HAWAII AT WORK
DENNIS ODA / doda@StarBulletin.com
Jennifer Yamauchi, a principal of Honolulu-based Kober Hanssen Mitchell Architects, worked on a project with designer intern Kelly Carlson.
Blueprint for success
Jennifer Yamauchi helps clients translate their building dreams into reality
Job: Oversees projects for an architectural design firm
Jennifer Yamauchi thought she was getting into one line of business -- architecture -- but it turned out to be something a lot more.
"You know, I think, like a lot of people, you're drawn into architecture because you like to draw or sketch, and math is a part of it ... but then you go into it and find out it's completely different," Yamauchi said last week.
Apparently, people skills are important as well.
"I think you need people skills, because you meet the (project) owners, you work with the contractors, you work with the engineers. You have to learn to work with so many different people," she said.
Yamauchi is one of four principals of Kober Hanssen Mitchell Architects, an architecture, interior design and urban planning firm based in Honolulu. Owned by Kurt Mitchell, it has 18 employees, of which 16 are architects or designers. Yamauchi joined the firm in 2000 and was made a principal in 2007, which, she said, means she manages various projects for the firm, including, right now, two Hawaii Self-Storage outlets and the Ewa Villages housing project.
Yamauchi, 40, is a graduate of Aiea High School. She earned a bachelor's degree in architecture from the University of Washington in Seattle, obtained her professional license from the state of Hawaii, then went to work.
Before joining Kober Hanssen Mitchell, Yamauchi was employed by Genesys Design Group, headed by Alan Tarumoto, who last week remembered Yamauchi by her maiden name, Jennifer Yagi. She acquired her current last name in 2002 when she married Reid Yamauchi, with whom she has two children -- a son, 3, and a daughter, 1 -- and lives in Pearl City.
DENNIS ODA / Doda@starbulletin.com
Jennifer Yamauchi spends much of her time as a principal of Kober Hannsen Mitchell Architects meeting with other people. Yamauchi, center, last week discussed a set of architectural plans with, from left, fellow principals Kelvin Chong and Laurie Kaneshiro and draftsman Noel Bautista and Architects Hawaii interior designer Colleen Kitamoto.
What's your work title?
Jennifer Yamauchi: I'm an architect.
Q: But you have a title at work, right?
A: At work, yeah: principal.
Q: Why would they call you a principal?
A: It's just a role in a company, but I don't have any ownership in the company.
Q: And what's that role?
A: Generally I'm doing project management right now.
Q: So how does that comport with you being an architect?
A: It's just one component of architecture, I guess. There's a lot of different facets of being an architect, and project management is one of them.
Q: Isn't that something a developer does?
A: No. A developer would be someone like our client, and we work with them, and we come up with the design, with what they're envisioning, and provide them with what their program requires.
Q: What kinds of buildings do you mostly design?
A: We do mostly commercial work - commercial buildings. We do some residential, but mostly commercial. And we also do state projects. I don't think we have any city work right now.
Q: Do you have to go to a lot of meetings with other people before you start work on a project?
A: Meetings? Yeah, we have a lot meetings, throughout the project. Depending on the owners or clients. Some want to meet a lot, some don't need to meet a whole lot. So it depends.
Q: Do you need to know a lot of math or geometry or anything like that to be an architect?
A: No. It's helpful, but ...
Q: What about drawing skills?
A: Before, I think, it was really important. But now that there's the computer, a lot of people use the computer as their design tool. When I first started it was all hand drafting and hand sketching, so it's evolving and changing.
DENNIS ODA / Doda@starbulletin.com
Yamauchi looked at a color scheme of a school with, from left, Kaneshiro and interior designer Vanessa Howard.
What kinds of tools do you need to do your job?
A: I think you need people skills, because you meet the owners, you work with the contractors, you work with the engineers. And I think that's the thing that a lot of people don't think about when they think about architects. But you have to learn to work with so many different people.
Q: How much time do you put in for your job?
A: Right now a little over 40 hours a week, because I have two young kids and that kind of dictates my schedule.
Q: That also sounds like you're efficient.
A: Yeah, you have to be efficient. Before I could put more time into the job, but not right now.
Q: How do you decide what kind of an architectural plan to develop?
A: Well, first we meet with the client. They tell us what they're looking for, their needs. They tell us about their business. And then we also look at the site they're looking at. And then we go back to the office, we come up with a design that fits the site, meets the general building code. Then we go back to the clients and we present what we have. And from there we start to tweak the design. They like it, they don't like it. We present them different schemes and they choose the one that they like. They pick and choose.
Q: How many architects typically work on a particular building design?
A: We have architects who are licensed. We have designers who are not necessarily licensed, but they may be working toward their (architect) licenses. So in our office typically we have a licensed architect working on the project with help from designers. But it depends on the size of the project. I could take a project myself, if it's small enough. But the larger ones there are people on the project with specific roles.
Q: I suppose bigger mean more expensive.
A: A bigger building?
A: Hmmm ... Yeah, generally yes.
Q: What would be an exception?
A: I guess there could be smaller projects but they have a bigger budget. They want a higher level of finish, or more details in the building. So it depends on the clients.
Q: Do you have much room for personal creativity when you design a new project?
A: Yes and no. Again, it depends on the client. A lot of them will give you the flexibility you need; others have preconceived ideas. So it all depends on the clients
Q: How much do you personally need to know about things such as plumbing, electricity, and other elements beyond just the basic design?
A: We as architects know a little about everything. We have basic knowledge of electrical, plumbing, AC (air conditioning), but we hire consultants, we hire engineers.
Q: What about building codes and other regulations? How do you stay up with all of those, since I would imagine they are constantly changing?
A: It's a learning process, on-the-job learning. You carry the knowledge from the previous building code, but with the adoption of each new building code, there's differences, and we have to learn what they are.
Q: How long does it take to design a particular project?
A: Again, it depends on the size, the complexity.
Q: What would the times range from, then?
A: Well, there's different phases of the project, the conceptual design being the very beginning. Then there's the schematic-design phase, there's design development, then there's construction documents, then it goes into bidding and negotiations, and then construction administration - the actual construction.
Some projects can take years, and others are on a very tight schedule. And a lot of projects start, stop, start, stop.
Q: How many have you worked on?
A: Over my career, it has to be at least 50.
Q: What inspired you to become an architect?
A: You know, I think, like a lot of people, you're drawn into architecture because you like to draw or sketch, and math is a part of it, so if you like to draw and you like math, you think architecture is a melding of both. But then you go into it and find out it's completely different.
Q: But not enough to dissuade you from it?
A: No. A lot of it, of course, you use the skills that you need - drawing, knowing the codes - but on the job, you have to learn how to listen to the clients, to provide them with what they need; you learn that there's a whole lot more to architecture than what you thought.
Q: What's your favorite part in the process of creating an architectural design?
A: Well, I think it's actually being balanced - not doing one thing all the time. I think the best would be able to do a little bit of everything.
A: For me, ideally, I would do some design work, some project-management work, some construction administration - not just one thing.
Q: Do you supervise people?
A: I guess we're supposed to, but I don't like to see it that way, because I think we all learn from each other. I don't really believe in that hierarchy thing.
Q: But it occurs naturally, too, doesn't it?
A: Well, yes and no, because if they have a question, they come and ask, but it works the other way around, too, where we have a question for them, and they answer it for us.
Q: Are you one of the senior people now?
A: Yes. (Laughter) I don't know what happened. I was always one of the youngest people on staff. I don't know what happened.
Q: Does it excite you that you can design structures that will become a part of the landscape?
A: Yeah, that's the rewarding part, but that's also scary. (Laughter)