An Interview with Yesenia Blandon, Assoc. AIA

Creating Strong Links for the Hispanic Community

An Interview with Yesenia Blandon, Assoc. AIA, by Julian Debo

As a Hispanic architecture student, it was an exciting moment when I realized that the Hispanic community is gaining momentum in architecture. This moment came during my junior year, when a newly formed organization, Latinos in Architecture (LiA), donated a dozen boxes filled with architecture magazines and books to my class at Skyline High School. My peers and I were amazed as our fingers leafed through the glossy pages with images of  beautifully designed buildings. LiA’s donation to my school is an example of how the organization takes pride in helping Hispanics succeed within the profession of architecture.

Latinos in Architecture is the first organization of its kind. LiA is the recipient of the 2012 AIA Diversity Recognition Program, and its Co-Founder, Yesenia Blandon, was the recipient of a 2011 Texas Society of Architects Honor Award.

Yesenia Blandon was with this organization from inception and began right away to make a mark. Through LiA, Yesenia works to help develop many unique programs and exhibits. Many of LiA’s exhibits and programs aim at improving the community, education, and networking.  One of the most recent exhibits is ENLACES, which showcases the work of many unknown designers. The exhibit premiered in early September at the Dallas Center for Architecture, from where it will travel to Austin and back to Dallas.

Yesenia Blandon works at Perkins + Will in Dallas.

JD: Architecture usually isn’t regarded as a profession where minorities are well represented. Do you feel as if Hispanics are coming more into the picture, and how?

YB: Absolutely—I think all minorities, not only Hispanics, but African Americans and women, too, are all playing a bigger role in our profession at the moment. I think this is due to the fact that most of the minorities are becoming more aware of the power behind their numbers, and the power of the talent that we have to offer the architecture firms that we work for. You can see this through the development of different groups and committees such as NOMAS for the African American community. So yes, I think the landscape is absolutely changing in the favor of minorities.

JD: What drives you as an architect?

YB: What drives me is the sense of responsibility that we as architects have towards the environment and the community. I am very community involved and I think my profession is what pushes me to help communities improve.

JD: What inspired you to help create a program that represents the Hispanic community?

YB: This started in February of 2010 when a colleague, Jimmy Castellanos, approached me. He had this idea to contact as many of our Hispanic architect friends in Dallas to start a networking group where we can all share our stories in the workforce, and become more aware of each other. The simple idea evolved into something bigger other than just networking. We put all of our abilities and skills into work for our communities, especially for the Hispanic communities that are in need of professionals in architecture. We also need to use this group as a platform to get all of these Hispanic architects more recognition within the architecture community in Dallas.

JD: What do you expect for LIA to accomplish next? It seems as if it’s done so much already.

YB: Well LiA has grown from a group of just 20 people in 2010 to having more than 360 members with the AIA chapter. Also, there’s another LiA committee in Austin. There is interest in New York and San Diego to start their own committees, so  we’re expecting national growth. We were able to talk about our committee at the AIA convention in Washington D.C., and this attracted a lot of attention from architects around the country who were interested in the possibility of starting their own committee in their chapters. It’s existed for two years, but we did not start as a formal committee of the AIA until July of 2010. We still focus on three particular components: Community, Profession, and Education.

JD: What does ENLACES means?

YB: It means ties, or linking networks.

JD: Can you describe what it is?

YB: It is the Hispanic heritage month exhibit that LiA has done for the past couple of years. They just changed the name this year, and I think it is a beautiful name — ENLACES. We celebrate Hispanic heritage month in September, and we want the committee to be a platform for Hispanic architects in our cities. This has opened an opportunity to many designers and architects to showcase their work at the AIA Dallas. In the past years, the exhibit has gone to UTA, DCFA (Dallas Center for Architecture), and to local high schools here in Dallas. This year it went to the Texas Society of Architects Convention in Austin,  AIA Austin, and to the Latino Cultural Center here in Dallas. This is a great opportunity for many unknown designers within the city to showcase their work and also for the firms that they work for to show the community what they are doing. You will be impressed by how many Hispanic architects are working not only as basic entry level architect I and II, but also in high positions within their firms. They are recognized designers for firms like HKS, RTKL, Good Fulton and Farrell, among others. The exhibit is usually open for three weeks. We have a reception the day of the opening; it’s very lively—we provide music, food and cocktails while people can go and look at the boards.

What I took away from Yesenia’s interview is that Hispanic architects are coming together and creating strong links between themselves to make their presence known. Organizations like LiA are creating role models we can look up to, and encouraging aspiring Hispanic architects, like myself, to pursue their dream.