Today we’d like to introduce you to April Sakai.
Thanks for sharing your story with us April. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
In college, I majored in Architecture because back in the day unless you were undeclared, your major was something traditional like doctor, engineer or lawyer. I couldn’t see myself doing any of those things and I didn’t want to figure it out by going in undeclared. Plus, I liked cool looking buildings. But it turns out making cool looking buildings is a lot harder than it seems. So after getting a degree and working for 10 years in architecture, I decided that I preferred plants as my palette vs flashing, doors, siding and hardware. Now I work as a landscape designer in the LA area, mostly helping other designers and firms produce construction drawings for their projects.
But I really enjoy spending time playing with plants on paper and in the ground. When I started out it was definitely a male-dominated profession and I joined an all woman’s professional organization, The Association for Women in Architecture (AWA, now called AWA+D to add ‘Design’), for support and networking. I never realized how many obstacles were in my way as a female until I talked to these ladies.
Being a part of that group has led me to serve on the Glendale Design Review Board, a position I would have never considered since you rarely see women in that position. The group also provided a safe place to grow my leadership skills and build my confidence. I didn’t see gender back then and I still don’t, but I do see how it seeps in unconsciously. I’m more comfortable working with someone who is like me and that’s the point of why the group helped me so much. We are all guilty of bias toward people who are like us.
Women are just as deserving as men of the positions in design and construction, it’s just that they haven’t had the opportunity because they weren’t like the men. Now with so many women in the profession, that issue has gotten much better. So now my focus has shifted from being involved in my profession to seeing the world, which means I am traveling a lot these days. I think so much good comes from broadening one’s perspective and meeting people of different cultures. You quickly realize that the rest of the world does not think or value the same things that we do.
And that’s a good thing. They all have valid reasons, just as we do, for why they are the way they are and our differences definitely make the world a richer more vibrant place. And in getting to know these strangers, I see how we are not so different. Which goes back to my point about wanting to have someone around me that is like me. It’s one of the reasons I love LA – our mix of immigrant cultures has infused our food, music, and community. I’m hoping to one day use what I’ve seen on my travels and my skills as a designer to create a more inclusive, healthy built environment.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has definitely not been a smooth road. Part of the issue was discovering what I was good at doing and what I wanted to do. I think I still don’t know what I want to do. I also think timing is important. Much like luck, timing has everything to do with success. I’ve been laid off due to projects folding more times than I can remember.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
I’m currently working as a freelance landscape designer. I specialize in helping teams of designers produce CAD production drawings for construction. If you had to give the role a name, I would be a job captain or project manager. Because I freelance, I work with a lot of different people, from large entertainment companies to sole proprietor offices. When I have the time, I help individuals re-imagine their home landscape to be more drought tolerant.
What were you like growing up?
I was an only child so I would have to find ways to entertain myself. I loved gardening and I liked building with lego, and on a larger scale, cardboard box rooms. Those two hobbies influenced my professional choices for sure. I also loved doing jigsaw puzzles, collecting things, watching tv, crafts, pretty much anything you could do alone. I had lots of friends and my Mom would invite them over to hang out.
But I wasn’t the kind of kid to run around like a wild child staying out all night, partying it up, defying their rules. My parents stressed doing well in school so I studied a lot and got involved in the orchestra as I was not very interested in sports. I also remember caring a great deal about the environment. I am still the recycling police when I see bottles and cans in the trash.
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