Daphne Corona, behavioral health designer at NBBJ (Los Angeles) shares what drew her to the industry, the mindset she uses to approach projects, and how she unleashes her creativity in and out of the office.

What drew you to a career in healthcare design?

I’ve always been drawn to projects where I can connect to my community in a meaningful way. I started my career designing K-12 public schools in New York City, where I immersed myself in observation of how environments can have a deep impact (positively and negatively) on mental well-being and achievement. Moving into healthcare gave me the opportunity to impact a service that is so innately human and intimate.

What was your first healthcare project?

The first large project I led was the LA County Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, a design-build project. They treat patients recovering from life-altering brain and spinal cord injuries, most of whom are wheelchair bound. Besides treatment, many patients go there for the rest of their lives for general support, so we designed spaces for driving training, a wheelchair sport court, and a model home for learning accessible basic tasks such as washing clothes and bathing. I moved into the neighborhood during the project, and still live there, so I stop by often to see how the space is adapting.

What lesson from that project do you still carry with you today?

I don’t need to be an expert in the nuance of every single healthcare specialty to design the space. What I do need to be is a good listener and approach each problem from a learning mindset.

Three recent healthcare design projects and your role

1 Montage Health Ohana Center for adolescent behavioral health, Monterey, Calif., project manager.

2 University of Utah Huntsman Mental Health Institute Translational Research Center, Salt Lake City, project manager.

3 Confidential behavioral health campus master plan, San Diego, project manager.

On healthcare design trends

Thumbs up: Operable windows. Nothing is more hygienic than fresh air, and COVID has really forced jurisdictions to start considering natural ventilation in the mechanical strategy, which internationally is already common.

Thumbs down: Enlarged generic photos of flora and fauna as art. I love art that elicits the feeling of the area and reflects local craft.

An unexpected item on your desk 

Behind my home desk, I have an antique brass clock I bought at an estate sale. It weighs about 50 pounds and looks like it was recovered from the Titanic. It doesn’t work, so if you’re in a Zoom meeting with me it’s always 10:07.

Outside the office, we’ll likely find you …

Biking with my young son. I lived in Amsterdam before Los Angeles, so I can bike while holding a coffee and an umbrella in high heels. A little different than a Dutch canal, but we bike along the LA river and learn about how stormwater travels to the ocean, and more importantly, how to always keep eyes on the road!

Dog or cat? I have both. I’m an animal lover! My senior cat, Pickles, I adopted as a stray kitten from Amsterdam. Topi the Corgi is a new addition, just four months old, and already attending events with me as the face of NBBJ LA with those adorable giant ears.

Coffee or tea

Coffeeeeeee. I’m (affectionately) known by my family as the “Dragon Lady” until I have my first cup. The best thing ever invented is my Ember mug that keeps my cup warm all morning.

Morning person or night owl

Morning, I love the wee early hours of the morning before the world is awake. It’s my quiet time to center myself for the day.

Fashion trend you think should make a comeback

The fanny pack, thank goodness, is coming back in fashion. It’s the most useful thing I own, and likely an embarrassment to my husband. Hands-free immediate access to wipes and cell phone, yes! You hear me, moms out there! My favorite is from State bags, who give back to children in need for every bag purchased.

How did you make your first dollar?

As a teenager I worked at a flower shop after school taking orders and cleaning. The floral designers taught me how to arrange with balance in color composition. It was the entry into my design passion.

Your go-to karaoke song

My sister and I are famous for our Jackson 5 duets. She’s always annoyed because I frequently take over both Jermaine’s and Michael’s parts. I just can’t help it!

First album you ever bought

U2 “Achtung Baby.” My mom took me to my first concert when U2 came to my little town where I grew up in Florida. Their storytelling is emotional and intimate, and you feel deeply connected to the music. I also aspire to that level of storytelling in my projects to develop a deep connection.

Cocktail of choice

I’m a wine lover. My happy place is the Santa Ynez Valley just north of Santa Barbara, Calif. Rolling green hills that remind you of Italy, quaint farms and vineyards, and miniature ponies! What’s not to love?

Your hidden talent

Thrifting. I have an eagle eye for finds at flea markets. There’s such a thrill in discovering hidden treasures. I love to bring old furniture back to its former glory. It’s the ultimate sustainability practice! My grandmother owned an antique shop on Cape Cod, so it’s in my DNA.

If you weren’t an architect, you would be … a journalist. This was my first major in college before switching to architecture, as I love unleashing my creative juices in writing, as well as design.

Favorite …

Movie character Max Fisher played by Jason Schwartzman in “Rushmore.” I adore Wes Anderson movies—the scene styling, the music, the character eccentricity. Max is a bold dreamer to the point of delusion, but you have to love his tenacity. The soundtrack is on frequent rotation in my mornings. Nothing to get a pep in your step like some Kinks.

Show to binge watch “White Lotus.” A compelling, disturbing, yet hilarious social commentary set in drool-worthy vacation spots … plus, Jennifer Coolidge.

Book I rediscovered the pleasure of reading just for fun during the pandemic. I hadn’t read fiction in 15 years. Now I’m obsessed and go through a book every other week. I gravitate towards female writers, and “Fates and Furies” started my obsession with Lauren Groff. It’s nonconformist, emotionally complicated, stunningly beautiful. She also lives in Florida, my home state, and paints it as an energy and mood of a wild natural landscape, which is how it lives in my mind.

City to visit Reykjavik, Iceland. I read an article in Food & Wine from an Icelandic chef and all her favorite places, and the photo of the Blue Lagoon sealed the deal. We drove a Jeep with a pop-up roof tent around the entire ring road of Iceland. Every half an hour you’re in a new landscape—the most majestic waterfall you’ve ever seen, craggy black beaches, geysers that look like you’re on the surface of the moon. Oh, and the fluffy-haired ponies! This summer will be my third visit. I.Just.Can’t.Stop.