Team Talks

Meet Cianne Oconer from our Hong Kong office!

Interviewed by Katie Donahue, Senior Associate at Handel Architects.

Hi Cianne! Thanks for chatting with me. Especially since we’re in time zones 14 hours apart! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Cianne – pronounced as Shane. I’m an Associate here at Handel Architects Hong Kong. I’ve been working here for more than 6 years now and have worked on various projects in Taiwan, Japan and The Philippines. I was born here in Hong Kong and graduated architecture in the Philippines.

Outside of architecture, what are some things you’re passionate about?

As a Filipino, we love spending time with our family. I grew up in church and got into playing with the church band early on. It started with the piano and then I got really into playing guitar, bass and drums – and eventually can play songs by ear. Aside from music, I also have two dogs – a Samoyed and a tiny Yorkie – they’re the complete opposites. I’d take them out for walk and to get my coffee fix during the weekends.

Cianne with one of her two dogs
Cianne (at right) at Handel Architects' Office Dog Day, 2019

Tell me about your family.

I came from a family of architects – my father was one. He inspired me back when he was working on different projects in the Philippines. He’d bring me on site, and I became fascinated with the houses that he did. We also had a construction business, so I remember hanging out and manning the shop with my parents at such a young age. I played a lot of Legos and also The Sims back then – and realized that I love designing and the space planning aspect of it. That made me decide to go into architecture.

What kind of architecture did he practice? What kind of buildings did he work on?

Mostly residential buildings and some hospitality. He was very focused on architectural interiors in the later years of his life. He passed away a few years ago, but a lot of our family has been involved in similar fields. My younger sister is a licensed civil engineer. She eventually put that aside to help with the current family business.

I’m sorry to hear about your father. It sounds like he had a big impact on your career. What is the current family business you mentioned?

The family business is in the cooking industry. My mom and sister like to cook and bake. The business is mostly centered around US-based cookware products. My mom has a big part in it - along with the help of my sister. They both really love doing it together.

What are some of the things you’ve learned since you started working at Handel Architects?

I’ve learned a lot about dealing with clients and handling projects. Previously I was more focused on just design and really enjoyed the process. But being involved in all aspects of a project – the technical parts, the management parts – makes architecture more meaningful to me. Learning more about this side of things reminds me of the days when my dad would be manually hand-drafting plans, working on meticulous details and also seeing my mom managing our construction business.

Conceptual rendering of the Roka Mountain Residences in Hakuba, Japan, one of the projects on which Cianne has been working.
Completed photo of Roka Mountain Residences in Hakuba, Japan.

A lot of people think architecture is just coming up with creative design ideas. That’s a great point that getting a project built requires a lot more than that.

Yes. Another thing I picked up while working at Handel is how to work with people – be it inside and outside the office. It is all about communication and trying to understand the client’s needs and how to interpret them. And it’s not just the client: it’s knowing how to work with people in your own company, consultants, builders – how to work together and bring everyone’s different skills and abilities to the table. Having the social skills are so valuable in this field.

What suggestions do you have for people who want to be more effective communicators?

I think understanding what a person is trying to say and where they are coming from is really the key. Everyone is different. Not everyone will agree with you all the time. Try to understand someone else’s perspective by being a good listener. Then consider how you can adjust to address their needs.

Who inspires or motivates you?

Well – in life – aside from my dad, my mom is a huge inspiration to me. She is a widow and it got hard for her when we lost our dad. But I would always see the strength in her and with all that she has sacrificed for our family. She has really made a name for herself even though she started from scratch in her industry. So I really admire her perseverance, confidence and I’m just so proud of her. She is really the one that inspires me most in all parts of my life.

What are some of your hobbies when you're not working or spending time with the family. What are things you like to do? Do you like to travel? Do you still play instruments?

I still play for our church every Sunday, so that’s where I normally get my playtime in. I try to keep a consistent workout regime, mainly doing weightlifting.
I also love coffee and trying out as many different coffee shops as possible in Hong Kong. I like to travel and take photos – mainly of sights and architecture.

Can you tell us about what you’re working on now?

Currently, I’m working on two projects. One is in Japan, where we recently had a site visit. It’s a hotel and residential development and it’s set to be a catalyst for the surrounding developments in Hakuba, Nagano area. The other project is a big mixed-use development in a major transportation hub in the Philippines. It has a casino, two hotel towers and two residential towers – one that would be set to be an iconic building within the area. It’s exciting to be working on such a project!

Mantawi Residences in Cebu City, Philippines

Those sound like a really exciting projects. What phases are they in?

The one in the Philippines is in early stages of design. I’m really enjoying the conceptual design part, but later phases will be a good challenge because of the complexity of this project. I like the problem solving side of it and it’s rewarding when you come up with a good solution. My favorite part about my recent projects has been visiting the sites and seeing the finished product. It’s also nice getting to meet with the client or other parts of the team when visiting the project locations, especially since site visits were so limited during Covid. It’s so different than the time we spend in the office. It has also been empowering to be tasked with communicating with the client and to be given leadership opportunities. I enjoy trying to learn all the time.

If you were to give one piece of advice to folks out there who are interested in going into architecture, what advice would you give them?

I think if you are interested in architecture, you have to accept everything that comes with it – the good and the bad. And when you do, you have to put your all into it. When you find that everything is smooth sailing and you are enjoying what you do, then you know you’re on the right path. Another thing is to travel! Find things out there in the world that inspires you and let it fuel you.

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