax? If you owned an architecture  firm, would you encourage time away for design tours?  Would you consider having a quiet nook in the office where it’s perfectly acceptable (even encouraged) to do nothing for a few moments?

The winning sketch for the Gelotte-Hommas, architecture firm's 2009 Holiday card

Make it fun, have a contest.

The Gelotte-Hommas architecture firm prides itself on bringing dreams to life. They recognize drawing by hand can be a powerful way to help clients visualize what they’re having trouble articulating. When they noticed young architects turning more toward technology than sketchpads to produce drawings, they made a conscious effort to cultivate the sketching skill with a holiday card sketch contest. Because the effort sincerely reflects who they are as a business, the firm has been rewarded with thousands of requests to receive the coveted cards – over the years, it’s become a great marketing tool.

How are you cultivating creativity – in yourself and others?

5 opportunities for designers & entrepreneurs

I asked a seasoned group of designers –  judges of the 2010 Gold Nugget Awards, “What is the biggest opportunity for architects today?”  Not one of them suggested a trend or style.  They listed a skillset …one that’s right in line with the skills Jim Collins, author of Good to Great says will help entrepreneurs “Thrive in Crazy Times.”

Collins’ essential skillset for entrepreneurs:

1)    Manage (even be comfortable with) uncertainty.

2)  Unshakable faith (in yourself, in life).

3)    Empathy.

4)   Vulnerability.

5)    A willingness to step outside your comfort zone.

Gold Nugget Judges’ opportunities for today’s architects:

1)    Flexibility.  Don’t take anything personally.  Just be more creative and come up with a better solution.

2)    Unrealistic confidence. You have to believe that whatever comes along, you’ll be able to figure it out.

3)    Listen. Really understand what your client wants.

4)    Evocative communication. People aren’t used to describing moods and emotions in their home.  Create ways to take them into the space. Learn to draw by hand. Become a better writer. Help them articulate what they want and confirm it with visual images.

5)  Ability to design from zero.  Start with an idea and go. Don’t always rely on pre-existing plans.

Collins says most of us haven’t had much practice managing risk or uncertainty in our lives because until recently, things have been pretty easy. Fortunately, for architects, the nature of creativity is offering an unconventional thought, risking criticism, possibly being misunderstood. You became an architect because you wanted to solve problems.  Your job is to put yourself in your clients’ shoes. You might not consider yourself an entrepreneur. But, you’ve been practicing entrepreneurial skills all along.

What opportunities will you embrace? What new reality will you create?

Architizer sees the entrepreneur in you…do you?

Architizer is more than a directory of architects and projects.  Although they”re doing a great job creating one.  Fast Company says they”re providing a much-needed online resource that”s making it easier to find architects and their projects.  What I love about them, is that they”re encouraging architects to embrace challenging times and to show the world their problem-solving, beyond the drafting table skills.

Architizer  became part of history by participating in the World Entrepreneurship Day (WED) at the United Nations in New York on April 16th.

Co-founder, Matthias Hollwich says, “We believe that every architect is an entrepreneur. Every project is a new venture that needs vision, team building, and implementation skills… Help us celebrate the architect as entrepreneur, showing the public what our role is within the larger Besok BetsafeBetsson er et flott online casino som gir deg en totalopplevelse nar det gjelder spill. context of the planet.”

Having trouble seeing architects as entrepreneurs?

In this Inc. Magazine article on “How to Thrive in Crazy Times,” Jim Collins(author of Good to Great) says being an entrepreneur is more of a life choice, it”s not about temperament or personality, it”s about action. And, the successful ones are aligned with something bigger. Steve Jobs spoke to Collins” Stanford class of hopeful entrepreneurs and said, “We aren”t creating computers. We are creating bicycles for the mind.”

Sounds a lot like the lectures architects receive in architecture school:

You”re not creating buildings, you”re creating experiences.

Commit to ship

“What you do for a living, is not be creative. Everyone is creative. Your job is to ship,” says best-selling author, Seth Godin. In this video, he argues that the biggest obstacle to shipping is our own lizard brain.

Why does it work this way? Why do humans sabotage their own work? In his new book, “Linchpin,” Seth Godin says we’re like chickens. And, chickens are like lizards. The lizard brain’s only concerns are, “How am I going to survive? How am I going to have kids? And, ‘I’m uncomfortable, How am I going to get out of here?” He suggests that while we may have started with a lizard brain, fortunately, we grew a bigger brain on top of it. That brain is concerned with sharing, loving, breaking tradition casino online – all of the things that make being a human great. We love living in that dreamy part of our brain.

Creativity isn’t the problem. The problem is every time we get close to delivering on our great ideas, the lizard brain speaks up. It says, they’re going to laugh at you, you’re not good enough, you’re going to get in trouble. So we don’t do it, we sabotage it, we thrash it with edits, additions and deletion until it’s beyond the point of recognition, past deadline and over budget.

Creativity isn’t the problem.  It”s getting our lizard brain to shut up long enough to ship.  We like having the list of reasons to not go forward. We’re comfortable there. But, if you’re aware of the lizard brain, you’ll welcome the discussion early in the process and listen to all the reasons you shouldn’t do it before you invest a lot of time and money.  You’ll either agree and let it go. Or, you’ll commit to ship.

You don’t need more ideas. Remember, everyone has them. But, only a select few commit to ship.

Creativity in 30 minutes, 60 if you're busy

Writers, musicians, dancers, architects, marketers – all creative professionals face a similar dilemma – having to come up with another idea.  Despite the desire, we can be pretty determined to prevent it from happening.  In her humorous, humble way, writer, Anne Lamott says manic busyness – doing everything we can to achieve, accomplish, Tweet, clean, even exercise our way to being the people we think we should be – is causing us to miss out on creativity and a whole lot more.  Fortunately, the solution is within our power.

Busyness is becoming one more thing we reach for when we want to avoid the issue (or project) at hand, and it can be addictive. I used to reach for M&M”s when I was on deadline.. and still do sometimes. But, I”m learning from creative professionals like Lamott (and my yoga teachers) that the key to figuring it out, is letting go. Back off a bit and trust that the ideas will come.

Lamott says you atoledo need to create some time in your day to let creativity happen.

“I’ve heard it said that every day you need half an hour of quiet time for yourself, or your Self, unless you’re incredibly busy and stressed, in which case you need an hour. I promise you, it is there. Fight tooth and nail to find time, to make it. It is our true wealth, this moment, this hour, this day.”

In her book, Bird by Bird, Lamott says ” a shitty first draft” will prevent the other obstacle that kills great ideas – getting started.  So, when the idea comes, don”t wait, get it out in all of its ugliness, then work toward perfection.

Join the military or become an architect?

Looks like the Special Forces and Architects have a lot in common.  And, whether you’re a designer or a business owner, it’s in your best interest to pay attention.

Bruce Nussbaum of BusinessWeek describes a moment in “Horse Soldiers,” a book about the US Special Forces team that went into Afghanistan right after 9/11 when the men realize they need to ride horses into battle to defeat the Taliban.

“They know how to go into unknown, changing, dangerous cultural spaces, do fast ethnography, brainstorm, collaborate, iterate options, choose the most valid solution for the situation and execute. They would never call it Design Thinking, but that is what it is. They learn it in training, through education.”

Matthew Frederick, professor and author of 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School says,

“I don’t think the public understands what architects do and that’s our fault for not educating them.  They think we’re either glorified drafters or abstract geniuses.  Architects can be visionary because we have to see things that don’t yet exist. In school, they take courses in perception, psychology, sociology, history … areas people wouldn’t think had anything to do with designing buildings.  But, we need to understand what kind of building is right for the client and the location. “

Nussbaum takes it further, suggesting the corporate world could learn a thing or two from this type of thinking:

“Right now, business schools teach the rituals of reliability, leadership, strategy, choice and efficiency. They also need to be teaching another set of rituals–of validity, cultural empathy, generation, collaboration and experimentation–the rituals of creativity.”

So, join the military or become an architect… ?  Or, maybe just consider cultivating skills that help you see the world through that architect eye – the one that can assess reality, see possibility and find the courage to  suggest a different way.

Seasoned architects offer survival skills for the young

I asked seasoned architects, judges of this year”s Gold Nugget Design awards, “What is the one skill you would encourage young architects to cultivate?”  All of them mentioned taking the time to learn to draw. Curtis Gelotte, AIA of Gelotte-Hommas believes so strongly in this that his firm holds an annual holiday card sketching competition. (2009″s winner is pictured here)

“Clients can’t always visualize what they want, so even if you walk in with a perfectly drawn plan, it’s helpful to be able to draw modifications and perspectives.”

Doug Dahlin, AIA of the Dahlin Group encourages the ability to design from zero or “start with an idea and Per iniziare a giocare a blackjack , ma anche per migliorare il proprio stile di gioco, la cosa piu utile da fare, e provare il gioco in modalita di pratica, nel quale si usano soldi finti, ed in online casinos questo modo non si rischia nulla. go, rather than always adjusting a pre-existing plan.”

He feels as strongly about being able to write clearly and simply express ideas through a variety of media.

“Some of the site plans submitted for judging didn’t truly represent the essence of the project. Hand drawings don’t always speak for themselves.  Evocative communication skills that convey the challenges you’ve overcome can take clients into a space and get them excited about it.”

Andy Suzuki, AIA of Suzuki Designs says young architects today have an opportunity to define their own scope of services.

“There used to be a narrow definition of what architects do. You worked your way up within a firm. Now you can go into entitlement, research, lead a development project team.  You can be more entrepreneurial and create your own projects.”

What do you think is the most important skill for young architects today?

Page 5 of 7« First...34567
© Copyright Denese Russell: Writings | created by: IZUMI STUDIOS