Making A Place: “Building Home” Q & A


From left: Jessica Paz, Ana Perez, and Annabelle Swain.

BWAF caught up with the enthusiastic young women leading the Weeksville Weekends “Building Home” workshop, to learn more about their inspirations and aspirations on their design journey. Jessica Paz is a Junior Architect with Caples Jefferson Architects. Ana Perez is a young designer in her second year with EKLA PLLC. Annabelle Swain is a second year student at Carnegie Mellon School of Architecture and a second year summer intern at Caples Jefferson Architects.

What attracted you to architecture/landscape architecture, and how did you begin your career? Was there an influential experience or mentor that helped steer you toward this field?

Ana Perez (AP): Coming from a small island, I was always intrigued by the diversity in the world. I believe that architecture is a tool to learn about a culture’s history; no words are needed when a structure can speak for itself. We might not understand the verbal language of another culture, however a building and its landscape can tell you the story from its creation to our current time.

Jessica Paz (JP): Architecture captured my interest soon after being exposed to my friend’s architectural projects. He was an architecture student at that time in my country, Peru. I remember going to his studio and seeing many of his projects. When he explained the process of his thinking and showed me the result of it on his models, that moment really made me aware of what architecture is all about–having a profound idea (based on the past, present & future)–and developing that idea through drawings, and expressing it through a physical model or building. Since that moment, I knew that architecture was the journey I wanted to follow.

Right after I finished high school in Peru, I moved to the United States, I did not know the language; therefore starting my Architectural education was a challenge. I had to learn the language, the educational systems, and adapt to the culture. However, my interest for architecture never died.

I learned about the architectural program offered by the Spitzer School of Architecture at City College–without a doubt, I applied and was accepted. The beginning of my architecture education made me realize that architecture is more than what meets the eye; it is the broadest area of study that allowed me to be more conscious of my surroundings. It helped me understand the reasons why buildings are built in a certain way, and how these structures play a big role in society and in people’s lives. I learned that critical thinking plays a big role in design, and that architecture is not only beautiful buildings but it carries a meaning behind it, relating to the social characteristics, and site conditions.

Annabelle Swain (AS): I have always taken an interest in how things have been designed and built; even before I could talk and walk as a toddler, I would sit and stare at drum kits and other inventions just trying to figure out how they worked, or at least my parents claimed I did. From this interest, I started to design and build as much as I could; I started with Legos, K-Nex, Lincoln Logs, and Tinker Toys–I even dabbled in robotics for a bit. Design has always been a part of my life, and I owe my parents and family members a lot for giving me the tools to help me explore it. When applying for college, I realized that architecture was one way of continuing my interests, but it was never what I saw myself solely doing in my career. I have interests in industrial design and set design as well as architecture, and I think an education in architecture is a great way for me to gain the skills I need to explore all of these subjects.

Jessica Paz, Annabelle Swain, Ana Perez, Tabriz Mohsenin (Intern, BWAF)  and Nancy Nguyen (Associate Director, BWAF).

From left: Ana Perez, Annabelle Swain, Jessica Paz, Tabriz Mohsenin (Intern, BWAF) and Nancy Nguyen (Associate Director, BWAF).

What does “architecture culture” signify to you, and how do you go about contributing to or changing this culture? What are your hopes and dreams for the future of architecture and the built environment?

AP: Architecture culture in my opinion is the way each design office operates. Having said this, they all have a different approach. One should observe, learn and if there is a problem in the system, propose a solution instead of complaining about the problem.

My dream is that in the near future, architecture won’t be so much about  “big buildings” or “making a name for myself,” but will focus more towards humanitarian projects and a sustainable approach.

JP: I think the Architecture culture is really broad, which makes it interesting. I would say that the architecture follows identity, follows people, and follows the context that is why it is different everywhere. I think the best way to contribute to the Architectural culture is learning as much as possible, and teach your knowledge to other.

AS: The culture of architecture is always changing, so I can’t really think how to define it. It is always about solving a problem, and the problems change for every job the architect does.

Ana Perez, helping young girls design their home at the "Building Home" workshop.

Ana Perez, helping young girls design their home at the “Building Home” workshop.

Advice for someone interested in entering an architecture-related field?

AP: Passion, persistence and a humble heart to accept that not everybody will love your ideas.

JP: Architecture education is really demanding and time-consuming, but the results are awesome. If you enjoy putting things on paper and resolving issues on models, go for it. There is so much to learn of the design process such as history, technology, human environment, etc.

AS: When thinking about architecture, make sure you know what the job entails. If you meet someone in the field, ask to visit their office and talk to them about their job and their education. Architecture as a career does not always live up to the expectations people have for it. There are many students in my classes that have dropped out, because they learned being an architect is not about being an engineer, or they felt there was too much art in it for them or too little. Just make sure you are heading down the right path for you.

Favorite site, place, or building? Why does this particular location speak to you?

AP: Perhaps not a specific site, but a city: Washington D.C. The city itself is a gigantic museum of the United States. Its plan and organization makes it easy to travel while learning about US history; from Abraham Lincoln, to Martin Luther King, to the gift of the Japanese, it is always an educational experience.

JP: The place and building I like is City College campus located in Harlem. As soon as you enter, the campus feels like a different place; you are surrounded by these beautiful gothic buildings.

AS: I like Hearst Tower by Norman Foster. The fountain in the lobby is wonderful, and the exterior structure allows for an interesting atrium.

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Photos: Weeksville Heritage Center

More about Ana Perez, Jessica Paz, and Annabelle Swain

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