Q&A with Yen Ha:
Please tell me about yourself and where you’re from.
I was born in Vietnam but grew up a little all over the States and have been living in NYC for 16 years (eep!). Someday I will call myself a New Yorker, but that day hasn’t arrived yet. Lately I have been describing myself as: Architect, Reader, Eater and Mom. That pretty much sums up my life.
Please tell me where you work and explain what your job entails.
I am a principal at an architecture firm, Front Studio Architects, which I founded in 2001. I am also a food blogger at Lunch Studio, which I started in 2007 with my friend and business partner, Michi. Mostly Michi and I spend our days talking on the phone, answering emails and eating lunch. Sometimes, in the evenings, we actually design space.
What other creative things are you doing?
If I’m not at work, eating or reading, then I’m making things. I make all sorts of things all of the time. I knit arm warmers, I make decorative inserts for my planner, I alter clothing and bags, I plan birthday parties for my kids revolving around straws,– basically if something isn’t working the way I want it to, I’ll adapt it or make it.
How did you get to where you are today?
What I really wanted to be was an English major. I wanted to spend the rest of my days reading and hopefully writing, but for an immigrant family that’s a pretty tall order. I kind of ended up in architecture because my parents said it was ok and I thought I could like it.
It’s a pretty straightforward career path, but since college I’ve ended up moonlighting in the food business quite a lot. Michi and I had a catering business for gallery openings for several years, then we hostessed at Public Restaurant for a while and now the Lunch Studio blog, which has its own little cult following. So you could say I’m an architect moonlighting as a food blogger.
How did you figure out what you wanted to do?
I was so incredibly lucky that architecture suited me so much but honestly it might be owning a business is what suits me and I just lucked into architecture.
Anything thing or anyone in particular that influenced your life, therefore gave you direction?
Right now I am feeling inspired by all women practicing architecture. The numbers taper off dramatically from school and I see why – how can you produce amazing architecture if your head is filled with grocery lists? How is it possible to maintain a practice that demands 10 hour work days and still see your kids before bedtime? It’s a challenging balance to be made and I am watching all the women around me to see how they do it and to learn how we might shape our own architectural practice to accommodate both spectrums of work and home.
What has been one of your favorite projects?
Definitely it’s not always the biggest budget or greatest scope that produces favorite projects. We have a particular fondness for the McNally Jackson Café, probably because it turned out to be one of the more creative projects despite the small budget and limited space. We loved working with Sarah McNally because she was so receptive to non-traditional thinking about the space.
What are you currently working on?
We are just starting on renovating a doctor’s office into a religious sanctuary for a congregation called Faith at Work.
Describe your style. Is your personal style different from your professional style?
There is not a correlation for everyone, but I do like to think there is a similarity between what I prefer personally and how I appear professionally. I tend towards non-trendy, non of-the-moment styles and our architecture feels similarly inclined. I kind of hope the work we produce and what is my style could be construed as interesting and timeless.
Anything unexpected about the work you do? Maybe something you didn’t know before you started on this path.
I would have loved for someone to tell me that there is no money in architecture and if you ever want to make money, don’t be an architect. Good thing I don’t require lots of money to be happy.
Where do you get inspiration?
The city inspires me on a daily basis, but really I love, love, love to travel. I definitely don’t get to do it as much as I would love to but wow do I love getting on a plane to go somewhere new. I even love to travel with the kids because it’s so amazing to me to see the world through them.
Do you have a dream client or assignment?
Michi and I dream of designing a building in NYC. And meeting Clive Owen. Or designing a building for Clive Owen in NYC. Though I guess he could be a really terrible client and then it would be no fun no matter how good looking he is.