Maria Do is an architect who works for the Miller Hull Partnership, a firm based in downtown Seattle. She played a key role on the team that worked for over a year on the Bothell City Hall project, which had its grand opening in November.
Bothell City Hall is part of the city’s downtown revitalization efforts. The four-story office building with Council Chambers and community meeting spaces spans 53,000 square feet. The LEED certified structure was also designed to create visual and pedestrian connections between key activity centers in downtown Bothell.
Maria’s unique insight as an Asian Pacific Islander (API) woman and immigrant has shaped her experiences in a field that is male-dominated. On an early Friday morning, I had a chance to sit down with Maria to talk about the Bothell City Hall project as well as her path to success.
Daniele Meñez: What was your path towards becoming an architect like?
Maria Do: My path wasn’t really linear. It was very indirect. I was more driven by my interests. I did a pre-medical degree track as an undergraduate, but went into the Peace Corps at Cameroon instead of going to medical school. I had an amazing, very impactful experience there. I came back and pursued a Master’s in Landscape and Architecture, which was informed by that Peace Corps experience. Looking back, the choices I made had a common theme that was related to my experiences as an immigrant—I wanted to be helpful and of service, and that motivated my choices in life.
Meñez: What does the Bothell City Hall project mean for the city and for you personally?
Do: My entire family came out during the grand opening, and that was very personal for me. I was able to share what I do in a way that they could understand, because they were in it and seeing it. They saw the contributions that architects cold have in a community space. Architecture, in some ways, was a field that seemed a little abstract to them. But because they were in the space, and knew that I was part of that, it was a connection for them. And that was pretty big for me. It was one of the first times I felt that they connected deeply with what I do.
At the least, what we [as architects] can do is provide a healthy and pleasant place for people. I think that at the municipal level, we were tasked with designing a building—but it’s a lot deeper than that. The scale and type of the project was pretty amazing. I felt that it was an opportunity to shape a space for people who use it daily. Architects have a huge role in shaping that experience, and that’s a huge objective to have. It’s very meaningful and can impact a lot of people, which is one of the reasons why I’m in architecture. Because it’s a civic space, people are also coming from the greater Bothell neighborhoods to use it, so its potential to impact Bothell residents is very great.
Meñez: What is it like to be an API woman in architecture?
Do: Every profession has a set of challenges, and I just happen to be in a profession that is currently more male-dominated than others. Sometimes that can be, like anything, an isolating experience. But when that happens, I approach it from a standpoint where it’s like, let me be judged by capacity to do my job well—what I bring and what I can contribute to the profession.
I’m pretty grateful and excited to be in a profession that I like. That I really believe in. And one that’s connected to serving people. Because again, that’s what has fueled my choices in life. I’m also really happy to be working for a firm in which the leadership is almost 30% women. I know it’s not half, but it’s getting there. It’s really exciting to see women in my office in positions of leadership. It’s inspiring, and I hope that’s what we’re moving towards in my field.
Meñez: Is there anything you’d like to let our readers know about?
Do: If I could state any kind of summary or advice on why I’m happy in my profession now, it’s just to follow what you’re deeply motivated by and care about. Whether your path is direct or indirect like mine. Follow what you’re deeply motivated by and throw your heart into it. That’s the path to success. If you care about something intensely and you follow that, then you’re going to become successful.
It took me a while to get here, but I wouldn’t be the person I am today without any of those experiences. Some of them were kind of scary—for example, [as an immigrant] to embark into a country and live there when you know very little about it; it was both very exciting and challenging. But I leapt onto that with a huge amount of excitement. That’s another thing I’d say: Once you find your interests, hopefully you pursue it with a huge amount of excitement and enthusiasm.