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"We Need Agile Architecture": The Women of HMC Designing for Equity, Wellness and Housing

"We Need Agile Architecture": The Women of HMC Designing for Equity, Wellness and Housing

Beautiful design is grounded in functional, accessible and healthy environments. For designers Mariné Maroukian, Kristina Singiser, and Adeleh Nejati at HMC Architects, equity and wellness go hand-in-hand. Each of these three women are leaders in their community and in practice, championing new ways to address local needs and create positive impact.

Cal Poly Student Housing. Image Courtesy of HMC ArchitectsCal Poly Student Housing. Image Courtesy of HMC ArchitectsDPW Landscape Renovation by Ani Manuk. Image Courtesy of HMC ArchitectsUCSD Zura Hall Project. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects+ 25

Cal Poly Student Housing. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects
Cal Poly Student Housing. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects

Founded in 1940, HMC focuses primarily on direct contribution to communities—through healthcare, education, and civic spaces. Each of the following women are making their own contributions and leading by example. Mariné is leading a range of construction project, has been active as a chair of AIA|LA Women in Architecture, and is part of HMC’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee. Born and raised in Uruguay, her background gives her a unique and diverse perspective that benefits her profession and the organizations for which she volunteers.

Adeleh is a healthcare planner and researcher who has been leading research efforts on COVID-19 and Cancer Care. Her Future Proof research outlines the impact of the pandemic while creating strategies for public health, resilience, and the built environment. Her cancer care study delves into how the built environment impacts a cancer patient’s journey.

DPW Landscape Renovation by Ani Manuk. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects
DPW Landscape Renovation by Ani Manuk. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects

Kristina is the managing principal of HMC's LA office. With a strong background in student housing, she has worked on several academic buildings for community college campuses. With a wealth of design-build experience, Singiser believes there is tremendous value in the interaction and knowledge that contractors can bring to the design process. The following interview explore each of these women's individual inspirations and community impact.

Why did you each choose to study architecture?

Kristina Singiser: When I was a freshman in high school, I was put into a drafting class, and on my first day in class, I was told by my (male) teacher, “Girls aren’t welcome in this class.” I think it was right then and there I decided to become an architect. I always loved math and art, and architecture seemed like the perfect combination of the two. I faced many other adults (mostly men) during high school that tried to deter me from pursuing architecture…it’s so hard, you don’t make any money, etc., but this only pushed me more to succeed.  

Adeleh Nejati. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects
Adeleh Nejati. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects

Adeleh Nejati: My older brother is an architect, and I was 8 years old when he started college. I was always amazed by his creativity and drawing skills. Soon after watching him working on his projects, I got myself involved with small tasks like preparing his Rotring drawing pen set or cutting pieces for his physical model. After several years, I found myself in the same college studying architecture. To this date, I cannot imagine myself pursuing another path. Practicing architecture is not a job for me, it is a vocation. As Elizabeth Gilbert defines a vocation, a calling. “It is something that is innately calling you. A vocation is not something that is given to you. And at the same time, it is something that cannot be taken away from you.”

Mariné Maroukian: In my case, it was because I loved math and drawing, and my parents suggested that Architecture could be a career I might enjoy. I spent all my childhood drawing and designing, building cities with “Majorette”. At some point, I was between different careers related to design and decided on architecture because I concluded that it was the career that would allow me to have a stronger impact on the world.

Cal Poly Student Housing. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects
Cal Poly Student Housing. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects

What are some recent projects you’ve each been working on at HMC?

Adeleh Nejati:  I am a healthcare planner and researcher. I have a PhD in healthcare architecture. So, my role at HMC is healthcare planning, integrating research into the design process, and conducting deep-dive research on important topics. I have been involved in the healthcare planning of:

  • Kaiser Permanente, Sunset Ambulatory Surgery Center, Los Angeles Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA
  • Kaiser Permanent Baldwin Park Emergency Department, Baldwin Park, CA
  • Kona Community Hospital, 10-year Master Plan, Kona, HI

In terms of research, I have led COVID-19 pandemic research to better understand the long-term effects of COVID-19 and develop strategies to “future-proof” our healthcare, education, and civic spaces. I have also conducted the cancer care research study to truly understand and improve the healthcare experience for patients with cancer, and I am in the process of completing a replicated research on staff respite area, surveying nurse leadership, in collaboration with Kaiser Permanente CNO and a nurse operation specialist.

Kristina Singiser. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects
Kristina Singiser. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects

Kristina Singiser: Working primarily in the Higher Education market, campuses are like small self-supported cities, allowing you to work on every type of building from housing to libraries. At HMC, I have had the pleasure to work on student housing projects at San Diego State University, Cal Poly Pomona, and Cal State Fullerton. I have also worked on an Academic Commons and Classroom building for Antelope Valley College and a Science and Engineering building at Bakersfield College. In my past, I have also worked on Performing Arts Centers and Libraries.

Mariné Maroukian: Until 2019 I was working on k-12 projects, like Walnut Elementary or Kennedy High School, and civic projects like the PW Headquarters renovations in Alhambra. Since 2020 I am back in Higher Education, working for colleges in Antelope Valley and Bakersfield. Normally my projects are around 40-60 million and include new constructions and/or major renovations.

UCSD Zura Hall Project. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects
UCSD Zura Hall Project. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects

With changes to climate, technology, and construction, how do you think architects and designers will adapt ways of practicing to advance the profession?

Kristina Singiser: Technology is allowing us to make our buildings smarter than ever before. Tracking the effect buildings have on the environment and the people that inhabit them gives us data to create continual improvement. Integration of architects and contractors is allowing us to be more efficient in the process of designing and constructing space, which saves money and resources and, in the end, provides a better building.

Mariné Maroukian. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects
Mariné Maroukian. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects

Mariné Maroukian: All these items are for our advantage. We have more tools to implement building energy analysis into our designs at earlier stages and try to push our projects to be more energy efficient. It helps us to be true “well-rounded” architects and have all the important items under consideration. It is important for us, as architects, to have a good understanding of construction and the technological tools, to use them and customize them for each project as needed.

Adeleh Nejati: Technology is such a valuable asset. Developments in technology are aiding us virtually to develop ideas, evaluate design options, and test our hypotheses before bringing them into reality. It helps us to design and build faster, more precisely, and cost-efficiently. It also supports us in communicating and collaborating seamlessly with other team members in different parts of the world. Change is inevitable. Those who can seek out change and actively embrace it will thrive.

DPW Landscape Renovation by Ani Manuk. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects
DPW Landscape Renovation by Ani Manuk. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects

Changes due to COVID-19 have been swift. How do you think the pandemic will shape design?

Mariné Maroukian: As a mother of 2 kids in elementary school, COVID was very difficult and still is, psychologically for the kids, and in a lot of cases for adults as well. The social impact this virus has is bigger than what we expected. COVID might have shown us that we can minimize office spaces and have workforces from home more of what we might have imagined in the past. It also showed us, that we need human interaction, for our overall happiness. Therefore, collaborative spaces might be more important than ever, and there might be a shift in the type of spaces we design or the priority of spaces for each type of program.

Kristina Singiser: I think the pandemic has made us realize a lot about ourselves and how we work. We have found that we can work while we are apart and collaborate remotely, but we are missing that human interaction that makes our lives rich. I do think that some aspects of everyday life will forever be done remotely, but human beings need to physically be with each other to learn and thrive. Gathering spaces are going to become even more important to counterbalance the isolation of working or learning remotely.

Kennedy High School by Melissa Jimenez. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects
Kennedy High School by Melissa Jimenez. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects

Adeleh Nejati: COVID-19 pandemic thought me one important lesson- that human beings are remarkably adaptable, and we grow by going through tough times. We not only need a nimble human behavior in the time of a crisis, but we also need an agile architecture and built environment that adapts itself to changes and new conditions. 

How can designers and firms promote greater diversity and equity within the profession?

Kristina Singiser: I think we all have a responsibility to inspire the next generation of architects. Diversity is so important to our growth and survival. As the mother of a transgender daughter, I am living firsthand with diversity and equity challenges. Creating a space that is safe and equitable for all people is something I strive for in every project I work on.

UCSD Zura Hall Project. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects
UCSD Zura Hall Project. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects

Adeleh Nejati: I believe we celebrate humanity with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). 13 years ago, I chose the United States as my home not because of DEI policies written in books, but because I felt welcomed, respected, and supported; because I was fairly treated for opportunities and advancements; because I was valued by my hard work, perseverance, and life experiences. In the end, we are all human and we need to celebrate our differences and that is why we are stronger together.

Mariné Maroukian: Walking the walk. Everyone can make a statement about equity, diversity, and inclusion, but the best way of showing how serious and committed you are about it is when you show that your staff is diverse, your leadership is diverse, and you truly promote your staff equally. Having a young woman as Managing Principal, who is also a mother and understands inclusion firsthand with her kids, creates a different level of empathy that is very important for me and the rest of our office. Being an example is the best way to spread the word.

Kennedy High School by Melissa Jimenez. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects
Kennedy High School by Melissa Jimenez. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects

One thread between all of your work is community involvement. How does your work align with HMC’s mission to serve the greater good? And how can designers advocate for local communities and make a positive impact?

Adeleh Nejati: As architects, we not only design and built environments, but we also create experiences, we are responsible for the health and safety of the building occupants, and our ultimate goal is to serve people and communities. Every day we need to practice resiliency, adaptability, and innovation to serve communities on various scales, finding a balance between multiple ecosystems starting from human beings, to buildings, to cities and urban environments, and ultimately to our planet earth.

Kristina Singiser: HMC’s mission to serve the greater good drives all our work. Something will always stick in my mind as we were designing the Academic Commons for Antelope Valley. The Dean we were working with, wanted to make sure the students had someplace to stay throughout the day. Someplace where they could hang out, study with each other, or even take a nap if they needed to. The more community college students stay on campus, the more likely they will matriculate through the school and onto 4-year universities. The act of being on campus with other students and not going home by yourself creates a community that supports each other and leads to student success.

Cal Poly Student Housing. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects
Cal Poly Student Housing. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects

Mariné Maroukian: We build and design for our communities. Architecture is a social-economical industry that creates and reflects based on those aspects. As designers and architects, we belong to our communities and it is imperative to be active in them. Not only gives you a better understanding of the needs of the people you are designing to but when you volunteer, when you help others, when you see that your work is not only construction but is THE PEOPLE, that is when you feel that your career makes more sense and has the impact you were always ambitioning.

As an example, when I was an ambassador for girls in STEM a few years ago, there were a few girls that look to have a middle eastern background. They saw me from far away, they saw I was an architect and I looked like them. They were shy to come and ask me questions, but that small interaction for me was important. Girls need to see they can be wives, mothers, and professionals. They can look Latina, middle eastern, or any ethnicity and still make it in this country. When we have a more diverse workforce, we get a better group of designers that understand all kinds of users. When they all have different backgrounds, therefore there is more opportunity for different ideas and there are more opportunities for innovation. That is how, diversity and inclusion, for this or any other profession, is a win-win situation.

Cal Poly Student Housing. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects
Cal Poly Student Housing. Image Courtesy of HMC Architects

As you look to the future, are there any ideas you think should be front and center in the minds of architects and designers?

Mariné Maroukian: I have seen for a long time the need to have a stronger commitment to Net-Zero design. We have several software tools these days that can help us develop projects from the conceptual design while reviewing the building energy performance. We have young architects interested in learning these tools, we only need the architectural leadership to be stronger in this direction and able to communicate to clients how an energy-efficient building is better for the environment, better for them in the long run to safety in utilities and better for their community. What we build has such a strong impact in everything we do and on everyone surrounding us, that we must be mindful from the beginning of its repercussions. This year I worked on a project in which we monitored the building performance, and by only doing that, we were able to go 25% above title 24 (instead of the 16% originally designed). HMC is committed to doing that work, and that’s why I am proud of being part of this team and working towards the future.

Kristina Singiser: Our continued impact on the environment will always be front and center. The idea of reusing an existing building and repurposing it is going to become even more important with the continued lack of funding, and reduced need for physical space due to remote learning. We are going to have to be smarter about how we use space. How can it be more flexible? How can it be easily reconfigured into something new, when we don’t even know what that is yet?

Adeleh Nejati: As we confront the greatest challenge of our time, as architects and designers, our focus should be creating places to foster wellness, not only physically, but more important than ever before, emotionally, not only within the buildings we design and build, but beyond its walls.

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About this author
Cite: Eric Baldwin. ""We Need Agile Architecture": The Women of HMC Designing for Equity, Wellness and Housing" 30 Mar 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/958901/we-need-agile-architecture-the-women-of-hmc-designing-for-equity-wellness-and-housing> ISSN 0719-8884

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