Practicing ArchitecturePracticing Architecture
About Rosannah Sandoval, AIA: Rosannah Sandoval, AIA, SEED, LEED AP BD+C is currently the youngest member of AIA. She is a M.Arch II candidate at The Cooper Union and previously spent over 5 years at Perkins+Will in the San Francisco office where she was part of the Calexico West Land Port of Entry project team that won a 2013 Progressive/Architecture Award from Architect magazine.
What inspired you to become an Architect?
My parents. Although not directly; there are not any architects in my family. I am “first generation” one might say. I think it was my father’s passion for learning paired with my mother’s complete faith in me that taught me to follow my dreams and do something I love, no matter the obstacles. By living in many cities across the U.S, I discovered the world of design and could feel even at a young age that this was my calling. I was struck by how wildly different my surroundings were depending on where we lived and I remember questioning: who decides how things are organized and buildings are put together? Before I even understood "architecture" in the way I do now, I was drawn to the act of making and realizing ideas through materials. In 2004, I dove right in and began training in the program at Auburn University. It was there that the more I learned about architecture, the more I loved it. The overlap of technical and aspirational - science and art - influencing people through environments, this resonated with me as a meaningful lifelong pursuit. I eventually transferred to California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where I launched my career after graduation. As we all know, this work is intense and requires 110% commitment. I am so grateful that I followed my father’s advice and chose something that I am 110% passionate about.
You are currently AIA’s youngest licensed architect. Do you feel that comes with certain rewards, responsibilities and or challenges?
Someone once said to me, “That’s quite a credential you’ve made for yourself.” I’ve never thought of it quite that way! In this profession, it obviously takes an entire career to really find ones stride as an architect. But, I have to admit, this is not a bad starting off point. I will continue to grow and hopefully reinvent that title through my work. The thing about youth is that it eventually goes away. Being the “youngest” will fade and it will be my contributions to society that stand alone. I will strive to keep the momentum and remain perpetually young in the spirit of challenging static structures of the profession and offering inspiration through my work.
This fall you left Perkins+Will to study for the M.Arch at Cooper Union. Why did you decide to pursue the M.Arch? What is the focus of your program?
I started at the firm when I was just 18 years old. After half a decade at Perkins + Will - and so much learning - I felt it was time to go out and find my focus. Pursuing an M.Arch is the best opportunity to dig deep and find an architectural discourse that will drive the next chapter of my career. I have always wanted to live in New York and attending graduate school at Cooper Union positions me right in the middle of the action. The lectures and discussions have been stimulating, making me acutely aware of the vastness of knowledge that I have yet to tap into. I am still early in the program, but thus far there has been a focus on reading the city through the articulation of the creative subject and various forces. The spring semester will shift to nature and the program will culminate in individual Thesis. The architecture school has a strong emphasis on drawing as a tool for critical thinking and an intrinsic part of the process. It has been a joy to be a part of this remarkable community.
What’s next after completion of the M.Arch?
At this point I am not projecting past this huge undertaking but instead I am curious where this experience will lead me. I cannot foresee who I will meet or what challenges will present themselves. I am however, in the process of transferring my license to New York State, if that is any indication of future plans. Someday, I do hope to start a firm with Sergio Sandoval and we are thinking of calling it SAN-ARQ (Sandoval Arquitectos). Keep an eye out for san-arq.com. A career in design with public interest at heart is my lifelong goal.
Sustainable design is of growing importance to the profession, architects and the community. How do you see this area changing the built environment?
Without question, taking responsibility for the effects of our work on the planet is of utmost importance. I am hopeful that the future designers and makers - not just in architecture but infrastructure and production - will take this as a minimum standard so that it is engrained in everything we do. Sustainability implies that adaptively reusing and caring for what is already built has a huge value in shaping the built environment.
Emerging topics for the profession include Design + Health and Resiliency. What is the Architect’s role as a contributor and catalyst?
It’s interesting how these topics are as old as building itself, yet we continually renew our focus in them. History points to so many cases where design offered opportunities to improve lives and increase flexibility. It is important for this to be on the lips of architects across the country in times other than severe natural disasters.
In a complex ecosystem such as New York, architects are recognizing their place as public figures poised to offer our unique abilities to move the state apparatus toward better preparation. We can focus the renewed awareness of our fragile environment and sense of urgency toward changing laws and facilitating cooperation that will lead to more resilient built outcomes. It is our responsibility to ensure longevity is at the forefront of the conversation. Looking to nature we see how its interrelated complexity offers inspiration for our challenge to reinforce whole communities that embody strength and flexibility.
Any other thoughts to share on sustainable design from either a personal perspective or as a student in an architectural program?
I once had a talk with Sim Van der Ryn where he referenced the “Powers of ten” - a remarkable book that opened my eyes and mind to “the relative size of things in the universe”. It’s really incredible to think of the scale at which architects operate in the spectrum of existence. It all at once makes what we do seem almost insignificant and incredibly important. We have so much power to create and also destroy. To me, and I think the next generation of designers, sustainability is quite obvious and it is imperative that we work in a way which protects this pale blue dot. Both at the scale of nations and at the scale of neighborhoods which are graced and threatened by people - our most valuable resource.
Rosannah Sandoval, AIA,SEED, LEED AP BD+C