Celebrating a Holistic Project Approach and Diversity in Architecture with Patricia Rhee
This week’s interview is with Patricia Rhee. Patricia is a Partner at Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney (EYRC) Architects, where she has practiced for 20 years. She was recently elevated to AIA’s College of Fellows.
In this interview Patricia shares her pathway to architecture. She talks about her ideas and inspiration of running a medium-sized design firm in the midst of the pandemic. Learn why EYRC choose a holistic project approach as an architecture firm. And read about Patricia’s thoughts on the power of cities as attractors of culture and talent, ideas and dreams.
Enjoy the interview!
Could you tell us a little about your background?
I grew up in Maryland in a pretty rural area. My parents were Korean immigrants; my mother was a watercolor painter and my dad an orthopedic surgeon.
I like to think that I took traits from both of them—the love of making and drawing and an inborn desire to cut things—which led me to modelmaking and architecture.
I moved to LA from the east coast in 2000. It was a great place to land as a young designer, a big vibrant city full of interesting ethnic neighborhoods, lots of small design firms and lots of opportunities.
You are a partner at EYRC architects. Could you tell us about the firm’s history, approach and specialties?
We are an architectural firm of 45 people with offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Having worked across the globe, EYRC Architects is known for a diverse range of projects from custom homes and courthouses to university projects and community buildings.
“We specifically choose not to “specialize” in a particular project type, and instead we celebrate the diversity in our work and let the “cross pollination” between our different practice areas inspire us.”
We specifically choose not to “specialize” in a particular project type, and instead we celebrate the diversity in our work and let the “cross pollination” between our different practice areas inspire us. This is why we approach projects by diving deep into the culture of a place: the people and the site are critical factors that inform the design.
What recent trends and future developments of workspace design do you see?
With so many people working from home, these times will inevitably shape the future of our workspaces. We are still in the midst of figuring things out. And there is likely to be a process of trial and error, to come up with what works and doesn’t. I’m very curious to see where things land, what people are comfortable with both physically and psychologically.
And how that all works with how much square footage is actually needed in a physical office. And how that works with productivity, team dynamics, workplace wellness. So many Ands! In terms of building, it’s key to have convenient access to the outdoors, and to consider outdoor spaces an extension of the office (for meetings, gatherings, phone calls) now more than ever.
People seem to be more comfortable being closer to the ground and in spaces with operable windows and cross-ventilation. Flexibility is important, because things can change so quickly as we’ve seen.
How have you shaped the office culture over the years?
I love being part of a medium-sized firm. I feel like we are a bit on the edge, a bit scrappier, and have the resources and diverse opinions of a larger group. Office culture has always been a hallmark of the studio. And while we have some traditions like summer barbeques on the patio and in-house pecha kuchas, it’s constantly evolving with ideas from our amazing and spirited staff.
What are the most successful marketing strategies that help your firm to attract new clients?
The key to a successful project and establishing a solid track record for future work is having a strong relationship built on trust and respect with our clients, partners and peers.
You are also a founding Co-Chair of the AIA Los Angeles Women in Architecture committee. Could you tell us about your work there? And the power and opportunities of being a woman in the industry right now?
I was one of the founding Chairs when we started the committee in 2016. In addition to planning for the annual AIA LA / WiA Powerful Conference, the chairs all head up different events throughout the year. WiA brings together women in the industry whether for mentoring, networking, coaching or sharing experiences.
It has been wonderful to bond with and learn from women leaders like Rosa Sheng, Carol Wedge, Carol Burns and Justine Clark, across the country and halfway round the world.
What are your thoughts on the future of cities and the built environment? How can it improve, and what continues to inspire you?
It’s such an odd time right now, being in the midst of the pandemic. You hear of people leaving NYC, picking up and moving to the Midwest or to their second homes in remote areas. I still believe in the power of cities as attractors of culture and talent, ideas and dreams. Maybe as a child of immigrants I’m naturally more attracted to the endless, limitless, multicultural nature of cities, and I can’t imagine a world without vibrant ones.
“I still believe in the power of cities as attractors of culture and talent, ideas and dreams.” – Patricia Rhee
Our cities are melting pots, refuges, and “safe places” for our diverse communities. In terms of improving cities (namely LA)—homelessness and the lack of affordable and workforce housing should be prioritized at State and City levels. There should be incentives that encourage greater density and developers to build housing at the middle part of the spectrum, not just the extremes.
My family and I visit Tokyo and Seoul quite often. And once there, we quickly adapt to living in uber dense environments. I marvel at how living vertically is the standard for the majority of the population—one’s identity of house, home, front door and private outdoor space is completely different than what one might have in LA. I also love that taking public transportation and walking is an integral part of most people’s lives. It would be great to see that here in LA someday.
About Patricia Rhee, FAIA, DBIA
Patricia Rhee is a Partner at Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects, where she has practiced for 20 years.
Patricia received her Master’s degree in Architecture from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She is the recipient of the 2017 Culver City Women in Business Council’s Visionary Award and was a Founding Co-Chair of the AIA Los Angeles Women in Architecture committee.
Her firm received the 2015 National AIA Firm Award, one of the industry’s highest honors. Patricia has served as Partner in Charge and Lead Designer for several of the firm’s most notable projects. Including The Culver Steps, the John M. Roll Federal Courthouse and The Press Adaptive Re-Use.
Her project experience ranges from civic to institutional and commercial developments of all scales and multiple delivery methods including design-build. She has lectured internationally, most recently at University of Melbourne’s School of Design where Parlour co-hosted the Transformations: Actions in Equity symposium.
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