Lori Mukoyama, Gensler Chicago
A woman smiling for the camera.

Gensler Voices: Lori Mukoyama, Gensler Chicago

This Q&A is part of a series of interviews with Gensler architects, designers, and others in the firm about their career journey, and the impact that design and architecture can have on our communities and enhancing the human experience. Here, we sit down with Lori Mukoyama, design director, Gensler Chicago:

What was your first introduction to the field of architecture and design?

My first introduction to design was when I fell in love with Charles and Ray Eames. Their revolutionary work was so simple, timeless and fashionable… I was inspired! My first piece of purchased furniture at 22 was the molded plywood coffee table. This was because it’s circular and everyone could gather around it (while a chair would only be enjoyed by one). It’s still in my living room today!

What was an early experience that influenced your career path?

Being an Asian American daughter, my parents had me take summer school. They would pick one class and I would pick one class. They would pick an academic class and I would pick anything from watercolor to ceramics. This foundation of art would become my inspiration to become a designer.

My mom was a Physical and Occupational therapist. She’s super smart and holds two degrees from Northwestern and the University of Illinois. She also found time to take painting classes at the Art Institute at night. She had a passion for art and still sees the world through a creative lens. My mom’s paintings are hung in our house. Her creativity and my love for art at a young age influenced my life-long passion for interiors.

How has your career shaped your understanding of the world?

My career has taken me all over the world. Designing locally, while also designing in Shanghai, Dubai, Jakarta, and Tokyo fostered a strong understanding of different cultures. I have been so fortunate to study people and their behavior in spaces for over a decade. It has helped inform my design aesthetics but has also, more importantly, given me an appreciation for different people and different cultures.

How can architecture and design advance wellness, equity, and inclusion?

Colin, my son, was in a bad accident and was in a wheelchair for many months at the age of 13. At this moment I became a different designer because I saw the world through his lens. He was unable to get into our house as there were five steps to the front door. He was unable to move from room to room as there were uneven floor transitions. As designers, it’s our job to see spaces and places through different lenses. Now my son and I volunteer every month together so we can also better serve our local community and we push ourselves to see the city from a different point of view.

What role does architecture and design play in shaping the minds of the future generations?

Design is everywhere! From our phones, to our clothing, to the spaces we live in, work in, and eat in — design surrounds us. Architecture and design create a visceral experience that touches all of our senses. For our future generations that are potentially on screen longer, we must work harder to create fully immersive experiences that offer a more tangible interactive space and place. It’s our job to not only tap into the next generation’s needs but to also include all generations in our design process. Fun fact: 65% of kids entering primary school today will end up working in new job types that don’t exist today.

What type of projects are you currently working on right now, and what do you like best about your recent projects?

I love that all projects revolve around the guest and user experience/journey! It’s so refreshing to put the users at the heart of every project. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are paying extra attention to every detail of the user journey. From the touch points to the overall experience, we are focused on what makes us excited to get out of the house, and how we can gather again and still feel comfortable and foster a community spirit.

Right now, our studio is focused on a few really exciting projects. From large entertainment venues that will change the landscape of our city, to hotel experiences on islands that will inspire all, to fitness projects that are newly focused on wellness, these projects will all change the way we live and will influence us for years to come.

The most important thing I've learned as an architect/designer is...

It’s not about me. It’s about the team of designers and the way we work together to create something magical.

If you could choose anyone, who would you like to design a project for?

I really enjoy designing for someone who is fun to work with. That being said, I would love to design a space for Michelle Obama. Sometimes the client we’re working with inspires the whole brand. I’d love to create a community space that speaks to her leadership and personable nature.

Name a building or space that every designer should see in person.

My roots are in retail, so I’d say anyone who loves to shop should go to Coal Drops Yard in London. The space was created by extending two industrial Victorian buildings to touch each other with a giant gesture. These building were built originally to store coal. The shape is so beautiful while it’s also built on history. The shops and food are bespoke.

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