Designer Spotlight: Karen Lu, AIA

Karen Lu, AIA

KarenLu.jpgKaren Lu, AIA, recently won the 2016 National AIA Young Architects Award for her contributions to the architecture industry. As a project designer at HGA, Lu focuses on public and corporate architecture, including several projects for the General Services Administration (GSA). Lu promotes a collaborative work style to develop innovative design solutions. Below, Lu discusses her professional inspirations.


Initially, a love of drawing drew me to architecture, and later a love of problem-solving cemented it. Ultimately, my passion for architecture is embedded in its complexity. Architects are taught in school to think critically and solve problems. We are trained to consider multiple contexts, understand and envision different points of view, and relate the overall goal or idea to its many supporting details. Architectural excellence is not achieved by any one thing--it is the result of connections and relationships between many things and many people.

As my colleagues know, my favorite thing to do is to organize-organize spaces, processes, information, and ideas. Organizing ideas is the foundation of critical, integrative design thinking. It involves understanding recurring themes, identifying fruitful iterations, and evaluating implications from different points of view at different times and scales. In the end, organizing is about making connections and building relationships.


Public and corporate architecture promotes innovative, high-quality solutions. The GSA projects that I've worked on, for instance, have had very high standards for operations, technical resolution, and design. Both the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) Land Port of Entry in Detroit, Michigan, and the Derby Line Port of Entry in Derby Line, Vermont, are part of GSA's Design Excellence program involving multiple peer reviews with specialists in all disciplines. I've had the good fortune to be involved in many innovative initiatives, such as climate risk analysis and resiliency, integrated energy modeling, art in architecture collaboration, repurposing site materials, and pollinator assessment--which all set precedents for future GSA projects and future HGA projects.


Because I have always been interested in organizing, my ideal project would synthesize many ideas into a seamless and inseparable whole--and appeal to my love of complexity and connections. A project with many interrelated connections--whether it is a built object, a programmatic strategy, or a conceptual idea--is that much more compelling. In architecture, these ideas and goals can range from social and functional, to climatic and sustainable, to historic and cultural. On NITC, we sorted design criteria into technical, programmatic, and qualitative requirements. Our goal was to have every design decision and element satisfy a minimum of two categories. If it didn't, we couldn't defend it. This framework served as a guide for the project and unified a large project team. It was a very rewarding experience.

Topics: Corporate


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