American Institute of Architects, San Francisco Chapter

A Conversation with Rosannah Sandoval, The AIA's Youngest Architect

Posted on March 4, 2013

At 23, Rosannah Sandoval is the AIA's youngest licensed architect. Currently a designer in Perkins + Will's San Francisco office, she attended Auburn and its Rural Studio program, as well as CCA. One of her recent projects at Perkins + Will, Calexico West Land Port of Entry, won a 2013 Progressive/Architecture Award from Architect magazine. AIA San Francisco reached out to Sandoval to learn more about her experiences in architecture, the challenges she has faced, and her future goals.

AIA San Francisco: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you become interested in architecture?

Rosannah Sandoval: Since I can remember, I cared about built things and the way light falls. About color and shapes and simplicity. Before I knew of "architecture" in the formal sense I was drawn to the action of making and realizing ideas through materials. I began architecture school in Alabama and finished in San Francisco at 18 years old.

AIASF: What was your experience like at Auburn and Rural Studio?

RS: Learning to be a citizen architect was one of the most valuable experiences in my undergraduate education. Before a designer can propose a relevant concept, one must submerse into the context, be a participant in the community and intimately appreciate the tools available to test ideas.

AIASF: As a young female architect, have you faced any challenges in the industry?

RS: I have faced the same challenges as my peers, both male and female, in this historically traditional profession. I think my generation has benefited greatly from the pioneers in our industry who have opened many doors for strong and talented female architects to become thought leaders in our industry. Unlike decades before, I know that it IS possible to exist at the top– it is just a matter of getting there. Skill and ability level the playing field.

AIASF: Do you have advice for other young women interested in the profession?

RS: I would say to choose a career that you are extremely passionate about. The design profession has many facets and you may be drawn to more than one definitive path. I think architecture has a long way to go in truly being an innovative profession. Humans have been building for thousands of years and architects are in the business of perfecting the process while achieving original outcomes. Find your niche in the design world and stay true to your interests. That will make your work all the more imaginative. The best artists are agile in the way they work and find inspiration in the overlapping of experiences.

AIASF: Do you have a role model/mentor who has inspired you over the years?

RS: I am inspired by people who invest in themselves. They are always seeking opportunities to increase their knowledge and grow through challenges. It does not matter who they work for or what the project is, every task is a chance to break through the norm, do something exceptional and explore an interest. Patience for the process is another virtue that I admire in a mentor.

AIASF: What led you to Perkins + Will? Do you have a favorite project that you've worked on?

RS: I joined Perkins+Will shortly after graduating from CCA and a stint in Peru. Initially, I was drawn to Perkins+Will’s position at the frontier of sustainable design, but what ultimately attracted me to the office was their commitment to the 1% (of billable resources to support pro bono initiatives) which they call the Social Responsibility Initiative. I saw this as a platform to make a difference in San Francisco while having the resources of a larger network. When SMWM joined the firm in 2009, that brought a whole urban design studio into the mix and that has been a fantastic opportunity to work in that scale. What has kept me here all these years are 1) the great projects and teams that I have been part of. Just one example is the Calexico West Land Port of Entry which very recently won a Progressive/Architecture Award and is featured in the February 2013 issue of Architect magazine! 2) Focus on Professional Development and tract to licensure are valued and recognized by the firm. 3) Programs like Innovation Incubator and the Leadership Institute which empowers staff to take their skills to the next level and become the future of the industry.

AIASF: What is your current ambition as an emerging architect? Do you see a definite career path for yourself?

RS: I wouldn’t say “definite” but rather I hope my career takes me to uncharted territories. I imagine that will be hard in a field so defined. Technology will always be a changing factor and I want to stay ahead of the curve in that respect and leverage design technology as a catalyst for social change in urban environments. In my career, a strong goal is to set something in motion that will long outlast me or anyone I know.

AIASF: Many people have careers in architecture without becoming licensed. What was your motivation for licensure? How did you navigate the process?

Licensure for me meant that I can be entrusted with the basic responsibilities of architecture. A milestone, really, for achieving the standard of the profession. My aim is to go above and beyond that benchmark so right out of school I said to myself, “This is something that you just have to do so you can reach farther. Just make it happen.” And so I did. The process took over three years and while it was tough to balance with work and life in general, it was so worth it. I think it ties back to that notion of self investment. Getting licensed for me was proving to myself that I can do this and that I am valued by society in this way.

AIASF: How do you see the AIA helping you reach your career goals?

RS: I am brand new to the AIA, I never joined as a student or associate, so I am really looking to my local chapter to discover what involvement best suits me. Since I am not a sole practitioner many benefits are untapped at this point in my career, but I hope that being a member will not only connect me to architects but other design professions. By joining the AIA, I anticipate that this nationally recognized institution can be a medium to influence other professional realms.