For almost 100 years, Stevens & Wilkinson has cultivated an open and collaborative work environment. As a firm, our company culture, and the individuals that make up our team, are at the heart of all our designs. In our new ‘Staff Spotlight Series,’ we sat down with various members of our team to learn more about their greatest accomplishments, what they enjoy most about their chosen profession and why they enjoy working here. From our architects, engineers, and interior designers, to our Marketing Department, administrative staff and Finance & Human Resources team, each person plays a vital role in the success of our firm.

A New Beginning, In a New City, With a New Network, This is Liza.

Located in our South Carolina office, Liza Bajarias, is one of our firm’s new design staff architects. The Philippines born-turned-California native made the move down South with her son and daughter in early August of last year. When asked how she found her way to Stevens & Wilkinson, Liza stated, “First and foremost, this was an answered prayer and second, my fabulous network— it’s all about the people we know!”

Since joining the firm, it’s safe to say that Stevens & Wilkinson is quickly becoming a great fit for Liza as she has been busy working on projects for Palmetto Health Richland and the South Carolina Department for Veteran Affairs.

We recently sat down with Liza to learn a little more about her, her love of architecture and what she hopes the future holds for her at the firm.

“Why Architecture?”

The architecture industry was not always Liza’s first career choice. She described a moment from her childhood, in which her cousins were playing outside, building a fort from various materials found in the backyard. The action immediately caught her attention, and something sparked within her.

“It’s true what they say, your whole life can change in an instant, even as a young child!,” said Liza.

Before the idea of a career in architecture, Liza already felt a connection to the field, describing herself as highly creative from a young age. However, at the time, she was positive about one thing, pursuing a career in physical therapy.

“I honestly always thought I was going to end up as a nurse, or a paramedic, maybe even a physical therapist. […] But, it was my dad who steered me towards architecture,” said Liza.

Her father is a licensed Electrical Engineer, who was also a college professor at the time Liza and her siblings were growing up in the Philippines. She was often exposed to the architecture and engineering field and eventually considered herself fascinated with the idea of space-making.

“I got stuck and said, ‘I don’t think I can do anything else other than make spaces’,” said Liza.  At the end of high school, she decided to follow her father’s advice and take on the world of architecture. When asked, “Why,” Liza stated that is was, “the satisfaction of problem solving” that kept pulling her in and around for the long run.

The first school she attended was in her home of the Philippines. Though she found it to be difficult at first, she was brought to ease when she was able to work on renderings that, “…brought her ideas to life at the tips of her fingers.”

Architecture Coast by Coast

Prior to working at Stevens & Wilkinson Liza studied in San Diego, California, having lived there for 13 years on and off. Upon graduating from the NewSchool of Architecture and Design, she worked in small firms and got acquainted with Californian architecture. Her move to Columbia brought upon more than just differences in attractions, but rather differences in approaches to design.

One of the biggest variances noticed, the design of the city’s exteriors. “There’s a lot of brick here, that’s for sure,” Liza said. “Because of the weather, you have to have closed buildings and just really thick exteriors. In California, you’ll see [a lot] of open plans and [a lot] of glazing, and if you’re by the ocean you’ll have a lot of decks [to] celebrate the view. In Columbia, this is just not the case.”

Liza’s Smart Design Solution

When it comes to design, Liza enjoys working in the Education, Recreation, and Hospitality market sectors. The A/E industry comes with a lot of learning opportunities, as does the markets it serves. “There’s the challenge of manipulating a space so that learning can happen,” she said.

As an architect, she loves being able to work on projects that serve a purpose of gathering. “Where people can ‘chillax,’ relax, and be wholesome people, for me, that’s what great design is all about.”

So, what exactly is Liza’s go-to ‘Smart Design Solution?’

“It’s the people that I work with here. I go to Adriane, Michael, Randall and Robby for input on projects all the time. They have so much insight,” states Liza. “Everyone here is incredibly smart, that’s for sure.” Not only are her co-workers her Smart Design Solution, but also one of the main reasons Liza enjoys working at the firm. “This is what I think of when someone says diversity. Stevens & Wilkinson has created a naturally diverse and inclusive environment and I’m glad I get to be here in the midst of it all,” continued Liza. To her, all designs need that fresh pair of eyes. Encouraging a change of perspective for the best outcomes, Liza believes that to have great solutions, you need to have feedback. “[It’s not good] if you are only relying on yourself,” she said.

For Liza, her experiences at Stevens & Wilkinson are quite different from her previous work endeavors. “I come from very small firms where LEED, for example, was not the priority. Whereas here, we try to design as much as we can responsibly, which is great. The fact that there is a culture here that embraces the concept of sustainable design, is one of the many reasons why I wanted to work here.”

“When you go to Japan, you cannot not climb Mount Fuji.”

Outside of the office, Liza is an avid reader. “This is more like self-improvement. And there [are] a lot of things you wouldn’t know by asking people,” she said. Some of her favorite books include Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover and Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. However, her all-time favorite read is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.

With English as her second language, her love for reading also stems from her want to better learn the language. “I’m very curious about how to say things. I like how poetry says a lot in a few words. I’d like that; to develop that skill since English is not my first language.”

When she’s not reading, you may find her crocheting or watching Doctor Who. And, when she’s in the mood for a classic book-to-film adaptation, the Queen of Katwe and the Harry Potter series are her top choices.

Traveling is also a passion of Liza’s. “My favorite part [of traveling] is getting lost in a different place, and just people watching. I like to see their architecture, how they are similar and how they are different to my culture. Being in a different place with different people is exhilarating. It’s not boring, you know what I mean?”

A few of her favorite places to visit include Okinawa, Mainland Japan, Singapore, and Australia. When asked where she would go if she could travel anywhere in the world, Liza picked Scandinavia and Switzerland for the artwork, architecture, city planning, and the gorgeous views of the fjords.

Something everyone should know about her, that she scaled Mount Fujiyama in August of 2001. While stationed in Japan on active duty in the Navy, Liza began her climb up the historic landmark with her church group at about six o’clock in the morning. By seven o’clock that night, she was enjoying the monumental view from the top of the mountain. “It was exciting. You could feel the clouds just pass through you,” Liza said. “I’d never do it again. It would be foolish if you did it a second time, at least that’s what the locals say.”

. . .

As for her future with the firm, Liza is confident in her outlook on where she is going and what she will achieve while part of the Stevens & Wilkinson family. “I’m learning so much from the people around me, which is great. You should be learning something new everyday!”

Liza Bajarias is an Architectural Designer, having received her Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego, California.

About Stevens & Wilkinson: Founded in 1919, Stevens & Wilkinson is a full service architectureengineering and interior design firm committed to providing clients with “Smart Design Solutions.” The firm’s combined design capabilities lead to projects executed with creative, innovative and holistic design solutions. Learn more: www.stevens-wilkinson.com.