Honoring Sandra I. Vivanco

2020 Community Alliance Honors Sandra I. Vivanco

On March 31, 2020, Sandra I. Vivanco, AIA, SEED — a long-time friend of the AIA San Francisco Chapter, Bay Area architect, and educator — passed away in her home after a year-long battle with cancer. We celebrate Sandra and her incredible body of work by dedicating the Community Alliance Education Award in Sandra’s honor. The new Sandra I. Vivanco Community Alliance Education Award exemplifies Sandra’s commitment to advancing equity in the field, inclusiveness, and design excellence and will recognize an organization or individual who upholds the values to inspire students, peers and the community that extends beyond the boundaries of the pedagogy into practice.

Since 2015, the Center for Architecture + Design and AIA San Francisco’s Community Alliance Awards program have honored 100+ individuals, firms, and organizations whose overall work, leadership, and dedication has shaped the character and vibrancy of our communities and the future of our built environment.

Deanna Van Buren, Co-Founder + Executive Director, of Designing Justice + Designing Spaces (DJDS), received the 2016 Community Alliance Social Impact Award for her role as an architect addressing social change and making a significant contribution to urban, environmental, and neighborhood issues. Since that time she co-founded DJDS and has completed new prototypes, including a Pop-Up Village and a Center for Restorative Justice and Restorative Economics.

"We are excited that many more are interested in joining us to explore the role that design and architecture can play in addressing structural inequity. This will require the unbuilding of racism in ourselves and our firms," said Van Buren. "It will require stepping back, listening, and stepping down, if necessary. In the wake of the 2020 murders of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, and so many others, there is finally a deeper recognition of the structural racism embedded in our justice system. This awakening has only amplified our work, and at DJDS we are growing. We are supporting communities that are making restorative reinvestments in their communities, working with municipalities to repurpose jails, and building products like mobile refuge rooms to support folks returning home from prison."

As the 2019 receipient of the Emerging Professionals Award, Anand Sheth, AIA, NOMA, Design Director with Studio BBA, was recognized for his work as an architect practicing 10 years or fewer and demonstrating the highest qualities of leadership and commitment to the industry.

"This year has led me to understand the importance — and fragility — of our profession. As stewards of our urban environments, architects are keenly aware of the restrictions applied to shared space. The best architects have been artfully and thoughtfully integrating code requirements into their designs all along," said Sheth. "The requirements of social distancing are unique, but not so different from ADA and Title 24. I’m still working hard to continue to meet expectations and provide safe, character-rich, inclusive places. My recent work in Oakland has been an opportunity to 'flip the script' on how development can serve our communities. Developing COMMONS with our client, alongside her future works, invites me to question the norms regarding public thresholds. Who do our designs serve —and why? It’s not always a simple or comfortable answer."

This year, we continue this tradition in the same spirit to recognize an array of extraordinary individuals and organizations for their service to the Chapter, the community, and the profession. Be sure to view the list of 2015-2019 Community Alliance Award recipients — we salute their efforts to engage, educate, collaborate, advocate and elevate the value of design and its impact on our daily lives’ experiences.


I met Sandra in some conversations about the Mexican Museum project in San Francisco without knowing that years later, her firm will work as Architect of Record in the project. I invited her to be part of "Spaces through Gender", an exhibition of Latin American women in architecture where she participated with a project from her school students. Later on we both collaborated with LiA in bringing together the show, PERSPECTIVAS, and she was always willing to share her knowledge. She was an agent of culture and liked to be involved in different levels. She was not shy in giving her opinion and pushing things to make them happen, always with a smile. She loved the work of Clara Porset and always understood the difficulties of being a woman in a man-driven entrepreneurship generation. Definitely a person who was always easy to have a good conversion with, a good mentor that I will miss.
Image courtesy of Janice Lee

I got to learn more about Sandra through an invitation she extended to us to speak to some of her Latino students. I was impressed to learned that she was a fighter — she came to the US as an emigrant with not that much and over the years she fought for what she believed in. She created her own company and a name for herself which you could tell she was proud of — but mostly she was proud to inspire Latino students. She was sensitive, humble and with huge passion to never quit. It was an honor to know her.

I met Sandra through the LiA group, and was thrilled when she (after hearing her life story) agreed to appear as a cover story on ByDESIGN Vol. 19, May 2016. She was so exceedingly talented and committed to the Latino community — so positive, gracious, and willing to help wherever possible. By any measure, her career and work were extraordinary. She later honored our CASA Alumni Scholarship event in 2017 as a guest speaker, which had CASA students riveted to her every word. She will be missed by the design profession, in the classroom, and Latino community. ¡Que ejemplo tan tremendo para Latinas!

Sandra took me to Brazil during a summer study abroad program, while I studied architecture at CCA. She led my classmates through vibrant favela alleys and, along one, she unlocked an unmarked door that opened to a concrete platform with a surprising vista. Mesmerized by the view — of endless incidental structures — I developed an admiration for the potential of every urban eddy. She's given so many gifts through her professorship, and I'll always remember her for the gifts she gave me.


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