Kristina Singiser spent countless hours as a child solving jigsaw puzzles. Years later as the managing principal of HMC Architects’ studio in Los Angeles, she is still figuring out puzzles but on a much larger scale — namely, the Cal Poly Pomona campus.
For nearly a decade, she has led architectural teams in projects ranging from feasibility studies to construction projects to building renovations. Once her classroom, the university has become one of her work sites.
“Putting puzzles together helped me find ways to solve problems,” said Singiser (’99, architecture). “Fitting things together is really what architecture is about, whether it’s the pieces of a building façade or different programmatic elements and how they work together in a floor plan.”
HMC Projects at Cal Poly Pomona
The latest project for HMC has centered on the now-demolished CLA tower and the subsequent restoration of the former building site. She was involved with several feasibility studies for the university and the Chancellor’s Office before the tower was torn down, examining whether the tower should be demolished or renovated.
The architecture firm’s work on campus has included the recently constructed Sicomoro and Secoya residence halls and Centerpointe Dining facility that opened in 2020, the 15,000-square foot expansion at The Collins College of Hospitality Management that opened in 2016, and the renovation of the Science Laboratory (Building 3) that was completed in 2009. In addition, HMC has conducted a feasibility study for the future renovation of the Bronco Student Center.
“I have a sense of pride working at my alma mater. It’s great to give back in a way that not many people can do. How many buildings do you get to build on your own campus? It has led to a greater connection to the university,” Singiser said. “You have pride in where you went to school, but now you have even more investment because of what you have contributed to the campus.”
Competitive Internships for Architecture Students
While HMC has worked closely with the university on projects, the relationship has become more of a partnership. The architectural firm offers paid 10-week internships during the summer, many of which are provided to Cal Poly Pomona architecture students after a competitive interview process.
Interns are assigned duties that range from space analysis in projects to building proposed project models to learning about marketing to working on designs using 3D printers.
“We have many interns from Cal Poly Pomona who come through HMC, many of whom become full-time staff members. The architecture department is a great feeding ground for us,” Singiser said. “We support the student architecture studios as well. Many of our staff become guest lecturers or studio critics. HMC has a strong link with Cal Poly Pomona.”
Singiser knows firsthand the value of an internship. As an undergraduate at CPP, she secured an internship at the now-defunct Thomas Blurock Architects in Costa Mesa and was offered a full-time position after her internship concluded. Along the way, she received real-work experiences that have served her well in overseeing the management and operations of the 69 staff members in HMC’s Los Angeles studio.
“One of the most important lessons I learned as an intern was time management and balance. There is a balance between understanding what the client wants and what you can provide them for the budget or the time,” Singiser said. “You learn quickly that architecture is really about communicating with people and helping them understand what’s possible and what’s not.”
Hands-On Experiences in ENV
Meshing clients’ aspirations within the confines of regulatory codes is a skill that has yet to be found in most architecture textbooks. Singiser started learning how to perform this delicate balancing act from one of her classes.
“I had one professor that many students didn’t like because he was very practical, but I found it refreshing. His approach wasn’t in the clouds, to design anything you want,” Singiser remembered. “He gave us restrictions on what to do and tried to make it realistic. It’s good to have a balance of both inspiration and practicality. You want those big ideas, but it’s good to have it tempered with reality.”
The College of Environmental Design’s curriculum is intended to keep students grounded in real-world practices while not inhibiting their creativity. But the bottom line for students is an unyielding adherence to the fundamentals.
“I appreciate the fact that Cal Poly Pomona is very hands-on. It’s not just theoretical architecture. You learn how actually to build buildings. You have the classes in structures, mechanical, and electrical systems, so you see all the aspects of a building even though we’re not engineers,” Singiser said. “You start to get an understanding of how a building comes together. It’s a very challenging curriculum, but it sets you up for what you will be doing in the real world.”
Singiser’s lessons from the classroom and internship propelled her career arc. She has personal insights for the current and incoming classes of architecture students heading for Building 7.
“You have to like the puzzle. That’s a big thing. You have to like to figure things out. You need to be tenacious,” Singiser said. “Architecture is a hard profession, and it is a lot of work. You have to be willing to do the work to achieve success.”