Kiana Dolat- My Version of Becoming An Architect

Kiana Dolat
USC Graduate of M.Arch II

Most architecture students enter the professional world with an idealistic vision, and commonly a strong desire to design.  It is very important to understand the dynamics of this profession, define your path and position yourself well into it to be able to implement your skills and ideas in a rational way.  It is also advantageous to let your plans be flexible enough to evolve throughout the journey, yet it surely is challenging to accept, and in fact, embrace changes in this path.  In other words, resistance to adaptation in various circumstances within this profession may inhibit further achievements and growth.

After stepping into the profession, almost like everyone else, as a member of the project teams, I passionately tried to bring to the table, new ideas, techniques, knowledge, and skills that I had gained through six years of school.  It was definitely a challenge, in a lot of cases, to realize how restricted I had become in real world projects; how code implications could impact my concepts; and how client demands were so dramatically different from my visions that I had been taught at school.  I certainly did not have to deal with any of that for school projects, and those whom I had to sell my ideas to, included my professors, perhaps a few critiques at final presentations, and sometimes my classmates whose thought process was not so different from mine.  I had to be realistically responsible for every dollar spent for the construction of my designs, and be able to reasonably analyze why I was making every single design move, and what the implications could be.

The bright side of it which became revolutionary to my thinking process, was that the professional work is undoubtedly less subjective than school work.  Economic factors makes the boundaries and limitations more palpable. Part of what gradually made the real world projects exciting to me, and yet different from school, was the fact that everyone contributed uniquely to its perception, and success; and the judgement was not the ultimate decision of your instructor.

After working on a number projects during a short amount of time, I came to this understanding that I should certainly focus my attention on the areas I had lack of knowledge in.  My passion for design and creation of new spatial concepts had my major dedication during the school years; and I had spent a great amount of time and love on that field.  Evaluating my own performance at work proved to myself, that I was doing a better job at design, and I need to improve myself on other areas.  I did not have any practical experience on how a simple building could really come together in two different stages; a much earlier stage including project execution, management, budgeting, and client relations; and a farther stage which is constructability, technical details, building jurisdiction codes, and zoning ordinances.

Working at HLW, I had the privilege to openly discuss my goals, and ask for mentorship on what I needed to learn.  This I believe is one of the most important aspects of my job satisfaction.  As I mentioned earlier, it is critical to be able to redefine your goals as you gain more experience. With my background in architecture schools, I certainly do see a value in finding solutions that would challenge the status quo but I firmly believe that this can only be achieved through understanding the established rules and methods in the first place.  I realized what I had to focus on was leaning the established rules and techniques, which was my major weakness, those that I had no interest to pursue while I was at school, but I knew I had to learn them prior to taking bigger passionate steps, hence I decided to ask my supervisors at HLW to expose me to the technical side of the projects, and let me work on projects that were at Design Development, Construction Documentation, and Construction Administration stages.

It was interesting enough that one of the projects I had worked on during the preliminary design stages, in my first few months after school, came back to us for further development and construction down the road.  The project was an existing six story building that was intended to be re-positioned to creative office spaces to attract tech company tenants. The idea was to renovate the bulky symmetrical, 80’s looking building to a contemporary design on the exterior and interior of the building.

As far as a learning experience, working on a renovation project was an incredibly comprehensive experience in that it involved far more complexities than a new construction project.  The meticulous investigations on how the building was constructed thirty years ago, and figuring out how we could trigger the structure with minimal intervention and taking into account all cost implications was absolutely a valuable lesson learned.

As soon as we started on putting together a complete concept design package, I experienced a whole new level of thinking about design. In fact, we had to materialize the design perspectives we had, estimate the costs, present feasible options to the client, and be flexible enough to incorporate client requests and implement engineers’ directions in our design.  Our scope of work on that project included façade renovation, lobby and core design, entry podium, and conversion of the 2nd floor parking to an office space.  This conversation alone, exposed me to zoning regulations, and I actually had to attend a couple of public hearings in which I presented our design to the committee, and explained how this project could be beneficial to the neighborhood.  Aside from that, putting together Design development, and construction documents packages influenced how I visualized design thereafter. Having said that, it is very important to work at a place where you can achieve what you’re looking for, and I luckily had that.

After pulling the building permits, and going through a few plan check revisions, and dealing with building department jurisdiction, it was the time for construction.  This was certainly a unique experience, absolutely different from what I had done before. I got the chance to fully undertake project coordination during construction. Coordinating architecture with structural, MEP, landscape, lighting; and being responsive to the contractor questions and requests, had to be simultaneously overseen.  In addition, we went through two value engineering processes during which we reevaluated our design and details to lower the construction cost.  At this point, all the steps we had taken previously, in regards to pulling the permits and coordination with the engineers had to be redone multiple times to account for the changes. Below is the before and after images of the project I briefly explained here because, we as architects, always prefer graphics over text.

Lobby Before
Lobby After


Exterior Before
Exterior After


Exploded Isometric View | Showing New Construction vs. Existing Elements

Through my own experience, and in no particular order, here is what I uncovered about construction administration. First it’s crucial to recognize how every single correspondence with the contractor had to be carefully analyzed and strategized, in technical and financial terms, because any remaining unresolved issues would show up eventually in other formats, and it is always the responsibility of the architect to find a solution for, or coordinate with the engineers to find the best answer.  The second important lesson I learned was that how a smart design detail could simultaneously affect the schedule, budget, and the end result. And the last but not least is to emphasize on how important it is to get licensed in this profession.  It is impossible to learn the bulk of information you gain by studying for ARE exams in a relatively short amount of time by work experience alone, and you might actually never get the depth of knowledge without going through the licensure path.

What I’m proud of during my years of work experience is that not only my passion for architecture has not faded away, but I’ve also been able to reform my goals, and to some extent redefine them for myself.  The influences of what I learned at USC, and my experience at HLW were both of great values; and I always believe that as architects being able to keep our passions alive is the key because that’s what makes us different; and we should acknowledge and appreciate this intrinsic passion.

2017 LA Conservancy Preservation Awards

Every year the Los Angeles Conservancy honors firms who exhibit excellence in the field of historic preservation.  This year there are a number for USC Architectural Guild and USC Board of Councilor members whose firms received honors.  The USC School of Architecture and the Architectural Guild would like to acknowledge these great achievements!

2017 Preservation Award Recipient-
Columbia Square

Structural Engineer: Nabih Youssef Associates
Lighting Consultant: KGM Architectural Lighting

Royce Neuschatz Award for Historic Landscapes-
Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden

Architect: Kelly Sutherlin McLeod Architecture

2017 Preservation Award Recipient-
Grand Central Air Terminal

Architect, Preservation Architect: Frederick Fisher and Partners, Architects

2017 Preservation Award Recipient-
Preservation Resource Center at the Shotgun House

Preservation Consultant: USC Heritage Conservation Programs

Congratulations on such an amazing achievement and for your hard work to keep historic architecture prevalent in Los Angeles!  For more information about the LA Conservancy Preservation Awards click here.





Mentor Program- Mentees Visit Syska Hennessy Group

19 January 2017
By: Gary Brennen
USC Architectural Guild Mentor Board Member

As part of the Mentorship Program with the USC School of Architecture, M.Arch +3 students, Yi-Ting Hsieh and Khalil Gobir, visited Syska Hennessy Group in Culver City to tour our office and meet with their mentors, Yiyu Chen and myself.  Having mentors on the MEP engineering side gives the students a unique opportunity to explore the other side of the architecture industry and acquire building engineering knowledge which they can apply to their class and studio projects.


Yiyu, a USC alumnus with a Master’s Degree in Building Science, talked with the students about High Performance Building Design, highlighting Energy Modeling case studies done on the Long Beach Civic Center and the County of San Diego Housing & Community Development Office.  He also touched on California’s Energy Code requirements (Title 24) and how it affects the design process.

Yi-Ting and Khalil were also introduced to our youngest generation of engineers, our EDTs (Engineering Development Trainees), who gave their perspective on the AEC industry, what they enjoy, and the dynamics of their working relationship with our architectural clients.  Tim Tyrrell, an EDT, led a presentation with an example of the mechanical design work we do and the coordination between various teams on a project.

We hope Yi-Ting and Khalil enjoyed their visit to our office and learned a little more about the collaboration involved in the various facets of building design.  We plan on bringing them onsite to one of our projects currently under construction, so stay tuned for our next blog post when that happens!


Mentor Program- Mentees visit Trousdale Estates

16 January 2017
By Michael J. Marquez, AIA
Guild Board President

This past Saturday morning, I along with fellow Board member Leslie Young of Stir Architecture, hosted a small party of mentees from the School of Architecture for a tour of the recently completed Robertson Residence in Trousdale Estates in Beverly Hills.

My office had been working on this recently completed project for just over two years and it is currently on the market.  The walls (and ceilings) of this house stand tall with the assistance of Risha Engineering (an advid supporter of the Guild) and KGM Architectural Lighting, which of course is headed by past Guild President and classmate, Michael Gehring, FAIA.

The 6,000 SF house is located on a magnificent view lot and was built for sale by the talented Clive Robertson.  This was the first collaboration between Michael Marquez Architects and Clive, and on this project, Clive showed every ounce of his insight and knowledge of Architecture.

The students had the opportunity to witness first hand the result of some creative thinking and the response to some extremely challenging conditions.  The project was tested by restrictive height limits, a challenging building pad and by constant demands for access to the view.  The result of those solutions became a pleasing collection of integrated spaces, each of which respected each other and provided breath taking views in almost every direction imaginable.

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The project was also a wonderful opportunity for the students to see what can happen when a client and an architect work in concert.  By not surrendering to the imposing limitations, the house was able to provide different internal environments, defined by light and volume and general massing that eventually feed off itself.  There virtually wasn’t a single space in the house that didn’t demand your attention and evoke a sense of envy for everyone who experienced it.

Being able to share one of our most successful pieces of architecture with our mentees was also a great reward for me.  When the morning came to an end, I believe all of the students walked away feeling a sense of power, knowing that it’s possible for their visions to become a reality.









Fall 2016- Guild Semester in Review

02 December 2016
By Michael J. Marquez, AIA
Guild Board President

Well, the Holiday Season is upon us, which means we’ve basically reached the halfway point in the school year. This Fall semester has been an exciting and challenging adventure for the USC Architectural Guild. Since our Retreat this summer, we have actually been perfecting and implementing some of our most ambitious programs ever.

The school year began as always with one of our most fun events of the year, the Annual Golf Tournament at the Wilshire Country Club. It turned out to be one of the most successful in history due to the outstanding leadership of Steve Pellegren and Gary Brennen, along with the usual cast of characters. Only days later, Chuck Whitaker lead the charge of the Mentorship Committee and we jumped right into the semester with the greatest number of mentors and mentees ever!

Once the semester was in full swing, Jessica Tien and the always energetic group of Emerging Professionals organized Engage! events at Steinberg Architects and Stir Architecture downtown as well as an eye-popping tour of the almost completed University Village with past Guild President, Martha Ball of HED.

Meanwhile, the Membership Committee, led by Leslie Gentile of Farmers and Merchants Bank, has been focusing on ways to find you!  And trust me, they will.  More importantly, when they do, they’ll be explaining to you why you need to get involved and with a little common sense . . . you will.

Finally, with youthful exuberance and senior wisdom, the Communication Committee came out swinging as a whole as we have been reaching out to the Trojan Family with relentless dedication.  Arnold Swanborn of CO Architects and Vanja Deretic of KPFF, have devised a game plan second to none.  By encouraging the entire Guild Board to exercise their newly developed skills on social media, we can reach the broadest audience in our existence and better serve the goals outlined by the Guild.

The results of these massive individual and group efforts, including those by our gifted support staff, continue to strengthen the USC Architectural Guild every day. Collectively, we are continually increasing our membership and the involvement of some of the most talented individuals in the Southern California Building Industry, all to better serve our ultimate goal, the students of the School of Architecture.

Finally, I look forward to seeing all of you out at the Rose Bowl on January 2nd, as our Trojans put the final touches on what has been a proud and successful year. I also look forward to seeing all of you in the upcoming Spring semester as we reach equally great heights of our own. Look for our future blogs and posts of upcoming events and plan on being a part Guild next year. You’ll be glad you did.

All the best for a safe and happy Holiday. Fight On ! ! !

Mentor Program 2016-2017

23 October 2016
By: Chuck Whitaker
USC Architectural Guild Mentor Program Chairman

The USC Architectural Guild Mentor Program initiated the 2016-2017 mentoring program this last week.  The program is open to all USC architecture students and we had an overwhelming response with more than 100 students and 80 mentors registered!

The purpose of the mentorship program is to provide an impactful, professional and “real world” experience to supplement their formal education.   Students will gain insight and guidance from architecture, design and construction industry professionals who will assist them in preparing for their careers after graduation.

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Many of the mentors and mentees attended the “kick off” breakfast at the USC campus on October 19, 2016 to meet each other and discuss their interests.  Discussions between the students and mentors included: planning mentoring events, learning about collaboration of design professionals and contractors, the roles of design professionals, and visiting architectural and associated design professional offices.

One gathering that occurred through the mentorship program was at JLA Structural Engineers.  They invited several architectural students to their office and provided a luncheon presentation on the role of a structural engineer. Another mentor meeting took place at a construction site close to the USC campus.

I’m very excited for the launch of the program an hope it’s not only impactful and rewarding for the students but also a meaningful experience for the mentees as well.








Engage! with Steinberg Architects

07 October 2016
By: Jessica Tien
USC School of Architecture Alumni ’12

Touring the office, this time at the PacMutual Building in Downtown LA, learning about the firm and several of their projects are always a part of the Engage! program. However, the best takeaway is always what this setting is conducive for – opening up the dialogue.

Principal Kim Patten and Associate John Wirfs shared with us an amazing transformation of Whittier College Science and Learning Center during the presentation, but it was later in the Q&A when they were particularly inspiring with their personal stories on how they came to join their firm. These Trojans both saw leadership opportunities here for younger professionals with room to grow. It was encouraging to know that climbing the ladder may not be as farfetched as I had previously thought, given that I look in the right places.

The Engage! series is a chance to stay engaged (pun intended) with the AEC industry in a relaxed setting where you can make new connections, catch up with old coworkers and classmates, and be offered valuable advice you didn’t even know you needed!




Presidents Welcome

06 September 2016
By Michael J. Marquez, AIA
Guild Board President

Welcome my fellow Board Members . . .

The USC Architectural Guild is one of the most highly respected organizations in the Southern California business community. This year, the Guild promises to be filled with another round of exciting events from beginning to end. Starting with this retreat, jumping straight into the Golf tournament later this month and culminating with our biggest event of the year, the Annual Dinner in May.

As the President, I promise to make the absolute most of this honor. Throughout the year, I will be presenting my vision and injecting my energy. However, none of it will matter without the complete support and dedication from the School, from the ExCom and especially from you.  Our success will be measure not just by the dollars and cents we bring to the table, but the participation and growth of all of our members as a whole.  How we, as a collective group shape and shift the Guild, will decide our legacy.

As a member of this Board, your job will be to build on the demonstrated success of the past 58 years, looking for ways to improve the future and guarantee the longevity of the Guild.  Every individual and every committee should be focusing on the inner workings of the past, both strengths and weaknesses, examining ways to make it better as we progress.

Wearing this badge is a privilege and it comes with considerable responsibility.  No one will be able to make every meeting or every event, but we will be depending on everyone to give their very best effort.

Finally, besides giving of yourselves, time or money or both for the students, enjoy the Guild for what it also offers, as one of the biggest and best networking machines in Southern California.  Whether developing new business relationships or lasting friendships, enjoy yourself!  Trust me, this year, as in all the previous years, is going to fly by in a heartbeat. For goodness sake, make sure to have some fun along the way!


Michael J. Marquez, AIA



36th Annual USC Architectural Guild Golf Tournament

31 August 2016
By: Steve Luchetta
USC Architectural Guild Vice President

The USC Architectural Guild held its annual golf tournament Monday August 29th 2016 at the prestigious Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles. Now in its 36th year, the Golf Tournament is considered to be one of the most competitive tournaments of its kind bringing together leaders in the design, architecture, construction and real estate industries. This year the Syska Hennessy Group graciously stepped up as our presenting sponsor. We appreciate their continued support of this longstanding industry event. Over 125 golfers enjoyed a beautiful day of fellowship on the golf course which included breakfast, lunch, golf, a networking mixer after golf, awards dinner and a dessert reception.

The annual event is a major part of the fundraising efforts of the Architectural Guild and raised more than $50,000 dollars to support scholarships, other activities and events for deserving architectural students. This year’s tournament was won by Reza Safavi who is currently on the USC School of Architecture Board of Councilors and past president of the USC Architectural Guild. Congratulations Reza on a fine round of golf!

We extend our appreciation and thanks to the golf committee, the participants and our dedicated sponsors who have been loyal supporters of this tournament for many years. Fight On!


USC Architectural Guild Annual Retreat

16 August 2016

By Michael J. Marquez, AIA
Guild Board President

This past Saturday, the USC School of Architecture Guild board members met at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, for our annual summer retreat. The setting and the day were extraordinary. Each year, the Board uses the retreat to reflect and evaluate the performance of the previous year and study ways to better enhance the coming year. As the President of this year’s Board, it was an honor to stand before this collection of dedicated and extremely talented volunteers and support staff.

The amazing location provided us an opportunity for stimulating conversation. We considered a multitude of ideas on how to improve each of our events and how they can better enrich the lives of our students. Much of the discussions were placed on furthering our communication efforts with the students and the Southern California building community as well as setting goals for increased membership.


This year the Board set some extremely challenging goals for increasing our membership by studying ways to reach out the many companies who traditionally participant in our annual events.  For example, the Guild’s Communications Committee will be utilizing social media in ways we’ve never attempted before, including this blog! It should be a blast for some of the “old folks”. Check out our Facebook page, Instagram account and Twitter feed. Find us on Snapchat @uscarchguild as well! Into #s? Try #uscarchguild. It is our hope that the excitement and energy experienced during the retreat will carry through to our audience via these new tools and launch us into another successful school year.

The day concluded with a private reception for past Guild Board members and various other supporters. This year we also invited several new incoming students to join us for the reception, which allowed them a chance to meet us, and for us to meet them. The highlight of the day was a surprise visit by our distinguished University President, Max Nikias. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day!