We Design: People. Practice. Progress.
Principal & Urban Designer • RESOLVE Architecture + Planning
Suenn Ho is an urban designer and principal at RESOLVE Architecture + Planning, whose design work reveals a community’s history and heritage at each project site.
Photos courtesy of Suenn Ho
I find it purposeful to be able to create designs that give voices to the unheard, and to capture the tears and laughter, the anguish and aspirations.
Suenn Ho was born in Boston and grew up in Hong Kong, where she was immersed in the architectural design world from an early age. She has worked in Boston, Pittsburgh, NYC, and Nîmes, France before she landed in Portland, Oregon. Her project experience in Portland includes retail, affordable apartment towers, a public library, and an award-winning town square filled with custom-design art installations. Her primary interest in designing is finding unique ways to combine design with history and culture. Suenn studied studio art and architecture at Williams College and got her first taste of professional work at The Architectects Collaborative. She went on to earn a graduate degree from GSAPP, Columbia University, where she met her future partner, John Flynn. While in NYC, Suenn and John worked on high-profile projects with the notable Rafael Vinoly. Suenn later left to conduct a 10-month Fulbright research fellowship of the notorious urban slum Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong, and she also taught at the University of Hong Kong. She then accepted a teaching offer from the University of Oregon in 1993; meanwhile, she established her professional identity as SUENN HO Design, and in 2013, she and John co-founded RESOLVE Architecture + Planning. Among Suenn’s many unique projects is the Garden of Surging Waves in Astoria, OR. After the City of Astoria asked Suenn to design a classical, Suzhou-style Chinese garden, she convinced the city-appointed committee to take a new approach by episodically leading people through the tender stories of how early Chinese immigrants contributed to the development of the city. Today, Suenn continues to design placemaking projects that reflect the voices of the under-represented.
“My father was a very famous architect in Hong Kong, and that is how architecture began in my life. He and my mother were at Harvard, and she gave up education to take care of me after becoming pregnant. After he finished his degree, my father came back to Hong Kong, and became almost a pioneer in a cultural desert. I grew up in that world, but in high school, my father said I shouldn’t study architecture because it wasn’t for girls, and wanted me to study graphic design. But I thought that was boring and I just loved how architecture was so interdisciplinary.”
Listening to the Community
“I was humbled by people in the Walled City who were losing their lives, and by the government taking their homes away. I learned how to listen. From there, Fulbright opened a lot of doors in terms of teaching, and in terms of understanding the value of immersing yourself with a community. I took advantage of what the profession can do to look into the built environment.”
News article from 1993 on Suenn’s blueprint for the Walled City.
Master plan idea sketches.
On “Good” Design
“Good design is not about how fast you can click a button or how many times the project has been published; it comes from having the ability to create a built environment that captures the underrecognized, diverse spirit of people who are not considered ‘experts.’ We have a mainstream society that looks down on and dismisses people who are perceived to have no credentials or ‘track record.’ If we are able to create design to broaden a sense of collective self-worth, to be inclusive with the people who are outside of our circles or bubbles, and to show appreciation for everyone’s experience and recognize their stories, I think there will be more depth, richness, and relevancy in our collective sense of being.”
Project: garden of surging waves
Garden of Surging Waves Story screen full with visitors
Model for The Garden of Surging Waves.
Grand opening for the Garden of Surging Waves in Astoria, OR.
Among Suenn’s many projects is the Garden of Surging Waves in Astoria, Oregon. After she got settled in Seattle, Suenn got a call asking her to design a classical Chinese garden in Portland, but knowing that Portland already had a Chinese garden, Suenn designed the Garden of Surging Waves. Her garden is a space that incorporates storytelling, as it highlights the history of Chinese heritage in Astoria.
Suenn’s successful Garden of Surging Waves project brought with it new projects through OMSI and other organizations that helped her establish a book of work and her own niche in design, emphasizing art and cultural heritage. Suenn had already formed her own sole proprietorship of Suenn Ho Design when she moved to Portland in 1993, but she wanted to expand her practice. In 2013, alongside her husband John, Suenn formed RESOLVE Architecture+Planning, a new firm focusing on cultural and community-based design.