A Bucket of Legos
When Project Designer Mhalu Dizon was a child growing up in the Philippines, she would spend the summer with her grandmother who lived by the water in a house accessible only by boat. “There was not a lot to do,” she remembers. “We didn’t have electronics, not even electricity sometimes. So, what I would do—I would make this maze contraption out of mud, with little borders and stuff, to run water through. I was already space planning!”
How designers find their passion is a pretty consistent story across the profession—an early interest in rearranging their room, a talent for making things, strongly held views on color and textures, all becoming apparent even before they know that design can be a job. In Mhalu’s case, the story has an added twist growing out of the limited resources she had to work with. If your interest in design begins with mud, you are literally growing it from the ground up. But that kind of beginning also comes with advantages.
“We didn’t have electronics, not even electricity sometimes. So, what I would do—I would make this maze contraption out of mud, with little borders and stuff, to run water through. I was already space planning!”
“When I was 8 years old one of my cousins had a bucket of Legos. It was old, so he said, ‘Okay, you guys can have that.’ And my other cousins and I would split them. Everybody would get 15 pieces. We counted them.” Building a structure with 15 pieces, restricting your project to hard parameters, swapping with others for a piece you might need—does that sound familiar? “After we were done, we’d count them back. Because that’s how precious they were. When I finally had Legos of my own, I felt like, Oh my God, we’re so rich!”
Mhalu bought Legos for her daughter when she became a mom and spread a blanket on the floor to set the play parameters for a new generation. “It wasn’t even that she might swallow it,” she laughs. “I was just so careful with the pieces. And if a Lego went out of the blanket where we were playing, we had this thing where we’d go ‘Lego alert!’ I didn’t want to lose a single piece.”
“My first job was making models for Starbucks, and I felt like I was creating a dollhouse. It felt like—Wow! For me, it wasn’t work anymore.”
Appreciating the value of raw materials, shaping designs to economic reality, maintaining the agility to adapt to circumstances, knowing when to call a Lego alert—these are skills Mhalu uses every day as a Project Designer at O+A. But the real gift of the path she took to a design career is that it led so impactfully through the mindset of play: “That’s how I felt the first time I worked on a 3D model in Revit,” she says. “My first job was making models for Starbucks, and I felt like I was creating a dollhouse. It felt like—Wow! For me, it wasn’t work anymore.”
When your job is something you would do for fun, you are very rich indeed!