Dara Huang is an architect and creative director of Design Haus Liberty, we picked her brains on what's it like to break into such a competitive industry, going it alone and going to uni with Mark Zuckerberg.
Describe your typical working day.
‘My office is very close to my flat so it’s a quick morning commute to check emails or write a to-do list for myself and my team members. From the office, we usually do a weekly meeting to update everyone on each project status then I sit down with each person individually to go over design. I like to be an active part of the design process, so I bounce between multiple projects doing 3D modelling, putting together materials, or sending drawings out to special fabricators.’
What was your first job?
‘I was paid to paint murals for a fast food chain in the US called Taco Bell!’
Who inspires you?
‘I have several role models. Most of them are entrepreneurial women who are self-made and able to have a healthy family life. Of course, I deeply admire my parents, without them I wouldn’t be who I am today. Design-wise, I really admire the work of Peter Zumthor and Kengo Kuma.’
How did you get to where you are today?
‘I got my bachelor degree from the Univesity of Florida and went on to get my masters at Harvard. During my time there, I won some national scholarships which allowed me to travel around the world. I also interned at several well known architecture firms in New York and Tokyo. I then worked for Herzog De Meuron in Switzerland and Foster and Partners in London. From there I was definitely ready to take that leap and start my own practice.’
How did you set up your company?
‘I made sure I had some savings built up and at least one client who wanted to work with me before saying my ‘goodbyes’ from my old firm. I found an office, started a website – it all started quite small and grew from there. Clients started coming in surprisingly quickly, but it required significant networking.’
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
‘”All I have to do is ask.” Sometimes we are paralized with fear: fear of rejection or fear of asking a stupid question. When you think of it, there is no downside to asking: you either get a “no” and move on, or get the answer you were looking for.’
What would you say to someone thinking about setting up their own company?
‘That being financially stable will sustain a company, but passion, zeal, and ambition is what will ultimately lead to its success.’
How important is social media for your job?
‘I went to Harvard at the same time that Mark Zuckerberg did, so it was hard to avoid Facebook. I still use it and I think it’s a fantastic way to keep up with my friends and see what everyone is doing. I also joined Pinterest because it really helps with work when I am surfing the net for inspiration. Social media is a fantastic way to ‘spread news’ which is a huge advantage for new practices such as ours. ’
How do you unwind after a stressful day?
A bubble bath with salts and candles.
What are your workwear wardrobe staples?
‘A pair of black trousers. As long as they are not bootcut, though who knows, fashion has a history of repeating itself. Black is professional and goes with everything. I have so many of them. My favourites are a pair from: The Fold, Gucci and a baggy pair from Helmet Lang.’
We’re always obsessing over our work/life balance – do you manage it?
‘At this stage work takes precedence to working out or getting home at a reasonable hour, but I do go out socially at least once a week to keep my sanity. Vacations are nearly impossible, but you have to force yourself to unwind and de-stress. That’s important.’
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