Rebecca M. Abano, AIA, City Architect, Santa Monica is interviewed by Will Wright, Hon. AIA|LA as part of the AIA|LA blog series connecting architects engaged in civic affairs with members.
1. What inspired you to become an architect and what were some of those formative memories that continue to shape your design philosophy?
I developed a strong passion towards Architecture thanks to my godfather who was an architect in the Philippines. As a child, I had an interest and talent for arts and started making home models at the age of 9. I continued with this craft throughout my schooling. When I attended architecture school at the University of the Philippines, I realized that architecture does not only focus on the visual, but also emphasizes on the essential functional and practical aspects of an entity. Since my college days, “Form follows function” (Louis Sullivan) has been my design principle.
2. What motivates & fascinates you the most (or challenges you the most) about your current role?
As the City Architect of Santa Monica, I am tasked with overseeing all the City’s capital projects and ensuring these projects incorporate the City’s core values and mission on sustainability. The fact that the City has adopted biophilic design and taken on the Living Building Challenge for the City Services Building is what makes this job exciting as well as challenging. Our motto is to lead by example, hence completing sustainable and net zero energy buildings is our way of validating it can be done in our community.
3. As you’ve become more civically engaged, what insight can you share on how architects can become both better listeners and stronger leaders?
Successful leaders are expert decision makers. Strong leaders can make 30 decisions in 30 minutes. Architects are innately good listeners but struggle with making decisions. The process of making decisions comes from an accumulation of experiences and involvement in varying circumstances. In other words, the more diverse the experience, the more confident an architect can become to making decisions. As a civic manager, I have made an effort to give opportunity to our local architects to engage and have them work on projects outside their normal work.
4. In the year 2018, what do you recognize to be amongst our most pressing needs?
We should all be focused on taking care of our planet and everything that thrives in it. As architects, we should not only be moving toward biophilic design and using sustainable design principles on our projects but also be living a sustainable lifestyle. Also, as architects, we should be assisting with providing solutions for Homelessness such as inventing ways to design and build affordable housing faster.
5. And what do you anticipate will be our most pressing needs in 2028? In the year 2058?
In 2028, I predict that electricity will be the primary energy used. It would be clean and cheap since solar energy would be the main source. All electric cars and buildings will be mainstream. Artificial Intelligence will also take off and will part of everyone’s daily life like mobile phones are today. I am also hopeful that by this time, homelessness will not exit since architects and builders would have figured out how to construct housing in a more efficient manner similar to model-making with a 3D printer.
With a much more healthy and sustainable lifestyle today, people will live longer – possibly the average life would be 100+. Hence, in 2058, the world may experience over population. Architects will be design much more compact housing and people will be living in a much more compact environment.
6. What is your favorite city/ building/ park/ plaza/ place and why?
My favorite place is the Los Angeles Zoo. In addition to serving the greater Los Angeles community, the Zoo strives to inspire its visitors to appreciate wildlife through creating an environment for recreation and discovery. They are at the forefront of preservation and conservation of natural habitat.
7. What’s your favorite way to spend a beautiful Saturday afternoon? (What do you do for fun? Favorite book? Podcast? Museum?)
I love to walk. On a nice Saturday afternoon, I like to walk around different places – around my neighborhood, Fryman Canyon, Venice Beach Canal, Santa Monica Beach Trail, Griffith Park, Ventura Boulevard, LA Zoo, etc.
In the winter, I enjoy skiing with my family. My favorite ski resort is in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Rebecca M. Abano, AIA – City Architect, City of Santa Monica
Rebecca is Santa Monica’s City Architect. She began her career in architecture over 30 years ago, motivated by an inherent sense of aesthetics, a natural awareness of her environment, and the desire to make her surroundings better. She believes that the built environment can positively influence the way people live, work, play and learn if designed right. She currently manages the Architecture Services Division of the City of Santa Monica’s Public Works Department in providing planning, design and construction services for the City’s $500M capital improvement program. Significant projects include the City Yards Modernization, new Fire Station no. 1, Memorial Park Expansion, and the new City Services Building, which will be the first building in Southern California to pursue the Living Building Challenge certification.
She received her B.S. in Architecture from the University of the Philippines and attended the master of architecture program at SCI-ARC. A substantial part of her career is in the municipal government sector where she worked for the City of Los Angeles for 30 years. She worked for the City of Los Angeles Department of Public Works where she started as an architectural associate, then served as an architect before being promoted to senior architect. She oversaw major projects including the $417M Citywide Public Safety Capital Program funded by Proposition Q, the $172M Zoo Capital Improvement Program, and the implementation of the Supportive Housing and Homeless Facilities Program funded by Proposition HHH where she gained extensive experience in project and construction management. In addition to being a member of the American Institute of Architects, she is affiliated with the International Living Future Institute and the American Public Works Association.
By supporting green building technology and completion of multiple sustainable projects, Rebecca has become a sustainable design specialist. Also, she teaches project management courses with a focus on sustainability. When not at work, Rebecca enjoys skiing and nature walks with her husband and nature walks. She also volunteers and supports several local charities including the Assistance League of Los Angeles and the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association.
IMAGE CREDITS: City of Santa Monica