“There’s nobody in the world who doesn’t know Los Angeles. That suits me.” That’s the perspective of Rania Alomar, principal architect of her own Los Angeles firm, RA-DA. Alomar moved from Manchester, United Kingdom, to the City of Angels almost 20 years ago, and she’s never looked back. She talks to us here about building her career in one of the world’s most creative places.
gb&d: You’re originally from England. What drew you half the world away to Los Angeles?
Rania Alomar: I have my undergraduate degree in architecture from The University of Manchester in the UK. My graduate degree is from SCI-Arc in Los Angeles. When I first visited SCI-Arc, I went to the campus, walked in, and felt the energy. It was a mess, but a creative mess filled with models, drawings, and crazy contraptions. It was really exciting because Manchester was much more technical and rigorous. SCI-Arc balanced that.
gb&d: Did you find that this creativity really did translate to the classroom?
Alomar: Yes, definitely. When I look back on my work from school, I can see how each studio led me to discover something new. Our professors were like guidance counselors; they would lead us in a direction, but the ultimate tell for me was when I produced something completely new. At SCI-Arc, I really gained a whole new confidence in trusting my ability and my eye.
gb&d: Los Angeles is known for its boutique firms. Why did you decide to go work for a large firm after graduating?
Alomar: After SCI-Arc, I went to work for NBBJ because it was becoming a force in sports and entertainment architecture. There were lots of young kids there like me; we worked crazy hours and gave it our all. The older architects—we called them the “gray hairs”—looked after us. It was a lot like school, and it was fantastic.
I was first put on the Staples Center project and thrown into the deep end. I designed a good deal of the stadium’s skin, and I was really lucky to have the experience. I spent about a year on-site and got to see everything firsthand. It gave me the fundamental experience of seeing how a building actually gets built.
gb&d: You stayed at big firms for 10 years. Why did you ultimately decide to go out on your own and found RA-DA?
Alomar: RA-DA, my own practice, has always been my ultimate goal. I moved up to design lead very quickly at NBBJ, and I did a lot of sports and arena work. I moved to Rossetti in 2003 partly because I didn’t want to be known as “the sports girl.” There, I did lots of different buildings that were more varied in scale and type. I wanted to learn how to handle contracts, how to run projects, how to deal with systems, and I learned that at the big firms. But every move in my career has always been aimed at having my own practice. It came to the point where I was either going to become a principal or start my own practice, so I went out on my own and started getting small commissions.
gb&d: What was your first project?
Alomar: It was the Chase Field extension in Phoenix. The owners wanted to renovate a zone at the top of the stadium that would house their offices, and they wanted something completely unique. It was really creative, and it was exactly the kind of stuff I wanted to do. Our design didn’t get built, but we did win a 2007 AIA Design Award for it.
gb&d: Now that you’ve been working in Los Angeles for 20 years, do you still believe in the city’s creativity?
Alomar: Absolutely. LA is constantly changing, and there’s always lots of space for improvement. The client base here really supports creativity. In many ways, it’s a transient city where you’re always meeting new people from other countries, and that influences the work. So when it comes to design, Los Angeles isn’t just a springboard for the country, it’s a springboard for the entire world.