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A+D Partner Spotlight: Gensler, an Interview with Susan Lai

We are excited to feature Gensler's Susan Lai as this month's A+D Partner Spotlight. Susan sat down for an interview where she shares how she found her path to architecture and design, her love of educating and mentoring, and her love of Asian cuisine.

December 17, 2021
Susan Lai Headshot 4 MP

1. Tell me a little bit about your professional background

My interior design and architecture background spans over two decades. I am what we call a Gensler “Boomerang”- meaning I left and returned back to Gensler. While I was studying Interior Design at Cornell University, I landed an internship at the Gensler Irvine office. After graduation, I worked as a designer in the Gensler LA office. Eventually, I left Gensler to pursue a Masters's Degree in Architecture at UCLA. After all the studies, I taught design studio, worked in New York and Utah, and started my own company. About 7 years ago, I returned back to the Gensler Newport Beach office where it all started. I am NCIDQ and CCIDC certified.

2. How was your experience teaching?

In my heart, I am an educator. People and design are my passion. I taught Interior Design Studio and at Cornell University. I then taught architecture studio and drawing at the University of Utah. At Gensler, I continue to have ample opportunities to work with design students from the design schools as a critic and interviewer.

3. When and why did you know design was your destiny?

When I was asked in elementary school, “what did you want to be when you grew up?” and I had said Designer or Artist. I loved painting and drawing. And even though I started off as a Humanities major, I switched to Interior Design freshman year and have been passionate about design and concepts since then.

4. Did you have a design mentor?

I believe that everyone should have design mentors in every stage in their life. I am grateful for these mentors and so many more: Rhonda Gilmore, Dale Noriyuki, Alberto Lima, Kaz Baba, Barbara Dunn, Robert Somol, Thom Mayne, Peter Eisenman, Kazuo Matsubayashi, Sandi Warneke, Alyssa Scholz

5. What types of industries do you primarily support?

I support our Community Studio where I focus on Healthcare, Education, and Science. I am Gensler’s co-regional leader in the Sciences practice area.

6. What is the biggest change in the field you have seen since you started?

The biggest change in the field is in discussing diversity, equity, and inclusion. I’m proud of Gensler for its firmwide strategies in fighting racism. As an industry, we are considering what we can do to make a difference in our communities through design. I am also honored to be representing the Asian American community as a leader and designer.

7. Do you have words of wisdom for young Designers?

Make sure you have a lot of mentors. Be open to asking them questions and jumping into something new every time. If a door opens, don’t be afraid to walk through it.

8. What are some of your favorite pastimes?

I enjoy being outdoors with my family and friends, whether hiking or being in the snowy mountains. I ski, snowboard, and telemark ski. Telemarking is my secret talent.

9. Do you have a favorite TV show?

Ted Lasso is my new favorite show. He is a coach of a sport that he doesn’t know anything about, but he keeps his positive attitude and is successful in knowing his team. I feel like I resonate with him for that reason—sometimes we don’t totally understand the whole context, but I aim to be an encouraging leader to my teams.

10. Do you have a favorite modern classic example of “famous” furniture?

My favorite piece of furniture is the Eames Lounge Chair. A friend also gifted me a Mies Barcelona bench.

11. Do you have a favorite food?

I love all Asian foods. My husband is the chef of our family. He expresses his creative energies through making food at home, so I get to enjoy his cooking.

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