architecture blog

The Kayo Connection

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Thu, Jul 31, 2008 @ 13:07 PM


Although Modative is at its core an architecture firm, we have always been interested in expanding beyond this traditional role into both development and construction. Hence, the whole "Design, Develop, Build" tag line (see below) and philosophy. As of several months ago, I'm happy to announce that through collaboration, our push into these two other fields is complete.


As previously announced, we have had an ongoing collaborative relationship with Pacific Beacon Properties, LLC, a development company, working on two small lot subdivision projects in Los Angeles. We not only provide architectural services for Pacific Beacon, but assist with development analysis and decisions.


For the "build", we have teamed up with Libiano Construction Inc., headed by Mark Libiano. We have known and worked with Mark for many years and the results have been great. Libiano Co. is also involved the the two small lot subdivision projects, offering his construction expertise throughout the design and construction process. Having a close collaboration with Mark has proved so successful, that we have decided to offer this collaboration between architect and contractor to other potential clients as a true design/build team.

The Kayo Connection

With this design + build collaboration comes the opportunity to collectively market our services as well. This is where Kayo comes in. Kayo is a long time (11 year) friend and colleague of the three founders here at Modative. She also happens to be Mark Libiano's wife. So, who better to go out there and spread the good word of both entities.

Just as we here at Modative have let you know a bit about ourselves in the profile section of our website, we thought we would give you a sneak peak into the life of Kayo N. Libiano...

Early Years

Canadian born, Kayo moved to Southern California at the age of 3 and began her training in classical ballet, continuing as an avid dancer for over 17 years. She attended dance academies in the OC, LA and even studied ballet in Japan for a year, so it was not surprising that she greatly appreciated the arts and cultures of different countries from an early age. Though, what did come as a surprise, was when she wrote in an essay in Junior High English class that she wanted to be an architect, NOT a dancer when she grew up. Her thought process was that the body deteriorates with age, but the creative mind lives on... What sealed the deal of her conviction was when she fielded comments like; “There aren’t many famous female architects in the world” or “How will you succeed in such a male dominant profession?” Kayo’s stubborn and tenacious personality took hold and she set out to prove everyone wrong.

Fight On!

The instinct to create personalized spaces always interested Kayo and she was constantly rearranging furniture, designing accessories and painting pictures on the walls in her family home. Her first sewing machine was gifted to her at the age of 10 and though dance was her #1 passion, making her own clothes and throw pillows came in as a close second of her favorite things to do. By the time she graduated from High School, she had completed 3 years of technical drafting courses as the only girl in the classes and her hopes of attending architecture school were cemented in place. USC served as a training ground where she honed her skills and where she met many of her future colleagues whom have greatly influenced her career thus far.

Experiences in the Field

Post graduation, Kayo went to work for David Jay Flood Architect (DJFA) with her friends, Derek Leavitt and Michael Scott whom both graduated a year before her from USC’s Architecture school.As a team player, she worked on several architecture and interior projects.From DJFA, Kayo took a job as Project Manager at Jacquez Marquez Architects (JMA), where she got a taste for designing high-end homes and day-spas in Beverly Hills and Greater Los Angeles.

Going Corporate

Knowing the importance of the great American Corporation on the economy in the United States, Kayo worked for Merle Norman Cosmetics as a franchise designer, where she built-out stores and oversaw installations for studio owners across the nation from Las Vegas, Chicago and New York.

One of the Guys

As girly as Kayo might appear on the outside, she has no problem sporting a hardhat and a construction belt on-site, or dealing with city officials.Whatever it takes to get the job done, she is up to the task, even if it means roughing it with the boys.Her path crossed with Christian Návar, another old friend from USC at Studio 9one2 Architecture when she moved to the South Bay. As a designer and project manager, Kayo kept the office organized and had the opportunity to collaborate on beautiful contemporary homes, commercial buildings and most importantly, developed contacts with a slew of subcontractors which are vital connections in the building industry.“It's all about who you know and how well you can keep up good public relations!”

To Have and to Hold

The little secret to Kayo’s success in architecture comes from her husband Mark, whom she dated since her senior year at USC. Being a General Contractor by trade, Mark has steered and coached Kayo through the nuances of the architecture/construction world and while letting her make her own mistakes, has above all, taught her what it takes to survive in the admittedly “male dominant” building industry. Today, Kayo works hand in hand with Mark (whom she married in 2007) to build his growing construction company and also acts as the link between Modative and Libiano Construction, Inc. as a Design + Build team. She heads-up the two companies’ marketing and is an enthusiastic supporter of both thriving businesses.

Tags: Communication, Organization, Business, Small Lot Subdivision, Development, Building, Marketing

Retail Project Update

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Thu, Jul 24, 2008 @ 06:07 AM

I thought it was about time to share some images of the retail project we have been working on in collaboration with Brent Thompson of Global Design Workshop LLP.This big project has an equally large design team and we have been lucky to work with some very talented firms in the process so far. The project is now called "Celebration" and without giving too much away, is located somewhere in Los Angeles County.

And (most of) the design team:

In the coming weeks we will be adding this project, along with more images, to our website.

Tags: Retail, Los Angeles

LA & Enterprise Launch $100 Million Fund for Affordable Housing

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Wed, Jul 23, 2008 @ 12:07 PM

Developing affordable housing in Los Angeles just got a bit easier as the City of Los Angeles and Enterprise Community Partners announced this week a $100 million fund aimed at providing financial assistance to non-profit and for profit developers of affordable housing projects.

More information on this fund can be found in this MarketWatch Article as well as through Enterprise.

Here at Modative we are interested in the opportunities this fund can provide for innovative affordable housing projects in Los Angeles. Although much of affordable housing is geared towards the rental market, we have always had an interest in providing home ownership possibilities for people of all income levels utilizing the small lot subdivision ordinance. More info on  Small Lot Subdivision in L.A.

Tags: Los Angeles, Small Lot Subdivision, Development, Affordable Housing

The Prefab Home - Manufacturing Required?

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Thu, Jul 17, 2008 @ 18:07 PM

Karrie Jacobs, one of my favorite architectural writers, has once again called out prefab housing for what it currently is, "building inside." As she argues in this Article from Metropolis Magazine, Architects thus far have approached prefab housing with an architect's mentality when it really requires an industrial designers approach.

Although prefab housing has started to gain a small niche, discussion and theoretical projects still far outweigh concrete examples. Even the current "models" on the market are primarily just pieces of homes built in a factory, trucked to the site and assembled over a standard foundation system. These homes are not truly manufactured. The level of efficiency and cost savings that is the goal of prefab housing will not be achieved until the entire approach becomes more like that of an automobile assembly line. So, as Karrie Jacobs suggests, are architects the right ones to be solving the problem of prefab construction?

Tags: Residential, Prefab

Digital Organization with ArchiOffice

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 10:07 AM

If you ever want to feel like an architectural community insider, just ask an architect "What CAD software do you use and why?" This will undoubtedly be answered with more information than you care to know about the digital world of architectural design. Explanations as to why their CAD software is the best, most efficient, a great design tool, etc, etc.

Now ask that same architect, "what office/project management software do you use?" Most often, this will be met with startling silence.

While most architecture firms pride themselves on their CAD prowess, they often ignore or undervalue all of the other important aspects of running a practice. These include contact organization, timecard and expense tracking, project management, correspondence, billing and calendar coordination. Sure, they probably have something to handle these items, but more often than not, these seemingly mundane tasks are accomplished with disparate pieces of software.

Aware of this hodgepodge way of doing things, we instead opted for a software system that manages all of these items in one concise, easy to use database. Our office/project management system is called "ArchiOffice" This system is used as much, if not more than our CAD software.

One example is the timecard portion of the system. We diligently use the timecard system to track hours for all projects, office overhead and marketing. This information is not only used for our billing, but also provides us valuable historical data over the life of a project. How efficient were we on this project? Did we make a profit? Can we be more efficient? We also use this stored information to give future clients a proper fee on their project because we know how much time was spent on past projects of a similar nature.

Here is a sample screen shot of a timecard from last year.

Note that the system tracts the project, project phase, job code, description of what was done, and the amount of time. The system is easily navigated via the top menu with icons of the various modules in the system: Contacts, Time/Exp, Projects, Billing, etc.

The ArchiOffice database is stored on a central server here in the office. Every memo, e-mail, project and contact are interconnected and automatically sorted, so no information is lost or improperly filed. All appointments and tasks are easily accessible to everyone in the office. Invoices are directly tied to to our timecards and expense reports. This ease of using this seamless system versus a mixture of non integrated software packages allows us to spend more time on design. This approach not only helps us run a better office, but it helps us better serve our clients.

Being creative doesn't mean you can't also be organized.

Tags: Organization, Software, Business

Smaller, More Attentive, Better Quality

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Tue, Jul 8, 2008 @ 10:07 AM

Following up the last post on why selecting a younger, energetic firm (such as Modative) can be an advantage over going with a more established firm. Here is something that we have always considered an advantage:

Larger, more established firms often have many more projects and larger staffs. This is not necessarily a good thing for you as the client. With those many projects and staff comes less attention to your project. The principal (boss, lead architect) that you initially met with, will probably have very limited time on your project. They will often hand it off to someone lower on the totem pole to manage, such as a project manager. That project manager may even have most of the work done by someone even lower on the pyramid, a draftsperson or intern. The quality and attention you receive will no doubt be somewhat diluted.

In an office such as ours, there is no grandiose hierarchy. The principals you meet with with manage, design and most often perform most of the work on your project. That kind of attention is hard to beat.

Tags: Business, Marketing

Battling Ageism in the Architecture World

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Sat, Jul 5, 2008 @ 14:07 PM

A few months back, the partners here at Modative had lunch with a very well known international architect. The three of us admire his ability to have achieved success at a relatively young age. So given this opportunity, we had to ask him, "How were you as a young architect (such as ourselves) able to convince clients to go with you over older, more established names in the industry?"

His insightful answer was ripe for the taking. He said that there were two clear reasons for selecting a young energetic firm over a more established firm:

  1. With older firms, there is a reputation that is already established. Whereas with younger firms, your project is critical to the building of our reputation. We have a vested interest in making sure your project is great in order to build our reputation.
  2. Older firms typically have an established ego. This is not meant as a negative jab, but rather that they often have a set way of doing things. So, when you hire the established firm, you will often find yourself competing with this ego. With a younger firm, we keep your "client vision" as the priority. We are more flexible and open to new ideas.

Tags: Business, Marketing