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Designing Her Life

JoyceLynn Lagula, Principal Creative Director, Campbell House

Designing Her Life

During her fourth year of architecture school at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, JoyceLynn Lagula served an internship in Las Vegas. The experience turned out to be a game changer.

“That was really my first glimpse into the hospitality realm, and I loved it,” she says. “Being able to be a part of designing casinos, nightclubs and restaurants was exciting.”

After graduation in 2006, Lagula spent six years in the employ of Las Vegas-based Steelman Partners, run by Paul Steelman. “There was a method to Paul’s madness that has shaped the way I see design and approach every project I’ve worked on,” she says.

Lagula took a position with Campbell House in February as principal creative director. In her role, she oversees a team of designers, while cultivating client relationships.

Architecture is a collaborative process, and that collaboration became a challenge during the Covid-19 pandemic. Presenting designs shifted from in-person to a computer screen. “We have had to be more descriptive, more communicative with our thoughts and be creative with sharing that information,” Lagula says.

Just before the pandemic, Lagula became paralyzed and diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. She spent two months in the hospital and in a rehab facility to gain strength and learn how to walk and use her hands again.

“It was the scariest time in my life,” she says. “To this day, I am still dealing with my health challenges. Yet, I refuse to let it pull me down.”

Lagula has had other obstacles to overcome, especially as a woman minority in a predominantly male field. “My approach has always been to deal with these situations with grace and kindness. Many times, I have had to shift my thinking and continue to press what I feel is the right solution. At the end of the day, I have the confidence that my talent and skill will help me overcome anything.”

Mentors help. Lagula counts Steelman as an important mentor early on.

“His approach to dynamic gaming and hospitality design has been a huge influence. He would urge me to keep my perspective on the overall design—the bigger picture. I have done that to this day.”

Another important mentor: Brett Ewing, principal at the Cuningham Group.

“One of the key lessons he taught me was understanding how designs become reality and the knowledge that strength in design comes from the details,” says Lagula, who devotes spare time to her fiancé, family and friends.

Beth Campbell, CEO of Campbell House, pushed Lagula to consider the business side of the field and the importance of client relationships.

“She has been a big supporter of my career, and helped me realize my strengths and how to work on my weaknesses.”

Casino resorts of the last 10 years focused on the overall experience from dining to entertainment, connected by gaming. Properties are designed accordingly. The next 10 years will continue to integrate recreational activity into this approach, says Lagula, who has advice for future architects.

“Learning never stops when it comes to design.  Our field is continuously evolving, and if you are humble enough, empathetic enough, and listen enough, the creative possibilities are endless.”

Bill Sokolic is a veteran journalist who has covered gaming and tourism for more than 25 years as a staff writer and freelancer with various publications and wire services. He's also written stories for news, entertainment, features, and business. He co-authored Atlantic City Revisited, a pictorial history of the resort.

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