March 13, 2024
by: AIA New York
Lissa So headshot
Lissa So, AIA, Founding Partner, MARVEL. Photo: Courtesy of Lissa So.
St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn
St. Ann's Warehouse, Brooklyn, NY. Photo: David Sundberg/Esto.
TheatreSquared in Fayetteville, AR.
TheatreSquared, Fayetteville, AR. Photo: Timothy Hurlsey.
The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, NY.
The Masters School, Dobbs Ferry, NY. Photo: Joshua Simpson.
One Clinton building in Brooklyn, NY.
One Clinton, Brooklyn, NY. Photo: Pavel Bendov/Arch Explorer.
Northeast Bronx YMCA in the Bronx.
Northeast Bronx YMCA, Bronx, NY. Photo: Scott Frances.

As a founding partner of MARVEL, Lissa So, AIA, has executed a visionary approach to designing cultural, educational, and public spaces that have empowered the people they serve. With a goal of transforming communities through thoughtful and collaborative design, she has addressed both the local and global challenges of building community engagement and collective action. As MARVEL has grown to 150 people—with offices in New York City; Richmond, VA; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Barcelona, Spain—So continues to pursue and execute projects that elevate communities all over the world. With the help of her leadership, MARVEL was honored with the 2024 AIANY Medal of Honor and The Architect’s Newspaper’s 2023 Best of Practice – XL Firm. So attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where she studied architecture. 
Q: What is influencing your work the most right now? 
In recent years, MARVEL has evolved into a multidisciplinary design practice, fostering true collaboration among architects, landscape designers, urban designers, and planners. This collective approach has significantly shaped and enhanced my design perspective. Community engagement has emerged as a crucial aspect of our design process, especially for the projects that I have designed and managed. We understand the evolving complexity and challenges faced by communities and underserved populations in today’s world. We also realize that the people who ultimately use, inhabit, and enjoy our projects have the greatest influence on our work. Acknowledging this, we have harnessed the voices and advocates within local communities. Likewise, we are committed to inclusivity and responsiveness and ensuring that our designs have a positive impact and resonate with their local communities. 
Q: What are some of your favorite recent projects that you’ve worked on? 
The Northeast Bronx YMCA (winner of a 2022 AIANY Design Award) is a recently completed project that I’m very proud of. It’s a perfect example of how design excellence can have a direct impact on the quality of people’s lives. The new building realized a 30-year dream of community leaders to open a multi-generational community center in an area with limited parks and playgrounds. Current projects that I’m most excited about are Gowanus Green, a new affordable housing neighborhood in Brooklyn; The National Black Theatre in Harlem; and Lake Placid Center for the Arts.  With projects like these, we continue to expand our diverse portfolio of civic-minded projects, and we have the opportunity to work with many people of all ages and backgrounds to shape their environments. 
Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges, or opportunities, facing cities today? 
I see significant potential in maximizing public-private partnerships to tackle our cities’ challenges, allowing private development to drive progress with regard to public spaces, parks, affordable housing, and cultural institutions. For example, collaborating with the Hudson Companies and the Brooklyn Public Library, we designed and built 1 Clinton, a 36-story residential tower that funded a state-of-the-art library within the building as well as multiple branch renovations throughout Brooklyn. In addition, along with the 1 Clinton tower, the project included two affordable housing buildings in the same community board district. Noteworthy projects like St. Ann’s Warehouse, Pierhouse, & 1 Hotel boosted Brooklyn Bridge Park’s development. Additionally, they played a pivotal role in the revitalization of the Brooklyn Waterfront, enhanced its surrounding neighborhoods, and showcased the power of public-private partnerships. 
Q: How do you feel about the state of the industry right now? 
I am optimistic about the current state of the industry, especially for women. Having started my career in the late 1990s, I’ve witnessed a significant shift from a hierarchical system reinforcing a singular design voice to an industry that now embraces collaboration, valuing every voice. I express deep gratitude to the women who pioneered this change, paving the way for my generation. Now, as a partner in an architecture firm, I am focused on advancing this transformation and wholeheartedly supporting the upcoming generation of women so that they can attain leadership positions. I am committed to promoting an inclusive and diverse environment within my practice and in the profession. 
Q: What are your greatest sources of inspiration? 
For over 25 years, the vibrant city of New York has been an unwavering source of inspiration for me. Its diverse neighborhoods and harmonious blend of cultures and backgrounds create a dynamic and immersive environment. Rich with history, the city demonstrates wonderful stories of resilience and progress. Countless cultural institutions—from museums to theaters—nurture creativity and intellectual exploration. This city is more than a home for me and my family; it fuels my daily endeavors, inspires my work as an architect, and always pushes me to do more.


Our website has detected that you are using a browser that will prevent you from accessing certain features. An upgrade is recommended to experience. Use the links below to upgrade your exisiting browser.