Alumni Spotlight: Anna and Maria Kobalyan

The sisters Anna and Maria Kobalyan graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Architecture from Woodbury in 2016. Their career paths couldn’t be more different, reflecting the program’s cross-disciplinarity and the close mentoring relationships between faculty, staff and students at Woodbury designed to help students realize their potential in the wide professional field of interior architecture and its related disciplines.

While Anna chose a more traditional career direction and is employed as a designer at the Gensler office in Los Angeles, her sister Maria works at fashion label Rodarte in fashion production.

We caught up with Anna and Maria and asked them about their career choices and how their studies at Woodbury prepared each of them for the profession.

Interview with Anna and Maria Kobalyan

How did your time in the BFA of Interior Architecture program at Woodbury prepare you to pursue your work?

Anna: The experience I received at Woodbury fully prepared me for the real world of architecture and design. The long nights, the thoughtful critiques during a review, the dynamics of group projects, and the shifts in ideas throughout a semester truly reflects how projects are developed in a firm. Even the studio lifestyle we develop in a creative program like Woodbury’s is also mirrored in the creative office, and you find yourself to be comfortable and confident in what you do.

Maria: The program prepared us to be ready for anything. We learned about every aspect of design: conceptual thinking, how to meet code, being an individual and finding our voice, pitching ideas, and backing them up with evidence. Our projects were conceptual, but I wasn’t scared of designing in the real world, because I treated my projects as if they could see the light of day. Our professors reach out and work with students, so networking was always a part of our education. Through their connections I started working with Materials & Applications as a volunteer. Being part of a non-profit has taught me about true commitment as well as public outreach, experimentation, time management, grants, and budgeting.

You each picked a different career path after finishing architecture school. What do you like best about working at Gensler and Rodarte respectively?

Anna and Maria Kobalyan
Anna (l.) and Maria (r.) Kobalyan

Anna: One of the best parts of working for Gensler is having so many resources and opportunities for continued research. The company values a creative studio lifestyle, with design forums, lectures, open critiques, and research opportunities. I really enjoy having that type of culture in the office, because it keeps me on my toes, alert, and inspired.

Maria: Working for Rodarte has made me fall in love with the city of Los Angeles, more than ever. Being out and about for projects, you get to go down undiscovered streets and enter secret buildings. The fashion industry is always integrating, and constantly changing. Fashion is more fast paced than architecture, but the rigor and discipline that it takes to practice architecture helps me to work at the pace of that environment.

What have been the biggest challenges in your career? Did your experiences at Woodbury help you to overcome the obstacles you’ve faced?

Anna and Maria: During school, depending on the semester, we were either full time or part-time students, and we paid our way through school. Woodbury helped us accommodate our financial situation to get our degrees. No other school would have done that for us. Most of our course credits were accepted from all the different community colleges we attended, and we received many scholarships. The department and the faculty were so supportive, and we had numerous job opportunities working on and off campus. Anna worked in the Digital Fabrication Lab and the Wedge Gallery on campus, interned at Harley Ellis Devereaux for a year, and started as an intern at Gensler where she is now a Junior Designer. While I (Maria) interned as a Production Assistant at TRIO Entertainment Services Group, worked as a teaching assistant for 3 years for the Design Communications 2 class, an office assistant at the School of Architecture, and as an Instructor for Art of Architecture summer program.

What projects have you worked on that you’re most proud of?

Anna: Working at Gensler has given me lots of opportunities to work on projects through different phases of design. Recently, I worked on a café for a high rise office building in Century City. I had the opportunity to engage in the project from the very beginning; getting involved in program planning, research, and conceptual design.

Maria: My BFA thesis! I got to discover myself in a sense. I had the opportunity to do research on all the subjects that I am interested in… architecture, interior architecture, design, fashion, film, art, commerce… they all intersected, overlapped, and meshed together. Anna and I are also creating a jewelry line under ver | texx, and launched an Etsy line called ALMA Design Studio.

What advice would you give to current students who aspire to enter the architecture profession?

Anna: Simply put, I would tell aspiring students that the architecture profession is worthwhile- don’t take it lightly, but also take in all that it brings your way. Through the process, you will make beautiful friendships that will last a lifetime, question your thinking, struggle through the complexity of creativity, but in the end you will be able to take on whatever life throws at you in whatever path you choose. Unlike many professions – it opens up several paths and leads you in really different directions, so it’s a path of self discovery.

Maria:  As Drake says “You do you girl.” Learn to have a thick skin, and accept criticism. Know your history, and don’t be afraid to break the norm. You won’t change architecture in a day, but as long as you know who you are, your critics will understand why you do things the way you do. Architecture is a profession that has always had room for more.

What would you say to a prospective student who is considering Woodbury University?

Anna: One thing that stood out to me from my experience of Woodbury is the small intimate class sizes. You are able to establish close relationships with other students and professors because of the small class sizes. It’s a wonderful way to collaborate and not get lost in a sea of students. Woodbury creates a unique community that supports your growth through the program.

Maria:  I’m going to quote Spanglish “just try it on.” You might think that it’s not a right fit for you, but you never know until you give it a try.

What is your lasting impression of studying interior architecture at Woodbury University?

Anna: The Interior Architecture program takes an alternative tance on design – it’s an interesting mix of interior studies, architecture, and art, and it brings a rare perspective on design.

Maria: The studio family you adopt is for life. It’s your support system.

Describe Woodbury University in 3 words.

Anna and Maria:  Experimental, cross-disciplinary, supportive.

Featured Image: Anna Kobalyan BFA in Interior Architecture thesis

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