Season 2:

Episode 37

February 1, 2022

#37: Tia San Francisco with Alda Ly of Alda Ly Architecture

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This week, I am joined by our guest Alda Ly, the founder and principal of Alda Ly Architecture (ALA), a New York City firm that focuses on interiors with a specialty in tech-driven commercial projects. Join us as we discuss her work across the country for Tia, a women’s health network and, in particular, their location in San Francisco. More broadly, we will be talking about the future of commercial design in a post-pandemic world.

Alda’s firm has designed a new and vibrant space for Tia, a full-service women’s healthcare platform creating a women-centric model of care with a blend of in-person and virtual services. It is a place for women to work and to work together, thrive, and build a network. The new San Francisco clinic is located in the mission district near tech giants like Twitter.

Join us as we discuss ALA’s contribution to designing this space, including moving beyond traditional construction materials and including living elements in design, the future of commercial design in a post-pandemic world, and learning how to create innovative, forward-thinking designs. Listen in as we discuss these topics and much more on today’s episode of American Building!

Learn more about Sam Dickinson

Alda Ly is the founder and principal of Alda Ly Architecture, a New York City firm that focuses on interiors with a specialty on tech-driven commercial projects. She previously worked at the design firms, Leong Leong Architecture, HWKN, and Rafael Viñoly Architects — where we actually overlapped for a few months while studying at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. Alda launched MASS Design Group, a spectacular nonprofit design practice focused on humanitarian work. It has since grown to a team of over 140 architects landscape architects, engineers, designers, writers, filmmakers, and researchers representing 20 countries around the globe.

[00:00:00] Announcer: What goes into making an iconic building in America? What are the stories and who are the people behind the next generation of architecture? If your work touches the real estate industry in any way or you’re just curious about what goes into one of a kind cities and towns all across our country, join us on the American Building Podcast.

In season two, we learn about everything from skyscrapers to single family homes. From the famous and soon-to-be famous designers and developers responsible for them. This season focuses particularly on the pandemic and how our buildings will change in response. Our sponsor is the iconic design firm, Michael Graves Architecture & Design. And now your host award-winning architect-turned entrepreneur Atif Qadir, AIA.

[00:00:59] Atif Qadir: This is American building. And I’m your host author color. I’m the CEO of Redis, a technology company focused on innovative public financing for real estate projects. We are recording from the historic home of world renowned architect, Michael Graves in Princeton, New Jersey. Check out this amazing space for yourself at the Michael Graves, architecture and design YouTube channel.

Now let’s build something today. Our guest is Alda Ly. Although life, all days, the founder and principal of all the lie architecture, our firm is based in New York city and focuses on interiors with those specialty on tech driven commercial projects. She previously worked at design firms, Leon, Leon HW, K. And Rafio Winola architects, where we actually overlapped for a few months while studying at the graduate school of design at Harvard, she launched mass design group, a spectacular nonprofit design practice focused on humanitarian work.

It has since grown to a team of over 140 architects landscape architect. Engineers builders, furniture, designers, writers, filmmakers, and researchers representing 20 countries around the globe. She is originally from New Zealand and I presume then a fan of the flight of the core. We will be talking about her work across the country for TIAA a women’s health network and in particular, on their location and San Francisco more broadly, we will be talking about the future of commercial design in a post pandemic world.

So thank you so much for being here with us all day.

[00:02:42] Alda Ly: Thank you for having

[00:02:43] Atif Qadir: me. Absolutely. So I want to start with Los Angeles. Your dad was a cabinet maker and talk to us about the influences growing up and having that design aesthetic and that process around you, how that influenced your own career.

[00:02:59] Alda Ly: Yeah, sure. So we, we grew up in the suburbs of LA. We moved to the us from New Zealand and I can get into that a little bit later, but we’re, you know, my parents were, you know, they were working class. They, they were busy with working and just trying to make ends meet. So we didn’t have very much formal exposure to art or design or architecture.

They didn’t, you know, my parents didn’t have the time nor that even, you know, aware of. That they should be exposing us to this. So, you know, I really had a very, I think, um, culturally very sheltered upbringing. And so it was, you know, it was when I went to UC Berkeley for undergrad and I studied architecture there.

But prior to that, like, like you said, my father was a cabinet maker. Um, he had many, many jobs, but that was the one that was the most that resonated with me the most. He worked on a lot of residential projects and they weren’t very inspiring. I think they were very like, you know, straightforward, traditional style, beautiful, you know, like beautiful homes.

And I think this clients, you know, they, they were, you know, the, the, the taste style was very standard. It wasn’t inspiring. Design-wise since it was mostly traditional, so cabinetry, but the visits were like, I would go with him on site to install or to go kind of take measurements, but they were significant to me in the sense that.

I could see how design could dramatically change a space before and after. And I think that’s what really sparked my interest in architecture. And so that led me to, you know, applying for architecture at UC Berkeley. So it was a little bit of a, I didn’t have anything aside from that kind of gut feeling that I would enjoy it.

You know, I was good at the sciences. I was good at art. Otherwise it was just like, Hey, let’s see how it goes. It went well,

[00:05:01] Atif Qadir: I think that’s fantastic. And your upbringing has so many echoes to my own. So first-generation from an Asian country background, grew up working class. And what I think is so fascinating is this idea that.

Exposure to art and design and particularly what it means. And I think when you see it from a Western lens can sometimes mean this idea of beautiful things in this place. That’s hard to get to, and you have to be a certain person to go there, like a museum to feel comfortable when you think about, like, for example, for my own background is Indian Pakistani, Pakistan.

Art comes through every aspect of life, whether it’s your clothes, the food you eat, the way you communicate with people, the way that you lay out your house, the way your religious institutions look, all of that is art and architecture. Whether others choose to appreciate it that way or not. And I think for me, my growth as an architect was that self-realization about that particular background and seeing the world in a very different way, as I grew.

Did you have any experiences like that as you were growing up and kind of going through your career as well?

[00:06:08] Alda Ly: I think I fell in love with the process more so when, you know, I’m sure this was similar for you, but when I was growing up, you know, it was, the focus was 100% on academic achievement, right? So it was, it, my family is Chinese that my parents were born and raised in Vietnam and they escaped Saigon during the Vietnam war.

And as refugees, they moved around Southeast Asia. And then he settled in New Zealand where my brother and I were. And we moved to the U S so they were, you know, like I said, just working like double shifts at restaurants, just trying to like, pay the bills. So I was just focused on like studying and, you know, doing well and getting into a good school.

And I think, you know, that’s a very specific kind of like way to learn. But once I got into college, like I got, I took my first studio class, which was a drawing studio at UC Berkeley. Your first studio is all about hand drawing. And I don’t know, this was like way back in the day. I don’t know if it’s different now, but it’s all about handwriting and it’s not just, you know, it’s not a light class.

It’s like, you know, you’re staying up all night working on deadlines, similar to architecture, design studios that, you know, we’re more familiar with. But I think it was that process that I really fell in love with of just like working so hard towards something and, you know, feeling exhausted, but so proud.

And, you know, having that reward at the end of being able to talk about the work and talk about the process. So I think that it was really that that really like hooked me into architecture and

[00:07:45] Atif Qadir: design. I think it’s that idea of. Perseverance and persistence. That is the immigrant is also the architect aesthetic to.

[00:07:58] Alda Ly: But I was, I mean, I was a sponge, you know, I showed up to classes. I would just like take it all in and it wasn’t, you know, I was a blank canvas.

[00:08:06] Atif Qadir: So I think in particular, I, I really liked this idea of approaching design from a process as opposed to a design cannon, because oftentimes, especially in architecture school, we’re taught about.

Certain designs and certain styles. When in reality, I think whether you’re a cabinet maker or an architect, it’s always a design and service of the person using it. And I think if you are really good at observation and really good at listening, I think. Those are often the most important skills rather than adhering to a certain style or a certain way of doing things.

So I dig it. I think that makes a lot of sense to me. Yeah. So the first firm that you launched was mass design group that I’ve talked a little bit about in our introduction and talk to us about the steps that you took from what I’m thinking was a very. Amazing inspiring thought to begin with and then actually actualizing it to something that has grown to 140 design professionals.

How did that happen?

[00:09:08] Alda Ly: Yeah, and I can’t take, you know, most of the credit for this. Like I, I was there from the very beginning. And we, you know, mass design group was started by a whole group of us during our second year of grad school. We were at the mark in the Marc program at the GSD at Harvard. Um, and it was really spearheaded by my dear friend, Michael Murphy.

And it took a whole studio size group of us to get it launched and off the ground. But I went with Michael and Maria because Sherry Clark at the time to Rwanda during our. Winter break of our second year, we were there for a few weeks too. And we went to Rwanda and we had applied for some travel grants through the school too.

So we were supported by the GST to, to get started. But mass design group started from the Butaro hospital project and you know, it was. Funded, partially by partners in health. And I was involved in the very early years to get the design started and drawings and coordination with the team in Rwanda, you know, but at some point I needed to focus on completing grad school while Michael Murray and of our other classmates really pushed through the project construction.

So, you know, The ones that were instrumental to getting that started. And then, you know, I remember sitting at a cafe with Michael and Maurica in that, on that first trip and thinking about, you know, this is something that the world doesn’t have. And, you know, we knew that there was an interest in it. And we, we sat there and we thought about names for the firm.

And we came up with mass, which stood for a model for architecture, serving society. So that was the B the beginnings of it. And really, yeah. Michael kind of ran with it and they’ve done so many incredible projects and you know, now Michael and Alan and, you know, the whole team are, are, yeah, I’m so proud of everything they’re doing today.


[00:11:14] Atif Qadir: fantastic. And it sounds like there’s probably other interpretations of the name as well. This idea of a large group of people, the idea of a large value in terms of the projects from Massachusetts. So mass design group, so.

[00:11:27] Alda Ly: Right. Exactly. And we were also thinking like critical mass. Like this is the time.

And, you know, everyone wants to do something like this and we need, you know, we need the masses.

[00:11:40] Atif Qadir: And then your second firm is all the lie architecture. And when you made the decision to leave working at some spectacular farms, like, or with our friend Mathias, Holloway, thw pan, why did you do that? And what did you hope to accomplish and starting over?

[00:11:59] Alda Ly: I knew it required two things. The feeling like I had enough experience to do the actual work on my own, and also the feeling that I was ready to lead a firm before my practice before starting my practice. I worked. Yeah, I’d hold it to Cushner. I worked at other firms large and small, the projects range from.

Large to small scale. I worked on resort master plans. I worked on very detailed, custom decorative tile for high-end luxury retail stores. So, you know, really everything in between. And after almost 10 years, I realized that I loved the scale. Commercial interior design. I love the pace of it. I love that you can really shape and experience and all, all the details mattered.

The finishes like the, the lighting, the color of the acoustics, the way that certain, you know, furniture, layouts or oriented. And so I knew that was the direction that I wanted to go for my own personal work. And. Throughout my time working at previous employers, I got experienced in design and project management, working with clients and contractors.

I wrote proposals, I put fees together. So, you know, I really had, I had checked all those off and I had a strong interest in the operations. So, you know, everything was there. It was just a matter of like, kind of taking the leap. There was also always a hesitation to, because I had, I knew I always wanted to have my own practice one day, but as an introvert, I always thought that I would, you know, be a solo practitioner and do my own small thing, or I would.

A partner. I never thought I would be good at, you know, schmoozing and networking to get projects and contracts and, and, um, you know, I didn’t want the sole responsibility of like leadership or having the spotlight on me in any way. So yeah, so there was always a little bit of hesitation, but then I just jumped in, you know, I was lucky to have my first project come to me.

It was the way. Uh, women’s working space. So it was couldn’t have been a more perfect first project for me.

[00:14:15] Atif Qadir: And I was in New York city. The first location that you were.

[00:14:19] Alda Ly: Yes, that’s right. Yeah. That was the New York location. I had worked on a smaller kind of pilot space in a flat iron area in New York. But, um, and that was with a previous firm, but several months after I left, the clients reached out to me to say that they were about to build a flagship location and they needed a woman architect.

And I was like, I

[00:14:43] Atif Qadir: got you.

[00:14:47] Alda Ly: So it was a place for women to work and to work together and to thrive and build a network. So I couldn’t have been more excited. And I mean, I think it was this project that really kind of set the tone for how we work today. It’s here that we, we first really understood the importance of, you know, talking to the users, having, you know, like.

Thorough interviews and putting ourselves in their shoes to design the space. So, so that really set the tone. And as we took on more projects beyond that, we really developed that project. And, and now we carry that same mentality of deep listening, constant learning to represent all of the users and artists.

[00:15:28] Atif Qadir: That’s terrific. So I think that’s probably a good segue to start chatting about our focus, which is the Tia San Francisco project. Before we dive into that particular one, tell us about Tia and what.

[00:15:41] Alda Ly: Yeah. So TIAA is a full service women’s health care platform, and they are starting to build many brick and mortar locations.

So it’s a one-stop shop for women’s health. We have physical, mental, emotional. Covered, um, both in-person and virtual, they do gynecology primary care, mental health acupuncture. So they’re really focused on the whole person. And, um, they use, like I said, technology, but also they have beautiful clinics that we’re working with them on

[00:16:15] Atif Qadir: designing, uh, given that their growth has happened during the.

How has that impacted the way that you look at the design of a space, given that healthcare traditionally has been a very in-person endeavor. And I think relatively recently there has been changes in that

[00:16:34] Alda Ly: I think with Tia and healthcare, and actually a lot of the other commercial projects that we’re working on.

Everyone’s, you know, everyone’s thinking about like, what is it going to take. Bring people to our space now that people don’t, you know, are afraid to leave their houses. You know, what, what could we offer them to make sure that they’re taking care of their health, that they’re not ignoring any, you know, any red flags.

With Tia. It was really about making, creating a home for their members and their patients. So providing really incredible amenities, making it feel comfortable, making it feel safe so that it didn’t feel like you were walking into a space that you weren’t familiar with. Like it felt like home.

[00:17:23] Atif Qadir: And then the particular location for T a seven.

Cisco, where is it? Within the city itself. And were there any interesting or peculiar parts about the site that was, uh, something that inspired.

[00:17:35] Alda Ly: It’s located on mission and 11th. The building itself was originally a Coca-Cola bottling factory. And we, as soon as we saw a photo of, we fell in love and we’re like, let’s do this.

[00:17:48] Atif Qadir: This is going around the bottles, the machines, all that was still

[00:17:52] Alda Ly: not any more. I would have loved to see that, but not anymore, it’s empty, but it has a lot of the original kind of art deco detailing around it. And there’s a clock tower. So all of that has been restored for the most part. So, you know, for our project, we’re really coming in with the interior design and architecture of the building.

So we, you know, it’s going to be a modern renovation of a beautiful historic building. So, which is why I think it’s similar to the way that we see the way Tia is changing traditional women’s healthcare to. And thousand square feet. There’s three floors. There’s a roof level. And you know, we’re planning an incredible roof deck there as part of the roof deck we’re putting in a rooftop farm.

Yeah. It’s, it’s a gorgeous building. We’re so excited.

[00:18:47] Atif Qadir: That’s really awesome. Given that there is a design aesthetic there as well. Um, talk to us about the material choices that you made in order to compliment the design that was there, or perhaps.

[00:19:01] Alda Ly: Were you saying, I mean, Tia has such a strong brand. If you, if you look them up, I mean, they’re both, you know, they’re colorful and you know, we wanted to bring that to compliment the historic buildings.

So there’s bright colors. There’s also, you know, there’s beautiful old historic, the, the windows. The industrial windows. So, you know, we’re getting great daylight. Uh, we wanted to bring in warm materials like woods and, you know, soft colors. So it’s really just going to be, you know, lots of really warm, bold colors to compliment.

What’s currently. Okay.

[00:19:38] Atif Qadir: And then given that the firm or the company is relatively new, and what they’re trying to do is relatively unusual in the history of healthcare. What was the prompt that they gave you? Like, how did they tell you? Okay. Start? What, what did they tell you?

[00:19:56] Alda Ly: When we started working with Tia, they had a space already in New York city and the think it’s the flat iron area.

And, you know, overall this space. That Tio wanted was to reflect their mission, whether it’s, you know, patients care providers or staff that everyone should be seen and heard and cared for. So to achieve this school, we offered a variety of, you know, settings, you know, privacy levels, personalized features, different hospitality, style experiences, all over the world.

T I wanted the building to feel like it belonged to its members so that they could move around and have it feel like home. So, you know, navigation and wayfinding was really important to the design. We use clear sight lines. We use bold and distinct colors and materials to anchor certain, you know, experiences and, you know, visual kind of anchor points and destinations.

There are. Exam rooms, staff lounges, conference rooms, and they’re all easy to find. So the wayfinding was really important.

[00:21:10] Atif Qadir: That’s really fascinating too, to hear, because when I think of like a traditional hospital, which like we had to spend too much time in is one where the, the feeling that you get is that you’re not supposed to be there.

It’s confusing. And that’s probably the way that I also register government buildings as well. So I think that that idea of simply. Showing somebody the way could probably help them feel like they should be there rather than shouldn’t be there. But what are some of the things that you heard in the customer discovery that you were, that you were doing that helped lead you to that path?

[00:21:52] Alda Ly: A lot of the research, you know, was. Really kind of coming from our own experiences as well. We’re affirm of, you know, we’re from a 12, 11 of us are women and you know, some of us have children, some of us, you know, are, are younger. Some of us are older. So, you know, we have a range of experiences as women.

And of course, like. To the doctor is typically quite stressful and I’ve had two kids in the last few years. So I’ve had lots and lots of doctor’s visits and one, you know, one experience that I, you know, I like to talk about is that of when you’re done with an exam and, you know, you get dressed and you kind of out of the exam room, there’s no clear signs of ways to get out.

So, you know, it’s amaze, you’re literally looking for exits. I try to get out of your doctor’s appointment and you know, my heart races, I get stressed out. I start sweating. So yeah, it’s not easy for me. And I think that’s a very common experience. So there’s lots of, you know, examples of that, that we’ve been through.

That we use to inform the way that we designed for, uh, projects like Tia and ardent healthcare projects in general.

[00:23:09] Atif Qadir: That’s fascinating because now that I think about the healthcare experience that I most enjoy, it’s actually going to my dentist because I’m at the tail end of Invisalign. So I’ve had many visits to, to my dentist and what what’s so fascinating in particular is it’s incredibly well-designed in terms of its material.

Tons of natural light. It’s right on the water in Hoboken, where I live. There’s nice views, very pleasant Vista. As you see the ferry going back and forth. And what I think they did really cleverly is define what are the, uh, parts of the visit, where someone could be totally fine being in a semi. Public space, where there are really no walls.

There. Just some kind of separations between the places where the different desk dentists are working. And where are there particular parts of the process where you do really need to have your own room that separate from others with a door that can close. And I think the reality is this particularly with, with dentistry, is that the time that you need to have a door that’s closed is when your.

X-rays or something in particular that’s wildly uncomfortable getting a tooth pulled. That’s probably like the only two inches, but everything like related to Invisalign for me, it was all in this completely open space. And I think that perhaps even rethinking the process of what is happening step-by-step and what could be, where was that potentially a part of your thought process?

[00:24:33] Alda Ly: Yeah, I love your description of this dentist office

[00:24:37] Atif Qadir: makes you want to go there too. Right?

[00:24:40] Alda Ly: Let me know.

And actually we’ve worked on a couple of dental projects too, and one important thing. It just made me think of it as you were talking, but sound. It’s really interesting as how sound carries through a space. And, you know, for, for some of these clinics that have open kind of exam areas, you know, what can be grouped together typically are the things that are quiet.

Right? And, you know, in addition to the uncomfortable, you know, procedures and, you know, private conversations of course need to be separated, but you know, people don’t want to hear other patients. Drilling.

So sound is really important. Yeah. With TIAA, we really focused on the exam you’ve experienced and what that’s like for a woman. And, you know, you, you may not be familiar with it, but

for a gynecology visit, you know, you come in and you have to get. So, you know, that’s a very, very awkward sequence, right? So you come in, they give you a gown and, you know, they tell you to come dress, they pull a curtain and they. And so you’re just scrambling to get undressed put on your gown and you know, can sit there patiently.

Well, a doctor, you know, comes in at some point, you don’t know whether it’s going to be in 30 seconds or it’s going to be in 20 minutes. So as you know, 30 minutes, right. So we’ve, we really thought about that. And what would make somebody much more comfortable and you know, where you we’ve designed.

Personal kind of patient closets. We’ve redesigned the, the way that the curtains close in a particular way so that it, you know, really kind of makes you feel safe or you’re not going to, you know, be startled by somebody who opens the door. Um, so I think all of that has a lot to do with the overall.

Happiness of, you know, and the success of the visit to the clinic.

[00:26:57] Atif Qadir: Do you know what thought that makes me think of is I spent time in Williamsburg and Greenpoint and then later in prospect Heights. And I think so I’ve had a chance to live in very much. Buildings like essentially a converted loft and then also an incredibly beautiful historic buildings.

And I think particularly what, why I’m mentioning this is that there is a, a level or a sense of graciousness to the layout of, uh, older historic buildings. So for example, uh, living in a two bedroom, one bath with a good friend of mine, Dennis is, uh, it was relatively large at about a thousand square feet.

And. In perhaps a modern building, it would be a huge open living room and kitchen that you directly walk into. And both of the bedrooms that opened directly onto the living room, but what’s so interesting and peculiar in the same way. Is that in this particular apartment, you will. And there is an opportunity to put like a really nice piece of artwork or a bookcase.

And then you turn, and there’s a relatively long, a hallway where you can put artwork on one side as natural light. It looks nice. And then you open onto a living room. You continue walking a bit, and then there’s a single turn that happens for one of the bedrooms and a little bit of a turn that happens to the other.

So in a thousand square feet, you get an immense amount of private. Which is really just done with certain moves on where a hallway turns and what you can see when that happens, which I think is, is something I’m thinking that it was part of what your thought processes were as well then and within the exam room itself.

[00:28:25] Alda Ly: Yeah. And, and not just in the exam room, but also in the waiting area. This is something that we think about, you know, for, for a lot of our healthcare projects and even projects like, like the wing providing. A variety of kind of seating options and different orientations and views. Even if it’s a large open space, it creates that that perception of privacy and security so that you really never feel like somebody’s.

You know, kind of hovering over your shoulder or that you, you know, you, you need to kind of be a part of this larger kind of communal space if you don’t want to. And so providing options for seating, like carving out different, like smaller nooks to sit and, you know, get a little cozy in for some of our woman’s.

Projects, we have, you know, an active waiting area and a more private, quiet waiting area, you know, at gynecology and OB offices, there are, you know, very sensitive things happening. You know, you may be coming to celebrate because you just found out you’re pregnant or you could be there to follow up with a miscarriage.

You know, we really have to think about the emotions of the people who are coming into the space and how to design for that and meet them where they are. So that’s really important. And I think that’s, that’s done, you know, I think pretty. Successfully when we give people options,

[00:30:02] Atif Qadir: I’m going to take a moment here just to let our listeners know that we will be having the wonderful architect, Edwin Harris on the podcast.

Next month. He is a professor of architecture at MCC. And a co-founder and principal at evoke studios based in Durham, a fun fact. He is the second research triangle based architect that we will have on the show this season. And I’m sure we will spend time trashing Duke’s men’s basketball team together.

So head to American building to listen to past episodes. Click on the links there. Do you subscribe via iTunes or any other of the major podcast platforms? So Redis is a technology company that is innovating around an age, older problem financing, real estate deals. This machine learning driven platform is an end to end solution for brokers, developers, investors, and others in the building industry, looking to unlock the hundred billion dollars of tax.

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So let’s talk a little bit more big picture. Your approach to commercial design projects like TIAA allows you to work at very large scales. So from the idea of an entire building renovation, all the way down to the tiniest of details, one thing in particular is that you have an interest in furniture. So talk to us about those first trips that you went on with your dad, and then from there, how your interest in furniture group.

[00:32:02] Alda Ly: Yeah, I love, I love this small scale. We’ve. It was just recently, I guess in the past two years, um, started offering interior design services. I started my company as an architecture firm, my background, and I’m a licensed architect, but now we offer interior design and we’re even offering styling. Services and coordinating with greenery and artwork.

So we’re realizing more and more as we work with clients that want their spaces to feel unique, that we need all of those layers really to create that experience. So the architecture, the interior design and the styling, you know, really need to come together and, you know, without. One of those layers, it starts to feel like something is missing.

So we’ve really kind of pushed to tell a full story through everything we do down to, you know, from furniture, uh, from, you know, starting with the architecture and the layout. To the furniture, to the styling and, uh, you know, we have an incredible interior design team, uh, led by Tanya chow and we’re, we’re even working on a design for a furniture piece with a contract furniture manufacturer.

So I don’t think I’m allowed to talk too much about that yet would be failing

[00:33:26] Atif Qadir: soon. I think, um, one thing that reminds me of in particular, Earlier this season we had on, uh, Galia, Solomon and Camila cross seat on the show, both our architects that did their initial training in Latin America. So in Argentina and galley’s case, or in Venezuela for Camilo case in both continue their education in New York city.

And what they recall does is interesting difference where there. At the beginning part of their training, there didn’t seem to be bound in what design actually meant. So for them, it was rather comfortable and normal within a school format to be working on a, for example, like a furniture or an industrial design project.

And then the next, next project they worked on was an urban design scale project. It’s when they came to the United States to complete their studies, that they noticed that here we tend to compartmentalize to what a architect does versus what a interior designer does or a product designer does. One in particular, I would imagine being a really good furniture designer has many of the same requirements and attributes that being a really good architect does, would you, would you.

[00:34:40] Alda Ly: Yeah, I do. I do agree with that. I, and I think you’re absolutely right. The way that we were trained. We’re not, we’re not trying to think about it that way. And it’s only through practice that we’ve discovered that like, I’ve, you know, I went to school, uh, like I said, an undergrad at Berkeley where. You know, they teach you to, to design from the user’s perspective, right?

Like what does it feel like when you walk in the room? Like, where do you see, where does the light come from? How do you, do you know, how do you turn, how you move through the space? And that, that was like, I loved that, that way of thinking. And when I went to the GSD. It was very, very different. It was more about the building itself and the form of it and how it sits in the landscape, in the urban setting.

So, you know, when, when I started working after grad school, I did. Really know how to design interiors at all. I thought that I had a very minimalist style, so would that meant white walls and a little gallery reveal at the bottom and that, you know, and one piece of beautiful furniture and a plant. And that was my style.

But. That was really just because I didn’t know how to design interior. So it took a long time for me to really feel comfortable with designing at a smaller scale. And yeah, you’re absolutely right. You know, it, it, you know, you think about, you know, what people need, what the users need, uh, designing from that experience.

You know, what they touch the details. Think it’s, it’s a very similar. Not

[00:36:21] Atif Qadir: processed. I think what there is is that there may this prejudice against the smaller scale as if it doesn’t particularly matter. And I think that when I would say is probably one of the things that I had as the biggest aha is so, uh, both of us are really familiar with the Princeton area.

The, uh, museum of art at Princeton recently had a really special. Exhibit, which was illuminated manuscripts from ancient Persia. So those were eliminate manuscripts, both religious texts from the Koran, as well as, uh, depictions of ancient Persian history. And these were all about like four inches by six inches, the entire painting relatively of that scale.

And when you look at it like, ah, if that’s on a piece of artwork, it’s literally four inches by six inches or like something of that scale relatively small, but then you look at. Oh, my God, there are so many stunningly beautiful details that are put in this really tiny scale. And I think particularly like for me as an architect, I’ve never had a chance to work on that scale of interiors until renovating my parents.

I was also in the Princeton scenario. And when you actually are the person responsible. Choosing the particular base molding that goes on throughout that I was then going to buy, set base molding in your car or the samples of it in your car, or the particular handles that you use for the kitchen. And then you realize there is an opportunity to inject that same line of thinking that you put into the design of a building about how would someone use this?

How would someone touch that particular handle? How comfortable is. Where does it look in terms of the overall, the kitchen cabinetry, for example, as a piece of artwork on its own, how does that whole assemblage look? And I think if you give yourself the agency and the, the room to make those decisions and give it the same level of importance as architecture, architecture, I think there’s opportunities to really, really beautiful.


[00:38:17] Alda Ly: recently redid our kitchen weight. And if you’re saying the Princeton area, you’re referencing that because we have just moved to the printer for all the listeners, but we recently re renovated our kitchen and my favorite detail or favorite product that we used is a cabinet. Pull that shaped like a T it’s matte black.

It’s beautiful. It’s like curved in all the right ways. And I selected it because you could pull it with one finger or both fingers at the top of the. But it it’s the perfect little shape to hang our babies bibs on so that they can dry over the sink. And it’s my favorite part of the house.

[00:39:00] Atif Qadir: I dig it. I think there’s, there’s so many opportunities, uh, for, for designed to be so specific.

And so. Uh, respectful of the person that’s using it. So, one thing you talked about in your description recently was the use of plants in your design, which is a little bit different than the thinking that architects and maybe even interior designers have, uh, and this idea of biophilic design as a strategy.

That means going beyond a traditional construction materials and including, uh, living elements. So could you talk in more detail about what that is and how that plays a part in your own design process in your.

[00:39:35] Alda Ly: Yeah, sure. At its core biophilic design is really about connecting people back to nature. So it’s not, it’s not just about adding plats, but I think there is, it’s much more complex than that.

There’s a lot of evidence that biophilic design in spaces can lead to a number of really positive impacts on people’s health and wellbeing. Um, it reduces tension, anxiety, and anger. It improves cognitive. Function and performance. It improves people’s moods. It lowers blood pressure and lowers cortisol or stress levels.

So we started looking into biophilic design for our first location of parsley health in New York city, which has a functional medicine clinic in, in New York and our client, uh, Robert Berson. Uh, she had one goal for the design of the space and that was that she wanted the space to heal people too. And we just loved that.

So we really like tried to run with it and we dove into researching biophilic design and we wanted to put, you know, all that great research and practice into our space. So we, we use the guy. Called the 14 patterns of biophilic design, which was put together by a Terrapin, bright green consulting firm.

And, you know, and there’s so many great examples of, of how you can connect people back to nature. Um, beyond, I mean, bringing in plants is one of our favorite ones, um, because it’s, it’s, you know, relatively easy to do. Sometimes harder to do, if it’s more, you know, if there’s not a lot of natural daylight.

Um, so we have to think about, you know, uh, grow lights and electrical requirements, but you know, our, our favorite example of it in parsley health specifically is the way that we laid out the hallways in the exam rooms. I mentioned that example of coming out of it, of an exam and feeling very lost. You know, in order to address that, we, we designed the entire space around one big beautiful corridor with a plant installation at one end.

And the other at the other end is, you know, the, the lounge with, you know, big, bright windows and a big chandelier. So as soon as you walk out, you know exactly where to go and you know, there’s no anxiety. And so. You know, the, the layout itself is even part of biophilic design. So what can you do to reduce stress levels?

Right. So other examples are using the patterns and the colors of nature found in nature. So, you know, if you think about any kind of natural scene, like. What are the colors found there, like the blues and the greens and, you know, the, the Sandy colors and Browns and reds and oranges. So, um, all of those colors really kind of can put you at ease and the textures.

So, you know, even if it’s, even if it’s not natural, even if it’s manmade, it can still. You know, give you positive effects, right. And geometric patterns as well, because a lot of those are found in nature. You know, also it changes in the senses like a breeze coming through a window or seeing curtains move, you know, as it blows through the wind or hearing the sound of water and, you know, seeing the light kind of change through.

Uh, screen of, you know, creating shadows. So a lot of those things all come together to really change people’s moods and reduce stress. And we try to do that as much as possible in not just our healthcare projects, but even, you know, workplace. I think that’s really important because people are spending eight hours, 10 hours, 12 hours in an office.

[00:43:25] Atif Qadir: That sounds incredible. So it feels like there are so many. Amazing tools that you’ve let us in on in terms of working our way backwards, the use and integration of greenery, as well as natural colors and styles into a space. The idea of thinking beyond just the visual to the other senses, uh, like sound and sight to be able to integrate.

Into like a better feeling space to think about the organization and the process that someone goes through, uh, the ability to have choice in your design and the way that you experienced the space and then, uh, letting yourself put the same amount of effort and thought in the smallest scale, as well as the largest scale, perhaps to allow for those ahas for, for users and for visitors, when they come to a space, I think that’s all.

So you mentioned parsley health. You mentioned your work at TIAA. Talk to us more about the other projects you’ve recently completed and the types of projects that you are working on now and perhaps going forward.

[00:44:26] Alda Ly: Yeah, we were working on a few more locations for Tia. So stay tuned for those announcements.

We are about to start construction for a restaurant in Iceland. There’s a hidden theater in it. We’re so excited about it. It’s right on the Harbor on the waterfront. We’re working on a project in New York called clean market, which is a retail and wellness space. That’s all about getting people to feel well.

So they have safe and healthy products. They have wellness services like IV nutrient therapy and inference Ana. We’re about to also start construction on a cafe in Brooklyn. That’s focused on Korean shaved ice desserts. And a Boba teas. And we let’s see last year in the, in the past year, we just finished a few projects, other healthcare projects for live by advantage health and health quarters.

And, uh, recently we completed. Healthiness, which is a showroom and, you know, family experience where parents can bond with their babies and toddlers. And we’re working on a few really exciting workplace projects as well. And, and that’s been fun because we, you know, there’s so many questions about, you know, what does return to work look like?

And, um, we’re, we’re digging into that now.

[00:45:49] Atif Qadir: That’s fascinated because earlier this year I had a chance to, uh, host a panel discussion. Colombia business schools, a real estate symposium. So very different than say a conversation between two architects. But in reality, what I found that so fascinating is that on the other extreme, even a venture cap, People are talking about these blending of asset classes.

And in traditional real estate, people are talking about the blending of asset classes. So this idea of how does office become more like the home? How does the home continue to become more like the office with some limits? Of course, how does retail become more hotel? Like how does it become more residential?

And let us in about some of the thoughts that you’re, that are going through your mind about what this next generation of office is.

[00:46:36] Alda Ly: Yeah, I think, I mean, that’s, that’s a huge part of it right there. Like making it feel like an extension of the home almost. I mean, to it to a certain point,

[00:46:46] Atif Qadir: can we be walking around in pajamas or does that not happen?

Unless they’re designed, unless they’re designed by all lying architecture, then we can wear them.

[00:46:59] Alda Ly: Bringing in new amenities and different amenities to, to attract people back to the office of think amenities, making it feel comfortable, again, flexibility for how people work and where people work. There’s lots of.

And lots more meetings of, yeah, lots and lots of meetings happening now. So providing as many phone booths as possible, um, meeting rooms for 2, 3, 4 people, I think that’s, that’s the trend that we’re seeing. Yeah. And, and I think, you know, going back to the biophilic design, like giving people, access to daylight and fresh air and plants and color, and, you know,

[00:47:42] Atif Qadir: I think that’d be, that’d be interested in ways that the office space can accommodate two things.

One is loud talkers like me. Cause I went back to the office for the first time. I realized that I’ve just gained a habit of talking really loudly. Uh, mostly because I’ve just been in my own room for the past few years. And I think that. Allowing people to talk at their net, their new natural volumes without making other people feel uncomfortable, I think is one thing that hopefully the best designers will be able to accomplish.

And at the other one is that this notion of this is so for my startup reduced our office is downtown and Soho and. Uh, flex building, which has some kind of fixed permanent office, um, a co-working that some spaces in between. And what I find is whenever there is a spike in coronavirus or other concerns related to health, that it effectively shuts down the entire building.

I know it’s not the easiest thing to plan around, but I can imagine that maybe there might be a future where an office isn’t. Everyone goes into the same lobby. They touch the same door, the same elevator and the same process and the same large space where there’s shared desk. Maybe an office is more like multiple entrances and multiple cores and multiple levels where you don’t necessarily know shut down the whole thing.

If something has happened, there’s ways to carve out things such that life kind of continues. Is that something that you’ve thought about?

[00:49:10] Alda Ly: I love that idea. I mean, I think there’s definitely challenges in, you know, efficiency and, you know, building cores and insurances

[00:49:19] Atif Qadir: logistical things.

[00:49:22] Alda Ly: But I like the idea that it feels a little, instead of like a, you know, a huge building, it feels more like, you know, a little village with lots of small buildings inside.

We’re going through the same thing as well. You know, we’re, we’re an office of 12 and, um, we had an office in Brooklyn prior to the pandemic. Uh, what we decided to do was actually, we got rid of our lease, went up thankfully. So we put everything in storage, but what we decided to do was actually just. A small, it’s not even office.

It’s more of a meeting room or collaboration space where we can get together as needed about the projects or materials libraries there. And that’s it. It’s not a space for anybody to work at their computer. That’s mostly done from home, but we also provide. The flexibility of having day passes to coworking spaces as well.

So, you know, between working at home, having the day passes and having the meeting areas, hopefully we can cover, you know, all of our bases to let people, you know, have the choice to work. However they want to work, you know, to get their work done and feel comfortable and feel safe. Yeah.

[00:50:38] Atif Qadir: So what I really enjoy about this conversation is whether we’re talking about.

The future of work, the large suite of projects that you’re working on T uh, or your home renovation, your kitchen, uh, which has a very lovely kitchen, uh, is that there’s this, this humanist touch to everything. And I had a chance to look at a number of the, the projects that you’ve, that the mass design group has worked on and looked through a bunch of their videos.

And one thing that really kind of stuck with me is this idea. The search for justice and the search for beauty aren’t necessarily wholly separate things. They’re actually things that are really intertwined and that’s something that, that was so deeply emotional and deeply resonant for me. And as you look at this incredible sweep of a career that you’ve had so far.

Where’s the, you want to go from here? What do you, what do you hope to accomplish in this next phase of your career as your company grows? And you have a wide array of really amazing clients and what are the, world’s your oyster? What do you, what are you.

[00:51:38] Alda Ly: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, I love that two masses, you know, statement about beauty is justice and justice and beauty will be five years old this year.

So yay. And I do think our mission is really still evolving where, you know, through. Early projects we’ve uncovered that are our super power as a firm is, you know, designing with empathy. So we’re, we’re great listeners. We, we talked to everybody, we can possibly talk to you to learn about what the project needs and we put ourselves in their shoes.

So, you know, that’s been. A really great starting point. And we’re working on building processes around that to make sure that that strategy and that approach has really embedded in all of the layers of the work. So, you know, it’s not just what is the program, but it’s, you know, how, how people feel when they come into the office and, you know, what are they touching?

You know, all of those, those layers that we talked about. So we’re excited to, to really build on that. Um, another thing that we’re really proud of that we’ve been able to, to do so far is to work with a diverse group of people and also, you know, our clients and consultant teams. That’s something that I’m, you know, I want to develop as well, where.

Like I said, we’re 11 out of 12 of us are women Mo you know, more than half of us are people of color where, you know, we are a minority and women business enterprise in New York city. And, you know, we’re, we try really hard to work with consultants and contractors that are also minority and women owned businesses as well.

And I think that, you know, our clients come to us because. You know, we, we want that for their projects as well. And so we really kind of make sure that all of the options are, are there for them. And, and, you know, we w we try to, to guide them to be. Bringing in a diverse team because it’s only for the best

[00:53:53] Atif Qadir: of the project.

I love it. And that’s a future that, uh, I want to be a part of as well. That’s that’s wonderful. So thank you so much for joining us today on the American building podcast, all the, and listeners, if you want to hear the behind the scenes stories of how. Buildings in our country were designed and built subscribe to this podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Google anchors, Stitcher, or wherever you like to listen.

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