Taking inspiration from the vernacular of extensive travels, Orange Buensuceso, AIA talks about how being active in the design community—from participating in international competitions in China, Denmark and the UK to leading a historic preservation project team in Cairo—opens opportunities for an architect's career. This AIA Redwood Empire Merit Award winner serves as a mid-level licensed professional to her group in the AIASF Mentorship Program.
How did you find your path and aesthetic in architecture?
I was born and raised in the Philippines and immigrated to the US when I was 18. The disparity in the cultures, climate, and architectural response between the countries intrigued me. This curiosity has led me to travel to almost 40 countries and live in three continents. I observed and photographically documented vernacular architecture—how it shapes the environment it is in and how it is defined by the local culture or religion. In this journey, I discovered that the design philosophies of Toyo Ito and other Japanese architects resonate with me: they draw inspiration from nature, create spaces that stimulate all senses, and are designed with the intention to create fluidity between nature and humanity.
In a competition for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, at Stefan AI Architects we created an innovative system that uses locally harvested bamboo and rattan that the local labor could assemble. Joints for the customized structures are CNC cut in a facility where workers could follow an easy to understand, illustrated construction manual. The use of locally available materials, sustainable practices and local flavor are ideas that can be universally applied.
What’s been your most challenging/invigorating project so far?
I have always been interested in the business side of architecture. By organizing different events inside and outside the workplace, providing excellent work, and with a bit of luck, upper management at Flad took a leap of faith in me; two months ago, I stepped into the role of Project Manager for a 150,000 sf core and shell project in San Diego. Talk about trial by fire! The learning curve is steep to go from managing only myself to managing 12 consultants and a team of 5. Despite the tight schedule, I can safely say that the client is happy and so are my principals.
What do you value about participating in the Mentorship Program (which intentionally matches AEC professionals into groups from all different points of their career) as a mid-level professional?
Mid-level professionals in the Mentorship Program get to have the best of both worlds. We have a seasoned-professional mentor whose vast experience is a resource and someone you could turn to for advice. At the same time, you act as a mentor yourself to emerging professionals in areas that a seasoned professional might lack experience in. Every member has different experiences and perspectives. Seeing how things once were and the potential of the industry provides insightful advice in trying to map out your career path. This mutually beneficial environment also opens opportunities to create lifelong friends, especially during team building activities.
Extracurricular involvement seems to play a big part in your personal/professional growth.
During my early years as an emerging professional, my friends and I would jump into any competition we think sounds interesting. It pushes your design capabilities and problem solving in a short period of time, and it hones your skills with the myriad computer programs you use in everyday work. You learn to manage your time and how to collaborate with different disciplines to help create a well-coordinated design. My team’s greatest achievement was being named Honorable Mention by Sir Tomas Cook and Brett Steele in the 2008 Adaptable Architectural Gallery Competition in London. We designed a gallery that would float along the River Thames made of recycled wine barrels. LED lights in the wine barrels would change to mimic the colors of different architectural landmarks as it passed through.
I also organize AMMO Hour at my firm. It is a once-a-month happy hour event hosted by Flad that creates an environment that fosters creativity and collaboration, and piques curiosity and connects networks. We bring artists, designers and thinkers to speak about their work, design process, and theories that set them apart. Learning from other creative practitioners is one of the best ways to find inspiration for our own design work and to stay engaged with the creative community in the Bay Area.
What piece of advice would you like to share with an emerging professional, or an earlier you?
Architecture has 3 main streams: Project Architect, Project Designer and Project Manager. Each requires a different skill set. You don’t have to know your career path right away; it will become clearer as you discover yourself. Find your “true self” and cultivate it by being involved in activities that grow your experience and expertise. It doesn’t have to be architecturally related. Volunteer at a nonprofit, explore the world, organize events- anything that you would find joy in. Then it will come to you.
Favorite Mentorship group activity or memory?
We meet pretty regularly. James Kaentje, the seasoned professional in our group, is very good at lining up activities. Everyone is always excited about doing something together. We meet over food and drinks, go to events, shop tours or outdoor activities. One of the members, Jocelyn Cambier, is a paddleboard enthusiast and she invited the whole group to paddle board in the Bay! It’s nice to change things up.
March 27 is the annual SpeedMatch for 2018 Mentorship Groups - Register to join!