The 2015 spotlight series kicks off the year with a relatively new AWA+D member but a true standout within in the architecture field. Patricia "Patti" Rhee is one of four partners at Ehrlich Architects, the 2015 AIA National Firm Award winner. The award, which is the highest honor bestowed on an architecture firm, recognizes sustained design excellence for at least 10 years. Patti’s efforts to advance the firm's design excellence, to thrive within the Design-Build realm, and to promote firm culture via mentorship and an international internship program have been instrumental in their continued success and their recent transition from sole proprietorship to partnership. Read on to learn more about this dynamic architect, mother and leader.
1. Biographical Information I grew up a Korean-American in a little rural town in Maryland called Havre de Grace. I attended the University of Pennsylvania for my undergraduate degree, and Harvard GSD for my masters in architecture. I worked in Boston for two years before moving to LA in 2000 where I started working for Steven Ehrlich. As a student, I did a slew of summer internships in Baltimore, LA and Seoul. I've been at Ehrlich Architects since 2000.
2. Why did you want to become an architect? When I was in my junior year of college. I was a design of the environment major at Penn and absolutely loved the whole studio experience - pinups/crits, going on field trips, drawing, writing, and making things that drew upon my painting background and love for creative writing. I thrived in that program and found it hard to believe one could actually base a career doing these things.
3. Who have been your greatest influencers? Why? My classmates at Harvard's Graduate School of Design. I was surrounded by the most incredibly intelligent, creative, intensely hard-working, sophisticated, driven individuals. It was very formative in my becoming an architect. My class was the first to have an even split between women and men and it was amazing to see how the women dominated that year. It was great to be part of that unique energy.
4. What do you feel are some of your most important achievements? Being an architect and a mom to two wonderful kids. Winning the UAE competition was also a huge high. We presented to Richard Rogers in the existing Federal National Council building in Abu Dhabi. It was my first time in the middle east and a real eye-opening experience.
5. What are some of the insights of being a woman in your occupation? Travel the world before you have kids. It's still possible to do that when you have kids but you'll cover a lot more ground without them.
6. What excites you creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Discovering new ethnic eats in Los Angeles is actually one of my favorite things to do, especially during the weekends with my family. I love our gastronomic adventures - they take me to all kinds of neighborhoods and are a way of getting to know the City that is intimate, local, and feeds the soul.
7. What do you think/hope your occupation will look like in 10 years? Gender blind and age blind.
8. What role do/have you played in AWA+D and what is the importance of the organization in your life? I joined fairly recently but am looking forward to learning from and sharing with my colleagues, particularly my interests in promoting women in the industry and sharing my experience (and success!) in the Design-Build world.
9. What advice would you give the graduating class of 2015? Before starting your first job, and while you're still young, visit a lot of different offices and talk to as many architects as you can. It's really a small world when it comes to architecture. You'll also have a better sense of the right office for you by checking out different places. The atmosphere of an office is so important--that's what you'll be living with everyday for many many hours, months, and years! As a designer, you want to be inspired by the space you work in.