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NO•MAS•CLA•TURE 01: Faces Behind UBC NOMAS

Updated: Jan 18

“Nomenclature is defined as a system of names and terms used in a particular field of study or community.”


“Names provide us with a way of structuring and mapping the world in our minds so, in some way, they mirror or represent the objects of our experience.”


no·mas·cla·ture is a student-run series under UBC NOMAS, in which we interview a diverse group of students, faculties, alumni and professionals to make conversation about improving the equity and equality within the academic and architecture/landscape architecture field.


The main purpose of our series tries to expand and challenge our understanding of pre-established norms and western-centric views in architecture through these diverse perspectives. In this way, we are essentially exploring new avenues of meaning and creating a language of understanding and experience of our world.


For our first issue of no·mas·cla·ture, we decided to bring in the founding members of UBC NOMAS and ENDS 2020 graduates, Kaili Sun, Kendra Yoshizawa, and Carmen Kam to tell us in-depth stories of how they navigated the ambitious and successful feat of establishing UBC NOMAS. Through their experiences and memories of competitions, firm visits, and retreats, we hope to evoke a candid conversation to inspire current and incoming architecture students.

Where did you first hear about NOMAS, and what inspired you to start UBC’s own chapter?


KAILI: I first heard about NOMAS from a friend at Cornell University who talked about some of the problems facing equity and equality within their local practices and university. I recognized that similar problems exist here within SALA and our design professions within Canada as well. This is noticeable from our own faculty as well in terms of faculty diversity among others.


KENDRA: I think Kaili just told me about it one day and asked if I was interested in helping out. I was brand new to the whole idea, but I was sold right away. Seemed like it filled a large void in the SALA community. I definitely didn’t realize how big it was in the States.



What were some challenges to setting up this chapter from ground up?


KAILI: The biggest challenge to setting the chapter up really was communication and getting everyone educated and excited about NOMAS and our mission. At the beginning it was hard to get faculty, students, and execs on the same page in regards to where things are going and where we want to really take NOMAS as an organization.


KENDRA: I’m horrible/ I hate the bureaucracy behind setting up a club such as this one. You definitely need someone who has the patience and insight to navigate through that hellscape. For me personally, it’s always an uphill battle trying to pitch club participation to students who already have a full workload. We had to pitch the club to people before there was anything tangible to offer.



Has your identity and background influenced your approach or thinking in design?


KENDRA: There’s a weird complexity to being a white-passing minority. I was raised in a predominantly white community, where I was seen as the ‘Asian,’ but I have never really felt it until I’m faced with having to ‘translate’ small cultural behaviours to my non-Japanese Canadian friends. My dad’s family used to have a bathtub outside their house. It kinda weirded me out at first, and it wasn’t until I asked him about it that I realized outdoor bathing was a weird artifact of Japanese culture that carried over when they moved to Canada and somehow lasted through internment. Then I understood why my dad was so into his hot tub. Kinda makes you more perceptive to strange culturally-relative elements when considering spaces.



How was your experience with the NOMAS competition last year? (Design process, working as a team, having Thomas as a mentor, going to New York!)


KAILI: Stressful and chaotic and a hella lot of fun haha! It was great to work on a major design project outside of the classroom and engage with the complex design problem of designing social housing for a community facing forces of gentrification and identity loss. All of us were able to take part in seminars and discussion on a variety of topics from disaster relief architecture to biophilic design to reducing carbon footprints of buildings.


“It was refreshing to see the minority become the majority for once as over 2000 members gathered in one place to work towards building a more equitable and equal profession.”

We were also all able to take part in socials like the NOMA Arts Ball where we actually were able to dance in the Brooklyn Art Museum in front of works by Monet and Picasso all while meeting other fellow NOMA and NOMAS members. It was an incredible experience for all of us to be able to explore the city together and meet the other faces of NOMA and NOMAS while being able to network super easily.


KENDRA: Oh my god, it was great. I mean the design itself felt intimidating. Our brief was much easier than the one this year. The team aspect was very difficult, there weren't many of us and it was difficult to stay consistent. Thomas was great though, it helps to have someone who feels excited about what you’re doing. We would debrief our progress and he would immediately have a million precedents for us to look at. Super valuable mentorship.


New York was really awesome, we stayed in Park Slope and we were down the street from this corner store that sold booze and lunch meat. The whole building was crooked by a few degrees so walking upstairs after a few drinks was difficult. While I was obviously shitting bricks anticipating the competition, it went well. I was able to enjoy a few lectures by some wonderful speakers.


CARMEN: The NOMAS competition last year was pretty exciting because it was one of the first competitions I ever did and while it was pretty stressful at times, it was also a really great experience. I got to work with people I hadn’t worked with before and it was interesting to get to know everyone better and see their design process. Having Thomas as a mentor was great for us because he always had suggestions and advice for us on how to make our proposal better without shutting down our ideas. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it to New York due to a medical issue but even having the opportunity to travel to New York to present our project to a panel of judges was amazing in itself.



What are some of the your best memories?


KAILI: Gosh this one is hard. I would say maybe retreat? Visiting LMN architects and hearing John Chau’s inspiring story was really inspirational to me and being able to network super casually and easily reminded me of the importance of NOMAS and the power of the NOMA network and the potential that definitely does exist.


“Having the NOMA retreat and being able to spend time with twelve NOMAS members on a weekend getaway was freaking incredible.”

KENDRA: I think my favourite night was when we went to the ball in New York. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was in the Brooklyn Museum atrium, and immediately when we entered I saw an open bar and Monet’s ‘Houses of Parliament.’ I’m a big fan of both. Later, we walked half-drunkenly across the Brooklyn Bridge and into Manhattan to enjoy the lights and get donuts. I’m excited for the next group of NOMAS to enjoy this kind of stuff.


CARMEN: My favourite memory with NOMAS was actually the night the competition was due and we were all frantically trying to finish the drawings and the boards. We were all super stressed and bit our nails to the last second but we managed to submit our design with minutes to spare. Though it might seem like a weird moment to claim as my favourite memory, to me it was like the trademark architecture student experience where we worked up until the very last possible second.



Did you meet any interesting or inspiring people at the conference?


KAILI: Yes! So many! I was able to meet my friend who initially inspired me to start NOMAS, Wendi from Cornell! Also met Evelyn, Gabe, and a whole lot of other cool people from LTU, Shayna and Christina from NDSU, and so many others! That really was a highlight, being able to spend a week with other like-minded minority designers all with the same objectives and goals within architecture.


KENDRA: Everyone was super friendly. As the only Canadians, it felt easy for us to greet the other students and feel like we had a diverse perspective to share. I really enjoyed hearing Pascale Sablan speak, and it was cool getting to meet Ernest Bellamy. I still follow quite a few of the other students’ work on social media etc, and it’s cool seeing how their education compares to ours.



Now that you’ve all finished your undergrad, what have you been up to? What are some things you enjoy doing in your free time?


KAILI: For right now, I’ve been really enjoying the outdoors and spending as much time as possible on the patio for the time being. It’s been nice to be able to catch my breath for the first time in a long long time.


KENDRA: Since I’ve finished school, I’ve been enjoying painting a lot more. There’s a really beautiful book about Impressionism I’ve been enjoying. There’s this method of painting called plein air, and you just pack up some of your supplies and paint outdoors.


I’ve also been doing some sewing, embroidery, and macrame. Digitally, I’ve been doing random jobs like designing album covers, tattoos and collages.


IG: @kendrayoshizawa (check out her work!)


CARMEN: In my free time I like to watch Netflix, draw, take care of my plants, and hang out with friends.



How did your summer exchange trip to Japan influence you as a designer?


CARMEN: I remember that we had a running joke while we were on the trip that we were all going to come back to our second year in ENDS and start designing exclusively Japanese architecture. It was a joke but it really turned out to be true. Every project I worked on from then on contained some element of Japanese architecture because it would remind me of something I saw or learned in Japan.


“It opened my eyes to a whole new way of seeing architecture because it was so different than what I was used to in Vancouver.”

How has working for Zaha Hadid changed your perspective in the architecture field?


KAILI: Zaha Hadid is an inspirational woman. She is one of the figures which inspired me heavily in going into architecture and is a rare minority designer who achieved great success and acclaim thanks to her amazing works. Having the opportunity to intern for Zaha Hadid Architects was a dream come true for me personally.


Working there however definitely made me realize the intensity of working for a firm like ZHA which pushed the boundaries of architecture. Almost every day I put in over four hours of overtime and had to work myself hard to make seemingly impossible deadlines. At the end of the day however, it feels absolutely satisfying when you review your work as a team at the end of a design period. However, that being said, it was absolutely exhausting and unsustainable in the long term.


"I think architecture in school and the profession still has a long way to go in terms of reasonable expectations for work hours and ethics."

Being a talented painter, how has your artistic ability influenced your expression in design/ architecture?


KENDRA:That’s flattering thank you. I’m not really sure it has honestly. It definitely changes how I represent it graphically but design-wise it doesn’t come to mind unless it’s a surface-level ‘that doesn’t look good like that.’ I tend to let the design criteria/concerns/thesis sculpt what I come up with, and the expression falls into place after lots of research and what-not. The professional/schoolwork I do often creates interesting avenues for me to explore later as I work to develop my artistic expression in my personal work.



What are your main sources of inspiration when designing?


KAILI: It really depends on what I am working on and the purpose of what I’m designing I think. Sometimes, I do get a lot of my inspiration from browsing Dezeen and ArchDaily when I am stuck in a rut. I also like to browse the work archives of Zaha Hadid, there are some wonderful diagrams and drawings on her site.


KENDRA: If people don’t mention Pinterest or Instagram they’re lying. I love history, so thinking about structures like the 7 ancient world wonders always feels indulgent. Some of my favourite ideas come from me spitting some half-baked thoughts such as ‘Shark Tale architecture’ to someone and then trying to reconcile it with reality a few hours later.


CARMEN: I get inspiration for design ideas from the space designed by my favourite architects, or just from architecture I’ve seen or learned about. When I’m really stuck for ideas, I usually look around on pinterest for some ideas and inspiration because I find it really helps get my mind moving.



Where do you see yourself in 5 years?


KAILI: Hmmm gosh that is hard…honestly, I haven’t been able to think more than a summer ahead thanks to the rigour of ENDS and just general exhaustion. I’ve learnt to really take things a step at a time in my work and in planning… I would hope that I would be licensed as an architect by the end of five years I guess?


KENDRA: Fu*k, hopefully working at a firm or something.


CARMEN: In five years, I hope that I will finally be employed and working at a firm that I love and living somewhere I’ve never been before.



What are your hopes or vision of how UBC NOMAS will progress in the future?


KAILI: I hope that NOMAS will continue to grow its community within UBC and make an impact both within the university and our local architecture community while continuing to engage in discussion with the multitude of issues still facing our design professions. I hope that NOMAS will continue to hold SALA accountable for its commitments made towards equity and diversity, continuing to push our field in the right direction.


KENDRA: I hope it stays inclusive. I know some people were under the impression that only people that are a visible minority can participate. I had to then explain that us having an exclusive membership would completely counteract what we’re trying to do here. As a design student with no networking skills whatsoever, I want to open up more opportunities for all of us. At the NOMAS conference students were point-blank asking professionals for jobs, and some were getting good responses. It’s nice to be a part of creating an environment where we can be comfortable enough to pursue careers ambitiously, and feel like we might actually have a place in them regardless of our backgrounds.


CARMEN: My hope for NOMAS is for it to become a place where people can come together in support of one another and help build each other up for success in the design field. I think this is especially important in the creative field because it is so easy to view each other as competitors rather than comrades.


"I also hope that the principles and values that NOMAS stands for will make its way outside of UBC and into the community to set a standard and become a foundation for the future of design."
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