Lan T. Ly’s Path to Architecture: Member Profile

After receiving his B.A. in economics from Rutgers University, Lan T. Ly, Assoc. AIA worked at Merrill Lynch in the marketing department of the insurance group. His main responsibilities were to generate sales ideas for over 14,000 financial consultants. Because he was interested in UI and UX of web design, he was a natural fit to lead the development of the insurance group’s intranet. Lan worked with web designers, the art and sales department and developers to deliver a site that was easy to use.

After Merrill Lynch, he joined a music start-up in New York City where he was responsible for design, concepts, and managing a team of web designers and developers. This role satisfied his left and right brain.

At twenty six he had a “quarter life crisis.” Something was still missing. He had to take a leap of faith. Naturally he moved to Barcelona said he studied at the University of Valencia during his junior year at Rutgers. In Barcelona, he lived a few blocks from Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion where he rediscovered Gaudí. Seeing the passion, commitment and artistry of Gaudí he decided to pursue a career in architecture.

Upon returning to the U.S., he moved to Pleasant Hill. He enrolled in architecture classes at Diablo Valley College where he met Max Jacobson. Max Jacobson and Murray Silverstein were co-authors of “A Pattern Language,” and co-founders of JSW/D in Berkeley. At JSW/D Lan worked on affordable housing projects which he found important because of his family’s roots as refugees from Vietnam.

Lan has only worked at East Bay firms: first at David Kesler Architect and later at Charles Debbas Architecture. The modernist and conceptual work at these firms helped prepare him for graduate school.

As a person who learns best by doing, Lan had no intentions of going back to school but work was scarce during the Great Recession. He only applied to UC Berkeley and was accepted. For his thesis he focused on affordable prefabrication for the 99%. He designed and built a prefabricated dwelling unit that was easy to assemble, affordable and code-compliant.

After receiving his M.Arch from UC Berkeley in 2014, Lan decided to work in landscape architecture. At Hood Design Studio, he managed the Yerba Buena Island Hilltop Park (regional park on top of the island) and Peralta Hacienda Historical Park (birthplace of Oakland). Both were landscapes that dealt with the detritus of time, memory and the built environment. He completed the construction administration for the landscape at San Francisco’s Bayview Opera House.

Lan has managed public art projects at Princeton University (glass and steel towers representing the legacy of Woodrow Wilson), at San Diego International Airport (a 275 ft. long x 12 ft. tall glass wall of light and color), and in Santa Monica (monumental sandstone sculpture representing the geologic history of the city).

In early 2018, Lan returned to architecture. He is currently a project designer in the healthcare group at Ratcliff Architects. He is elated to be in a supportive environment where he can continue to grow as a designer and global citizen. His intermediate goal is to get licensed.

Lan is married to a social worker. Their two young daughters keep them exhausted and therefore grounded. They live in beautiful Oakland.

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