Interview with Yu-Ngok Lo – Architect, Culver City, CA

Yu-Ngok Lo is the principal architect at YNL Design. Originally from Macau, Yu-Ngok currently lives and works in Culver City, California. He received his Associates Degree of Science in Architectural Technology from College of the Desert, CA and his Bachelor of Architecture from Iowa State University, IA. Now, Yu-Ngok is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accredited professional and a licensed Architect in California, also certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. Check out Lo’s Arcbazar portfolio here.

How did you get into the field of architecture? What keeps you excited?

There was always a misconception that Architects make lots of money when I was a kid. That was pretty much the reason why I chose Architecture as my career. I started as an architectural intern in 2003 and received my California license in 2008. I have been working and active in the architecture field since then, and I have to be honest with you, you are better off being in engineering if you are only interesting in earning lots of money. What really kept me in this field is the satisfaction when seeing something you drew actually get built. That’s something money can’t buy.

What is your preferred style? Why do you prefer this to others?

“New Home” by YNL Designs

My work tends to be in the realm of contemporary architecture.

It is a very subjective question. I believe in architectural preservation [find Yu-Ngok’s various published articles regarding historic preservation at AIArchitects] and for that very reason I think we (architects) should create architecture that reflects the current trend of society. 50 or 100 years later our designs might become obsolete but our work will always represent a certain architectural period. To keep tracing the old style, to keep creating classical architectural languages would disrupt the flow of our architectural history.  Having said that, aesthetic is very subjective and I respect those architects whose passion is traditional architecture.

What is most challenging and most rewarding about the contemporary style?

I think the most challenging thing about contemporary architecture is selling it to average homeowners – especially the clients that Arcbazar targets. Once a while, there is a client who celebrates designs that are more contemporary and winning one of these competitions is rewarding. However, eventually I think there is nothing more rewarding that seeing your design realized in reality.

What is your favorite type of project to work on and why?

I enjoy small residential, commercial and retail interior project (I do also enjoy large scale projects too and I’ve managed projects up to 17 million USD before), especially those projects with very challenging spatial requirements. Small scale projects allow me to focus on details and have better control on the overall quality. Also, the turnaround time is usually shorter which means you get to see the final “result” sooner.

Do you have one specific project of which you are most proud?

9 - Interior
Lo’s repair rhop turned restaurant

I recently completed a small adaptive reuse project in Macau (where I grew up). The project is renovating an existing 900 sq. ft. rundown motorcycle repair shop and turn it into a new 40 seat Barbeque restaurant, which includes a commercial kitchen, storage, toilet room and a main dining area.

What made you so proud of it? Were there unique challenges? Unintended outcomes?

The project was very challenging in 3 ways. First, the project was overseas and many of the construction methods/standards are different from those in the U.S. To achieve the aesthetic quality I wanted, I had to spend more time preparing construction sketches than I normally would during construction. The contractor was resistive at first, however, they were able to follow through and the project turned out to be very satisfactory to the client and to the contractor as well.

The second challenge was to fit 40 seats in the main dining area which was very small due to certain size requirements set forth for the commercial kitchen per local code.

Third, the project was given a very small budget – about USD$50,000, which includeed a commercial kitchen, HVAC units and new plumbing. In order to reduce the construction cost, minimal work was proposed for the building’s shell. As a result, the overall industrial feel of the space was kept.

Your designs are very beautiful – why is that?

Thank you! I think many people who enjoy classical designs would hate my work. But if you ask me, I believe illustration is a contributing factor. I am luckily enough to know how to use 3d programs and I think that dramatically helps me express my design ideas.

Loft space by YNL Designs

Can you take us through your typical design process? Is your process the same when using Arcbazar?

The design process varies, it highly depends on the type of projects. For some of my theoretical work, sometimes I would start with the building’s formal expression and make the programs work with the building shell. However, for projects with definite programs, spatial constrains, and special requirements such as the Arcbazar projects, I usually start by laying out the programs in 2D, then I design the exterior that works with the floor plan.

How do architecture and interior design complement one another?

I think the interior should have a relationship with the exterior of the building and it is the architect’s job to define that relationship. They don’t necessarily have to be complementing each other (it could be contrasting, hinting, reflecting, etc), however, they should speak the same language that expresses the design’s conceptual attempt.

Is there any specific advice that you would give to homeowners relating to your expertise or past experiences?

The first and most important thing is to call me if you want to build a modern house. Just kidding!

I think the important thing is to know what you really want. That is not limited to what style of architecture you want, but what kind of spatial qualities. For example, do you want a compact design or a more spacious design, do you want an open plan or closed plan, are you willing to spend money for a skylight to get more natural light? What kind of decoration you like (or no decoration at all)? Once you asked yourself these questions, then you would know what type of architecture you really want.

Are there any tips or tricks that you would lend to those thinking of remodeling?

If permits are required, it’s important to consult a local architect to do the drawings. You can have the design portion done by another designer (or through Arcbazar) but always hire local architects for construction documents and permit; it will save lots of troubles.

Any advice for those building a new home?

New Home Interior by YNL Designs

Check with the zoning requirements first to determine what you can or cannot build on your property. This can be done by simply going to the local planning department. This is extremely important in my opinion. It would determine the maximum size and number stories of the building and sometimes some districts also govern the appearance of the building too.



Are there any common misconceptions that homeowners have about what you do?

I think there are misconceptions about the distinctions between architects and contractors and structural engineers. Architects don’t simply draw what the client wants. We interpret and we implement the design with our personal ideas (of course within the perimeters/requirements set forth by the client). If a client simply wants exactly what he/she has in mind, then he/she should hire a contractor instead.

Visit Yu-Ngok’s website at or email him at

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