Morgan Sumner, Assoc. AIA – Designer, Bestor Architecture
Morgan Sumner, Assoc. AIA – Designer, Bestor Architecture & Founder, Poché Design Studio


Questions for the 2024 AIA|LA Board of Directors’ Associate Director MORGAN SUMNER, Assoc. AIA – Designer, Bestor Architecture & Founder, Poché Design Studio

What initially drew you towards architecture and design? Was there a specific experience or person that sparked your interest?

The short answer is I am on the other side of a great guess. I was interested in everything as a kid and the idea of finding one job to sum all those interests up seemed impossible. I never knew an architect, and I didn’t meet one until I was in college as an already-declared architecture student. So, my entire exposure to architecture growing up was through one of my and my parent’s favorite channels: HGTV. I loved watching house flips, and whatever let me do that had to be my career answer. My parents pointed me towards engineering, so I took pre-engineering classes in high school and I immediately knew that side wasn’t for me. My drafting class, however? I loved everything. We drew houses and details by hand and on the computer; CAD and I go way back. We built models and talked about physics, and I was the only girl doing best in the class. I was hooked. My great guess continued to play out well in undergrad, where my suspicions of a vast industry were confirmed and is what keeps my spark well-lit.

Can you describe your design approach in 3-5 keywords? How do these principles manifest in your projects?

Experience, Equity, Educational, and a little bit Weird.
Architects are the original User Experience curators, and it’s all about experience for me. I enjoy design from a first-person perspective but as different ‘characters’. This is really just a way for me to ask different questions to assess blind spots in a design. This also helps us understand what an equitable space might mean for each project. It’s a fun exercise in perspective. Design and collaboration go hand in hand, so for my two goals of experience and equity, sharing ideas with people becomes important. Understanding who you’re designing for and what their goals are becomes important in the whole equation too. That’s where the education and learning from other people’s stories and experiences come in; tell me everything. Tell me your story and how we should start to draw it out. And just a little weird is necessary. In a world of endless options, I refuse to create duplicates. Experiences are made better when you can build memories around them and see reflections of yourself in the design. For me, that’s finding ways to give design personality. It could be a funky detail, randomly placed vignettes, or the unapologetic use of color and texture.

Beyond aesthetics, what other factors are crucial in your design process? Does sustainability, community engagement, or technology play a role?

I like to look at projects first in the larger framework of culture and society. In that, longevity, technology, and sustainability are all factors. I care just as much about content and message as the team and people we work with. The design process is so much more than just the output, that the environment and experience of these projects should also be a factor. My design approach has always been people-centric.

Are there any architects or designers who have significantly influenced your work? How have they shaped your approach?

My honest actual answer is threefold: my peers, community of creatives, and other fields. I’m thankful to learn side-by-side the best. The way my peers speak about design is my primary influence because we’re often speaking about the experience with such esteem. I’m surrounded by creatives in this field and others, that I both know and don’t, such as Zena Howard, Issa Rae, Uzo Njoku to name a few.

Is there a specific project you’re particularly proud of? What unique challenges or discoveries did it present?

My studio, Poche Design Studio, took on a client a few years ago for a rebranding project. Tobi Ashiru, my co-founder’s best friend, and I were surprised by the number of people who were wanting and willing to be part of the process. After all, we were going to rename a 30-year-old company based on community work, the people needed to have a say in it. We knew it would be a big group to manage between the few of us, but honestly, we knew it would work out. We knew this because of our experience in architecture. We can somehow, someway, manage to get a building through the permitting process, from client to consultant, design review and back to plan check, client to consultant a couple more times, and then still get it to the contractor before even seeing a glimpse of wood. A thousand people are commenting on our work. We figured, all these buildings are going up, we can take 100 opinions and sort this rebranding thing out. With patience and grace from both sides, the design team and the client were able to host town halls to listen to opinions from those willing to share. We swallowed egos, pivoted, and studied more precedent when they still didn’t like something from this list of potential names. We received feedback often, digesting it into applicable design comments and dispersing tasks amongst the team. We got creative, we reached and researched. We also held to our design choices and opinions at the times we knew it was important. There was so much learning, and most of the journey was led by our experience as designers in architectural spaces. We successfully rebranded Child Care Services to Brightspark Early Learning Services – and everyone was heard and happy. We’re super proud of it.

Where do you see the future of architecture heading? What exciting trends or technologies are you most interested in?

I still don’t think the Sci-Fi movies are necessarily wrong because there is no doubt we are in a technology world now. I think that leaves a very important job for architects and designers to envision that future now because it’s actively being drawn. There’s a certain amount of “giving into tech” that I’ve had to slowly accept and see a similar fate for the industry. In using Ai in my business, Poche, we’ve noticed it actually just makes our jobs easier, so I’m excited for easier-to-use versions. At some point, it will evolve and we’ll need to adapt, but I find that’s becoming an important skill to have as someone in this design world. This question becomes overwhelming considering the possibilities, so I’ll just hope for more real-life, real-time 3D visualizing in the field, definitely more lasers, improved collaborative workflows, broader scopes of influence, and more women and people of color in the room.

What advice would you give to someone aspiring to become an architect or designer?

Get inspired and stay inspired. Exploring the different niches of architecture is part of why so many of us are here. Get involved in the events, and meet people doing the things you want to be doing. Stay connected to the people who make architecture fun and encourage curiosity. Learn to be different while staying relevant, like keeping up with technology where you can. Figure out your values and how they influence how you draw and design. I’m thankful for a community that reminds me why I’m here and chose to show up. I think everyone should build a little community for themselves as well; the people make it better. Most importantly, my advice would be to keep the fun. There’s lots to the job, but ultimately, we get paid to draw – how awesome?

Morgan Sumner, Assoc. AIA – Designer, Bestor Architecture & Founder, Poché Design Studio

Morgan Sumner is a young, emerging professional actively on her journey to take up space in the professional space of architecture. She is a graduate of Arizona State University (BSD, 2016) and The University of Southern California (M.Arch, 2018). Her passions are at the intersection of culture and creativity and has kept this focus throughout her journey. She is currently [excitedly] working at Bestor Architecture and is actively taking steps towards licensure. She also uses architectural training in her graphic design company, Poché Design Studio, which aims to occupy + amplify the Black space in design.