Sevan Benlian Explores Design and Development in California

Alumnus Sevan Benlian (BArch ’04 and MSArchRED ’08) is a Project Executive and Design Review Board Commissioner with 15 years of progressive experience at major Architectural, Construction and Real Estate Development firms. His background includes a Master of Construction Management, and he is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Planning & Development at USC. On March 3rd 2020, during the Presidential Primary Election in California, he was elected to the Glendale College District Board of Trustees representing Area 5 in the City of Glendale. We recently caught up with Sevan to discuss his personal career path and how design, development and planning are changing across California.

Interview with Sevan

Q: Why did you choose to study architecture?

Since a young age, I have been obsessed with the built environment and the vital role architecture and development play in shaping our daily lives and activities. Architecture is the main artery that controls the way we live life as most of our daily activities take place in the built environment. Moreover, architecture requires both an overall growth in different fields of science and instant flow of creativity. Finally, being an interpreter of a client’s or community’s needs into their physical form is a spectacular challenge.

Q: You have a diverse background, from working as an architect to the Design Review Board for the City of Glendale. How do you believe designers can become more active in civic engagement with their communities?

Since my service at the Design Review Board for the City of Glendale, I have learned the importance of the architects` involvement in their local communities. I have witnessed first-hand a strong correlation between a project’s success and community involvement, which enables the architect/designer to understand the fellowship needs and issues.

Q: At Katerra, you’re working as a Project Executive. As you also pursue a Doctorate in Policy and Planning, what role do you think designers have in urban development?

Katerra is a fully integrated global company that provides end-to-end building solutions, and its mission is to transform construction through technology – every process and every product. At Katerra, we are the planners, architects, engineers, interior designers, material supplier, and a contractor. As a project executive, I have a unique opportunity that gives me more control over the entire process. I decided to pursue my doctorate in policy and planning at USC to be able to understand the broader context of a project. I believe that architects and designers can produce better projects when they have a deeper understanding of how their design connects to its urban context.

Q: Architects often face questions of narrowing project scopes. With changes to climate, technologies, and construction techniques, how do you think architects and designers will adapt ways of practicing to advance the profession?

Architects and designers usually get involved in the project from the beginning, which enables them to influence its direction profoundly. They play a critical role in setting up the vision and the roadmap for the rest of the engineering disciplines to follow. In my humble opinion, architects and designers will remain at the forefront of innovation when it comes to climate, technologies, construction techniques, and building novelty.

Q: What projects have you enjoyed working on most?

I enjoy every project as it comes with its unique set of challenges and learning experiences. I currently oversee multiple large housing projects that are in different stage of development. A few are:

  • 380 Units Housing Project in Southern CA – Design Stage
  • 264 Units Housing Project in Northern CA – Design Stage
  • 165 Units Housing Project in Palms Desert – Construction Stage
  • 357 Units Mixed-Use Project in Carson – Construction Stage
Q: What advice would you give to students and designers who aspire to follow a similar career path?

Early involvement is critical to evolve a comprehensive understanding of the entire development process and the role of its key players. Participate in internships in architecture, development, and construction firms. Exposure to the development and construction process will enrich you and add value to you as architects and designers. Do not relax after the first success: the technologies change rapidly, so be ready to study hard all life to keep up with the times and stay in demand.

Q: What three words would you use to describe Woodbury?

Clan, Creative, Cozy.


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