Malena Aquino AIA
Principal / Senior Lab Planner
One stereotype of architects is that they are worldly. Malena Aquino is more than that – she is a metaphorical representation of the United Nations. She grew up in Asuncion, Paraguay and moved to the United States while in high school, so she views life through two different cultural lenses. Her son married a Brazilian, so Portuguese is often spoken in Malena’s home in addition to Spanish and English. She has siblings who live in Paraguay, a bilingual country, so her nieces and nephews primarily speak Spanish and Guarani. Another sister lived in Switzerland for many years so that family branch’s main language is French – and now that sister works for the United Nations in New York!
In today’s globalized workplace, cultural diplomacy is an essential planning skill and even more so in the international realm of science laboratories. Effectively connecting with laboratory users, successfully identifying their working needs today and anticipating potential future uses of their spaces as technology evolves is a critical component of Malena’s work. Additionally, she acts as liaison between laboratory users and the project team to ensure the building has appropriate infrastructure to support the finished lab in its current - and future - states. Finally, Malena has to remain on the leading edge of scientific and architectural advances, which is no small challenge.
She attributes her success as a leader to both her dedication and to her collaborative approach to work. Malena believes that listening closely to her clients’ needs and creating that connection with them is essential to planning and designing state-of-the art laboratories that fit their needs. She’s very proud of what she calls her “small” contribution to world health through her international work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Her involvement included international lab planning workshops, as well as the design and review of laboratory projects in other countries such as Barbados, Mozambique, Haiti, and the Bahamas among others.
Malena’s vast project experience includes diverse experiences such as the planning and design of the laboratory and vivarium at the 150,000 gross square foot Biomedical Engineering and Medical Sciences Building that supports research efforts for the Health Sciences Center and the Medical School at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She was responsible for program verification, room planning criteria and laboratory planning and design for a new finfish hatchery and research complex as part of the Horn Point Aquaculture and Restoration Ecology Laboratory (HPL) at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) in Cambridge.
When asked, Malena references other interesting projects like the detailed programming and design of approximately half a million gsf of research laboratory space, which included extensive vivarium facilities for Janssen Pharmaceutica in Belgium as well as The National Insitute of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, Building 10 Revitalization Program. All told, Malena has designed and planned several million gross square feet of laboratories, which places her quite high on any list of experts in the field.
In 1995, Malena joined SST Planners, a national award-winning laboratory planning firm, as principal. In addition to leading planning and design teams, she also served as the firm’s resident expert on safety and ADA code compliance in laboratories. In 2015, SST Planners became part of Page and Malena was one of several key leaders tasked with elevating and expanding Page’s laboratory planning and consulting services.
Although English is not her native language, Malena graduated with Highest Honors from University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture with a Bachelor of Architecture degree. She also earned the top American Institute of Architects School Medal Award for scholarship and professional promise, and was presented with a commemorative medal from renown architect O'Neill Ford, FAIA. Afterward, she completed a course of study in Control of Biohazards in the Research Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University.