Jhiah Chang’s first lessons in design came from watching her parents publish a Korean-American newspaper in San Fernando Valley, Calif., from 1987-2015. They developed their own photos, pasted together layouts, and wrote poems and articles. “Through them, I learned the beauty of craftsmanship, creativity, and the importance of culture and heritage in design,” she says.

Later, Chang was heading toward her own career in design, studying architecture at University of California, Berkeley, when she met Joyce Polhamus, then leader of the healthcare interiors studio at SmithGroupJJR. Polhamus exposed her to healthcare design as a career option but taught her much more. “I knew right away that I wanted to emulate Joyce because she showed such a depth of knowledge, experience, confidence, and compassion and set the bar for me for women in leadership,” she says.

After graduating, Chang worked in Polhamus’ studio, later joining CannonDesign (Los Angeles) and then ZGF (Los Angeles) in 2011, where she’s worked on projects for St. Joseph Medical Center’s emergency department expansion in Burbank, Calif., and UC San Diego Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. “I love the camaraderie and knowledge-sharing in healthcare design,” she says. “Everyone has a passion for pushing the envelope and designing healing environments for patients and caregivers.”

What drew me to a career in architecture

I’ve always been into fashion, graphics, and furniture design. Meanwhile, my parents wanted me to pursue a more lucrative, stable career like engineering. Architecture was the happy compromise.

My first project in healthcare design

A Department of Veterans Affairs long-term care and skilled nursing facility in West Los Angeles. As an intern, I focused mostly on building tiny models that required the use of a foam cutter and tweezers and developing presentation materials.

Lesson I learned on that project that I still carry with me today

A great, collaborative team dynamic is everything.

On industry trends

Thumbs up: The cross-pollination with other building industries. I love seeing the line being blurred between healthcare and research, workplace, retail, and hospitality. I’m working on a university project, where we’re bringing healthcare planning and operations concepts to a student services and administration building. We set up a series of workshops where we’ve been talking about standardization of space, one-stop-shops, and clear wayfinding for students and families, and on-stage/off-stage approaches to circulation to maintain safety and privacy.

Thumbs down: Sloped upper cabinets. They’re unattractive and purely serve as an infection control measure. A more elegant solution would be to add a filler panel above the cabinets or add a soffit to eliminate the upper surface and create a more built-in look.

Most important skill for an architect today

Being able to understand the socioeconomic and political influences on healthcare policy and design.

Three items on my desk

1. Baby Groot bobblehead

2. Calculator that my husband gave me when we were coworkers

3. Super fine point pens for all my notetaking




Three words my coworkers would use to describe me

1. Short

2. Shoes

3. Sharp

About those shoes, your coworkers say you’ve got an impressive collection

My mom was the most fashionable person at school drop-off and pick-up and was never caught without a pair of heels on. My first pair of heels was black patent leather platforms. For my wedding, I wore a pair of metal stilettos from United Nude, which was co-founded by Rem D. Koolhaas. Currently, I have about 30 pairs of curated shoes (because that’s what our closet fits!), all chosen based on style, proportion, unique details, and comfort.


Outside the office, you’ll likely find me

Being inspired by the latest fashion and art. Designers Marie Saint Pierre, Toni Maticevski, and Christian Dior are some of my favorites because of their structural/sculptural approach to creating timeless pieces with a touch of whimsy. And you can’t go wrong with a visit to the Serpentine Pavilion (shown at left) in London, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or New York’s Museum of Modern Art. When I’m not shopping or gallery hopping, you’ll find me at brunch—my favorite meal of the day.


Favorite …

Quote “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Vacation spot New York. It’s the city where architecture, food, and art never stop evolving.

Piece of furniture in your house Our dinner table and stools, which we had custom made by a local reclaimed woodworker. The top is a 3-inch-thick solid wood slab, so it’s not going anywhere.

TV characters Yakko, Wakko, and Dot from “Animaniacs.” They were such a great, energetic trio that always wanted to learn.

Line from a movie “You don’t have time to be timid. You must be bold and daring.”—Lumière from “Beauty and the Beast.”

Snack Watermelon.

Way to unwind after a long day A good workout followed by a bit of yoga.

Weekend activity Seeing friends and trying to hone my cooking skills.