About the award
Keenly attuned to what people need, Janica Ley Baker, AIA, works to amplify historically quieted voices through innovations in community health-based design and her volunteer and mentoring efforts. As a first-generation Chinese American, woman architect, and working mother, Baker has an acute understanding of the effects of stigmatization as well as the positive outcomes that surface within a community of advocates. In a profession that seeks to build better environments for all, Baker stands out as an advocate for the marginalized and vulnerable.
Baker is an associate principal at Los Angeles’ NAC Architecture, where much of her work focuses on behavioral health design. For nearly a decade, her work with Los Angeles County’s departments of mental health, health services, and public health has been aligned with AIA’s affirmation that access to good design is a fundamental right. Her careful stewardship of the LAC+USC Restorative Care Village, for example, led to a beautiful and dignified place where those experiencing homelessness can access continual care, from inpatient treatment to job placement training. Several other centers have followed, and all provide exceptional care for long-underserved communities.
In 2017, Baker and several colleagues in her firm issued a diversity initiative, successfully arguing for investment in justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the firm’s practice. She remains a passionate voice for the firm’s initiatives today and is a steadfast mentor and sounding board for fellow working mothers. Her work has shaped the firm’s evolved hiring and onboarding policies, which have resulted in a seven to three ratio of female to male principals and a culture of belonging in the firm.
Baker’s drive to serve underrepresented groups extends to her community, most notably among low- to moderate-income communities and Asian American and Pacific Islander students. She is eager to introduce the profession as a viable career to students of all ages and strives to connect young professionals with a network of established designers. Baker has been heavily involved in the Asian American Architects/Engineers (AAa/e) Foundation, beginning as a volunteer in 2016 and serving as its 2022 board president. Through her work with the foundation, she has awarded more than $200,000 to 50 aspiring designers and engineers. Many of those scholarship recipients have returned to the foundation to serve on its committees or become board members themselves.
Through the OASIS Center International, an organization that provides arts-based experiences for under-resourced youth, she taught a six-week after-school architecture class at Sally Ride Elementary School, part of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Many of the students were familiar with architecture, but none had considered it a career pathway for themselves until Baker’s intervention.