Ching-Hua Ho, Principal, has devoted her efforts to healthcare practice and has led some of Payette’s major healthcare projects including new facilities, additions and interior renovations in various scales. In addition to healthcare planning and design, her passion is exploring exterior building envelopes, working with specific contexts and programs to complete a building’s total expression.
Below are her reflections on her career at Payette, Women in Design (WiD) and her friend and mentor, Sho-Ping Chin.
How did your career at Payette begin?
When I started at Payette in 1996, I was assigned to a healthcare project. As I recall, the project was in late DD phase and the design of the exterior and interiors were settling down. My task was to document the design in CAD. I was happy to learn AutoCAD because I had only used hand drawings and physical models in school. At the same time, I sketched over the design and provided my opinions on the overall design. I would leave sketches on desk of the principal in charge of the project almost every day. My goal was simply to make the project better. My solutions might not have been the best or appropriate ones, but I enjoyed the exploration of seeking a better solution.
On another project, I was stuck on the design and after a few days of sketching I decided to switch to physical models. The change allowed me to cut and glue pieces of chipboard together, and to experiment with different shapes of the model. The fun was in the process of making and using different medias for the design exploration. Back then, physical models were the best way to develop the design, at least for me. Now, so much 3D software is available, and everybody is in the digital world most of the time. A small change may bring you a different perspective on the progress of the design. It is important to be open and willing to try different approaches.
How has the profession changed in the past 20 years for women in architecture and design?
The architectural professional work environment has evolved dramatically in the past 20 years. When Women in Design was created in 2001 by former principal Sho-Ping Chin, the composition of employees at Payette was very different from where we are today. At that time only 17% of the designers on staff were female, working on various floors and projects in the office. Today approximately 39% of the design staff are female, which is above the national AIA average.
As the only female principal in 2001, and with so few women on staff, Sho-Ping created a community to mentor and support each other. Mentoring was very important to her, and I was extremely lucky to have her as my mentor for 18 years. I learned from her vast professional experience and we also shared our life stories. We argued about design; we had numerous work trips together; we pursued pro bono work, and we had fun dinner parties with my family. Through the time we spent together, I learned how she managed the architectural practice, her devotion to gender and racial equity, her good heart to help vulnerable communities and her joy in life. I truly appreciate her guidance that helped me find a place where I belonged and allowed for my professional growth to continue. Our work partnership became a true friendship, and her mentoring will always be with me throughout my life!
The Women in Design community also embodied the same spirit of mentorship, but on a larger scale, to a broader group. We met to support each other, to share professional knowledge, experiences of work-life balance and to build personal relationships. The community has evolved steadily over the years to meet ever-changing needs. We have hosted firm-wide design exhibitions, discussed about the best ways to negotiate, spent our lunch breaks together, and shared our project experiences to provide support and recommendations for each other. The variety of perspectives on professional issues is strengthened through the diversity of practice represented within the group. Most importantly, it has strengthened and grown the community in Payette’s practice and reinforced our firm culture of designing and making together. It is a joy to see women touching design on every project at Payette now.
What advice would you give to other women who are beginning or advancing in their careers?
Now, as a principal at Payette, I am proud to be a part of a firm that continues to advance women in the architectural practice. To the next generation of women in design here is my advice: pursue opportunities in different design phases and challenge yourself to go beyond what you currently can do; transform your practice through a deep understanding of program and building typologies; enjoy design exploration on space and form making, materials and detailing; keep a curious mind; above all, have fun, be patient and keep going!