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Women in Architecture – Interview with JoAnn Lee-Kim AIA

In honor of Women’s History Month, we steal a moment with one of our female architects, JoAnn Lee-Kim – Project Manager, AIA, LEED AP. JoAnn has lived and worked in the US, Europe and Asia and brings over 25 years of experience to DA. With this international exposure, JoAnn has developed a design sensitivity for particular cultures and climates, creating spaces that truly connect with the people and places who inhabit them. JoAnn leads a variety of successful project types, including commercial, hospitality, assisted living, high density multi-family, mixed-use, single family and custom homes. Most notably, her project The Grove at River Bend Ranch for Standard Pacific Homes was an ELAN Award finalist. JoAnn received her Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from UC Berkeley.

Hands down, favorite architect or favorite building/structure? 

Louis Kahn. Too many to list but locally, Salk Institute in La Jolla by Louis Kahn. It’s a place I will go alone, to think, feel, breath and relive the moment that inspired me to become an architect.

If you had a chance to visit a structure anywhere in the world where would you go? And what about it attracts you so much?

Paris and Positano, Italy.  Two places that are completely opposite of Salk Institute and I would love to visit with my family, friends and all my favorite people.  It’s where I would replenish myself with love of people, culture, history, food, music, art… and architecture that grew out of all these things.

Having a career and also having a family can be challenging, what tips do you have for other women in this field who are trying to “do it all”? What do you do to keep a family and work balance?

This is one question always asked to women even though all married men have families, too. Hopefully, by the time my daughters become professionals, we can ask this question to all working people…  You just need to be clear on your priorities and focus on your choices. Surround yourself with a team of supporters who appreciate your best efforts.

Why did you choose architecture? When did you know that this was the path you were going to take? What do you enjoy most about being in architecture? 

I was passionate about music, poetry and art in high school and also liked math and science.  But, growing up in a family with grandparents and parents who went through 2 wars (WW II & Korean War), practical life skills/profession was a silent expectation.  During U. S. History class, we learned about Thomas Jefferson being an architect and that was the moment I realized that architecture was my music, poetry, art and science.

For our recent grads or current students, do you have a favorite moment from your experience in architecture school? What kept you going, despite the all nighters, the insane deadlines, the exhaustive amount of money spent at the art supply stores? Who was your support system? Anything you can look back on now and laugh about? 

One of my favorite memories was a final team project that our entire model building studio built together called “Card Cutta”; life size model built in school courtyard, out of recycled cardboard boxes and paper tapes, and the beer party after completion.  The friendship and camaraderie that grew out of spending countless hours in a studio, working, talking, eating, drinking, sleeping, laughing, and crying together was the best support system and what kept us going. And those memories of pain and suffering became a common connection shared by many of my peers and we know in our hearts, that we would do it all over again.

If you weren’t an architect, what would you be? 

A fashion designer, music teacher or own a small gallery that serves good cappuccino and sells paintings by unknown artists. (This is now my dream for retirement…)    

Have you ever experienced gender discrimination in the architectural industry? If so how did you choose to handle it? Now having more profound experience in the profession, would you change how you handled it? 

This is a touchy subject and hard to talk about without getting defensive. It is unspoken and unnoticed by offenders and I was determined not to use it as an excuse. I defended my ground quietly but firmly by working hard, gaining experience, confidence and importance.  It was my way of fighting against something everyone knew existed but no one claimed ownership of. More apparent in construction industry, young women, right out of school, will be challenged still. I want to encourage them and empower them to invest in the long process of becoming a licensed architect. It is truly worth the trouble and will shatter many doubtful minds. 

We celebrate Women’s History month by sharing these stories and honoring the women who have made incredible strides in our industry. An exciting new addition to the AIA Hall of Fame is California Architect Julia Morgan, the first female honoree to receive a Gold Medal for her contributions of over 700 designs, most famously as the architect for Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. Although her lengthy career ended in the early 1950’s, the recognition for her work has not gone unnoticed and her legacy of excellence in architecture continues to inspire.

For questions or more information on JoAnn Lee-Kim, please email us at info@danielian.com

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