Welcome to HMC Architects’ Five in Focus blog series, where we explore the latest trends, ideas, and innovations shaping the future of architecture and design. This series asks our design professionals to tell us what’s capturing their attention and offer some insights.

Lujane Aboud, AIA, is a project designer at HMC. Here, she shares her thoughts on immersing yourself in the cultures for which you design, modernizing old-school campuses, boosting school spirit with kitchen upgrades, the power of loving what you do and balancing work and life successfully.

1. Empowering Architects: Diverse Cultures, Multilingual Proficiency, Enhanced Design

Attending recent design presentations has highlighted a crucial insight: my understanding of cultural aesthetics isn’t universally shared. As an Arab American woman architect, I navigate diverse viewpoints, prompting reflection on my cultural influence. Design goes beyond surface problems, requiring deep understanding and immersion in the community you aim to service. Each architect brings a unique perspective shaped by education, memories, and personal tastes, forming the essence of design culture. Multilingual proficiency offers flexibility in understanding user needs. In a multicultural society like America, continual cultural learning is vital. Leveraging our backgrounds builds authentic connections. For those with limited exposure, immersing in local cultures is critical. Impactful designs arise from understanding both the challenge and community needs. Inclusivity and cultural appreciation enrich designs, creating environments that resonate with inhabitants. I encourage you to immerse yourself in the backgrounds of the cultures you serve. Every place has a culture, and you’ll do your best work once you understand the purpose behind the design challenge and the community’s needs.

2. Revitalizing Old School Campuses: Modernization and Safety with Aesthetic Vision

In my role within the PreK-12 practice, I collaborate closely with districts housing older school sites dating back to the 1930s and 1940s. The original architecture emphasizes space efficiency and private areas, so these structures often need more security measures and visibility. Working predominantly with smaller districts, I have the opportunity to rejuvenate aging buildings to meet contemporary design standards, breathing new life into them. A pressing demand from these districts is the need to modernize campuses to address security issues and enhance supervision. I’ve embraced this challenge as an opportunity to refine my skills in designing within predefined constraints, fostering creativity while working within limited parameters. Through strategic measures such as exterior fencing, restructuring front office areas to establish controlled access points, and transforming divider walls into glazed partitions or windows to maximize visibility, we can effectively enhance security while fostering an integrated student-staff environment. This approach strengthens trust dynamics and allows for significant impact through thoughtful spatial reorganization and reimagination. Whether a straightforward replacement or a more comprehensive reorganization, these interventions can be implemented with minimal disruption and offer substantial benefits at comparable costs.

3. Enhancing School Spirit through Simple Kitchen Upgrades

The quest for healthier eating habits in schools has gained momentum recently, prompting districts to prioritize nutritious food options for students. Yet, achieving this goal can be challenging for older school campuses with outdated infrastructure and equipment. Some districts, however, have embarked on a journey of kitchen modernization, leveraging programs like CalSHAPE to revamp their facilities effectively and efficiently, in addition to their modernization funding sources. By combining state-funded equipment replacements with modification funds and reevaluating nutritional programs, these districts are not just upgrading kitchens; they’re reimagining the entire cafeteria experience. The result? Modernized facilities that serve nutritious meals to all students, breaking down the stigma associated with cafeteria food. These revamped kitchens are designed to cater to diverse student preferences, offering delicious and nutritious scratch-cooked meals. They promote healthier eating habits and foster community, bridging social divides and enhancing school spirit.

4. The Power of Loving What You Do

As a mother of six and nine-year-old, I’m fascinated by their pure aspirations. My son dreams of various careers, from a community helper to a soccer player, while my daughter aspires to be a designer or a leader. Reflecting on their dreams prompts me to consider my journey. Initially viewing my work as a job, I now realize it’s a purposeful pursuit involving designing, managing projects, and connecting with people. My passion for this stems from my love for creativity, problem-solving, and social impact. This drive guides me daily and influences how I encourage my children to pursue their dreams. Ultimately, I aim to instill in them the belief that following their passions will lead to fulfillment despite challenges along the way. This perspective has become instrumental in my conversations with individuals as I work to help them realize the core of their childhood dreams and chase them in their careers to end up in a place where they love what they do.

5. Architect Mom: Balancing Work and Life for Enhanced Staff Morale
In the post-2020 era, I’ve frequently worked long hours, both unintentionally and intentionally, to catch up. What began as a simple way to wind down by jotting down tomorrow’s to-do list quickly escalated into checking emails and delving into work-related tasks. While this may seem harmless, I’ve realized that it’s become a detrimental habit, robbing me of the simple joys of life and hindering my ability to unwind. This habit inadvertently sets a precedent for staff, suggesting that higher positions entail greater after-hours workloads—a notion I once vehemently opposed. Therefore, I’ve made it my mission to reclaim my hard-earned half Fridays off and commit to signing off completely after my workday ends. I’m also actively deligating where appropriate and utilizing the power of having a team. Remarkably, regaining this mental space has allowed me to refocus on my personal life while simultaneously resulting in clearer, more focused career goals. While it took encouragement from peers, managers, and even clients to reach this point, I urge others to prioritize finding this balance again. By doing so, you’ll likely discover that challenges are manageable and life extends beyond the confines of a demanding project. It’s a challenging journey that’s undoubtedly worth every effort—a testament to the power of passion for one’s work.