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Designing the Future — A Q&A with Associate Principal Marcela DeLong

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If in my career I can help plant a seed to inspire women to grow higher and with confidence, I will feel truly accomplished.

Marcela DeLong

Business is booming for data center companies across the country, and as demand for server space increases, so do the challenges for data center architects. Marcela DeLong, AIA, is a 13-year veteran of Corgan’s data center sector, newly minted Associate Principal in the firm’s Dallas headquarters, and mentor to young women breaking into the data centers design arena. Read on to learn what’s new and next for data centers—and why new architecture grads should pay attention:

How did you get into data center architecture? What keeps you in the practice?

On my first day at Corgan, I was tasked to assist on a deadline for a data center project. For the first six months or so, I lived in what can only be described as a cloud of new acronyms. Slowly, things came into place and I realized it was a great fit for me. The design elegance often comes from unexpected sources in data centers, whether it is in a neatly and efficiently organized cooling system or in a section that coordinates several disciplines. I stay because of the people. I get to work with smart people who are true team players and with clients who not only know their stuff but are also good people to be around.

How has the architecture of data centers changed since you started?

In just the duration of my career, it has changed dramatically. When I first started, we used to work on mainly one-story buildings hiding in remote properties with confidential names and addresses. As the industry has grown, data centers are now proud to be on the forefront of their communities, with multi-story buildings being the norm.

What is a notable challenge during your career in data centers? And what lesson did you learn from it?

The constant breaking of paradigms is second nature to this industry and requires us to adapt fast, which means we are continuously learning and doing new things. What I have learned from this is that one successful project is the result of not only the collaboration of many individuals and their combined experiences but also of all the hard lessons learned leading up to it.

How about a notable success or proudest moment?

I get excited about little things, so I don’t have a grand moment to point to. I love the thrill of walking up to a newly poured slab and seeing windows or flooring getting installed. I also feel proud of a well-crafted email – I know, weird. But I am the proudest of myself when my kids are proud of me.

If you had to pitch data center architecture to a fresh architecture school graduate, what would you tell them?

My pitch is this: there is no better chance to take part in shaping critical infrastructure for the societal advancements that are still to come – and becoming a well-rounded architect in the process.

Likewise, what inspires you in your career?

I am inspired by the people. Watching people grow into their roles and having our shared project experiences and stories is priceless, both inward and outward-facing. It is ironic that in a field of architecture that designs buildings to house servers, the people are still the best part.

What does it mean to be a mentor and leader, especially in such a male-dominated sector?

You can’t just call yourself a mentor and a leader: it is a result of actions, relationships, and trust. Having these relationships is a privilege I do not take for granted. Working in a male-dominated sector does add a layer of complexity (who went and made golf the networking sport of choice?) but I’ve worked on brushing off my insecurities and intentionally belonging to that room, that project team, and that conference table, where, it turns out, there’s room. If in my career I can help plant a seed to inspire women to grow higher and with confidence, I will feel truly accomplished.

What is next for data centers? What is next for you?

In data centers, there is a lot of buzz around liquid cooling technologies, AI deployments, and lots of expected growth. What’s next for me, personally? If Harry Styles plays at The Sphere in Las Vegas, that’s where I will be.

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