02/14/22 Alumna Spotlight: Morgan Sumner, M.ARCH ’18
Morgan Sumner is a designer with Bestor Architecture in Los Angeles.
Bestor’s Los Angeles-based studio is recognized for the inventive integration of architecture, urbanism, infrastructure and landscape at multiple scales. Bestor Architecture has designed a number of award-winning projects including headquarters for Beats by Dre and Snap, Blackbirds, a new small lot housing development in Echo Park, and a variety of experimental residences and commercial establishments.
Can you tell us about your background?
My name is Morgan, an MArch ‘18 graduate from USC School of Architecture. I also previously received a degree from Arizona State University in Architecture and African, African American studies. I’ve been a creative my entire life, finding intersections for my many interests in the fields of architecture, interiors, fashion, and graphic design. I’ve spent nearly three decades navigating spaces that are not intended for me, being a black female in traditionally male and non-POC spaces.
What are your research interests?
A lot of my early research interests included sustainability in innovation through building material and application, and how we as designers were implementing technology and research into a more sustainable and Earth-friendly built world. While I’ll always have those passions, more recently I’ve been more focused on how culture integrates into different aspects of our lives. I also enjoy seeing how architecture influences culture, and vice versa. For example, the fantasy worlds that are created for movies, how trending towel colors relates to tiles, how individual experiences begin to physically define spaces.
What drew you to the work you are doing now?
The voice of the projects at Bestor Architecture are bold, loud, and unapologetic. The personal projects I work on are reflections of life as my colleagues and I experience them. They are projects that are relevant, impactful, and meaningful to us and our project partners.
Can you tell us about your current projects?
I’m currently working as a designer at Bestor Architecture where I've been working on a few very exciting commercial TI projects. While I can’t spill the beans on any details, I know there will be excitement once the projects are complete! Stay tuned.
Tobi Ashiru, a best friendship that bloomed from our time together at USC School of Architecture, is attached to my hip. We make time to work together and are purposeful in finding beautiful projects to co-create.
What does it mean to be an alumna of USC Architecture?
It means being a part of an enormous group of people that I can call upon.
What drew you to the USC School of Architecture?
I had an entire grad school matrix to help me decide what school had all the things I needed. Top variables considered the work and success of other alum, the ability to study abroad, class electives and curriculum priorities, professor specialties and interests, and the strength of the football team. Overall, USC was without question the best school environment for me, checking all the boxes. Plus, having the chance to live in Southern California doesn’t hurt.
What excited you about being a student at USC School of Architecture?
While challenging, the entire grad school experience is a special memory of mine. The community that was built there is a strong one. Beyond knowing the skillset that I would be leaving school with, I also knew I would have a close circle of people to support and relate to me in the process of being a young designer.
What excites you about your current role in architecture?
Everything. Between the incredible work that is happening at Bestor Architecture, studying for licensure, and using my design knowledge to further communities of color - I’m enjoying the architecture and design ride, especially right now.
What are your thoughts on the current state of architecture across the globe?
It’s exciting to see the drawings come to reality in striking ways, but what mostly excites me is the shifting in statistics in who is now included in the decision making processes. We’re building for women who nurse, for cultures that pray, and for differently abled movement through space.
Who or what inspires you?
My family and my people. Impressing my younger self. My culture. Knowing the impact I have the potential to have. Other creative and design industries and their trends.
What are your thoughts on diversity in architecture?
We need more. The beauty of the world is its vibrancy, and the best way to continue the beauty of the built environment is to include those who are regularly overlooked, ignored, and/or not included. We’re only seeing half the picture until then.
Why is now such an exciting time to study architecture?
There’s a lot of culture at our fingertips, a lot of information, more than there has ever been in the history of humankind. Architecture is more than just buildings. It’s creating better lived experiences for the diversity of the world by utilizing this collective knowledge. The amount of knowledge we have access to now opens up countless possibilities.
Any advice to prospective or current students?
Earning the degree will be hard, but it is incredibly worth it. No matter the tools and skills you take from architecture school, nor how you plan to apply them, the accomplishment of finishing a degree in architecture is quite impressive, no matter where you go in the world. The confidence you develop through the entire process will remain with you well past graduation day, as it does for me. Get the education you want and don’t settle. Since you’re [looking] at USC, you’re already on a great path.
Any advice to future architects?
Continue incredible design in all things. And promise yourself to find what drives you and to reconnect with it, even when you may forget. Never forget about people in the process of design.
Anything else you would like to share?
My time at USC was invaluable and continues to prove itself to me every day. I’m thankful for my friendships formed, knowledge gained, and the guidance of my mentors (a major shout out to Professor Amy Murphy, whom I owe so much to!). While there were challenges to being one of the few Black faces in my program at the time, and continue to be challenges in the design fields themselves, I wasn’t alone, I am not alone. I plan on taking all that I want from USC to hopefully change things for the next Black girl with big hair and bigger goals.