What drew you to UC Berkeley and the CED?
UC Berkeley has a renowned history of a university devoted to the betterment of society, involved in the greatest movements of social equality and environmental sustainability. To be part of an institution as the College of Environmental Design is one of the greatest assets we can think of when your body of work is based on addressing the urban challenges of our time. Having the opportunity to rethink architectural pedagogies that aim to contribute to this commitment for the better future of our society is what drew me with excitement to collaborate with talented students and faculty-- a community committed to advancing the discipline of architecture linked to social impact.
What experience do you bring from the world of professional practice?
Most of our practice has evolved from living at the international border region of San Diego -Tijuana, with projects addressing the challenges of this contested territory. I believe the pressing issues we increasingly encounter in our profession, such as the revitalization of city neighborhoods, urban displacement, emergent growth on urban peripheries, the resurgence of civic space, migrant populations and the impact of industry and new material technologies are important topics to question and evaluate how architecture is engaged under these conditions.
Your studio and interests are defined as “urban renewal through architecture.” What does this mean to you and to the future of design?
It is an approach of discovering architectural typologies that bring to light social groups, and in some cases reveal emergent typologies, proposing an architectural platform that encourages social impact while enquiring civic conditions. We have been very fortunate to participate in many projects with collaborations with communities, the government, nonprofit organizations and religious institutions, where urban renewal through architecture is a depository of the intricacies that partake in the built environment, while seeing the future of design in the strategies that are capable to mitigate it.
What is it like having established a studio along the México-US border and how does this shape the work that your firm does?
Our house in Tijuana is literally at the international border, the property line at the north side of the lot is the border fence. This placement makes us reflect and identify the polemic questions that the border context is rising: where are dramatically accentuated?, how is this reflected in other contexts?, which limitations, boundaries, cities, ecologies, environments are constantly negotiating for the sake of coexistence?. The border fence at our house was replaced with a new taller fence in 2018, we see this reaffirmation of territory to projects that are of the present, it makes us understand what needs to happen and not so much what is going to happen. We are compelled by projects that engage the politics that create space, the architectural placement of displaced populations prone by inequalities.
What are your main focuses, passions, and philosophies as an educator?
We question the value of architecture towards civic integrity, considering that the biggest challenges currently in our profession is to build trust and overcome indifference. I believe we need to invest on inclusion while being critical of an academia or practice that could be perceived detach. As an educator, I consider ourselves public intellectuals, with ambitions of more cultural inclusion and less communication barriers, we like to approach academia in terms of contexts like the US – Mexico border that could be more progressive than insular studies, and see practice as a medium that can embrace the collective evolution for innovation in academic research. What I appreciate in teaching is to see the classroom as a collective laboratory, with the greatest interest in the cooperative evolution of knowledge and cross-pollination.
What are your thoughts on remote versus in-person teaching and how potentially teaching remotely will affect the Fall semester?
While I miss very much in-person teaching, I was inspired by the resilience from students and faculty embracing the challenge in a short notice. It might be a watershed moment altering what usually is a slow process in education adapting to social needs, clearly is not a fit for everyone and it is indeed a difficult transition. We are still in the process and need to learn how to better enable students to continue their education, and how faculty can produce creative and engaging pedagogies useful for instruction.
What I have seen, and consider it would become more evident, is the integration of the academic community with a wider audience of students and faculty. Universities have been increasingly more open, setting up platforms for much wider participation in studio reviews and thesis finals. I feel very positive of how remote teaching could open opportunities to expand collective teaching. I look forward to seeing how this mode of education can reach a wider population and have a positive impact on society.
Have you taught a studio in the past and, if so, what did you think about the experience?
I had the honor to be Spring 2020 Howard A. Friedman Visiting Professor of Practice. What I saw is a very collegial university, with students that have a great sense of awareness of the context we live in and the possible roles architecture can have. The studio was co-taught with Cesar Lopez and Adriana Cuellar my partner, and we proposed to study call centers in Tijuana, a typology that in recent years have flourished in the city as the next generation of the maquiladora industry, capitalizing on the knowledge of English as a product by the increasing number of deportees, but most significantly, on the cultural wealth acquired during their stay in the US, constituting in most companies 90% of their employees.
Although students were not able to visit Tijuana due to the pandemic, the projects revealed very thoughtful approaches. Jose Ferreira, coordinator at Confie Call Center, characterized the work as very clever designs in enhancing the work environment while being mindful to the users, prompting a reflection of their future expansion of the company. I am very excited to collaborate with the talent of students and faculty, surely UC Berkeley is poised in nourishing academic freethinkers, set with the tools to engage the ambitions and demands of practice.
What advice do you have for students in pursuing an architecture degree?
To be open, embrace curiosity and inquiry, that design is more active by involving a process of discovery than pre-established directions; that they are part of a collective discipline and that learning is a collaborative endeavor; to see, ask, and to elaborate, have fun and be able to surprise themselves. In our understanding, architecture is a constant learning through experience and an evolving sensibility to observe.