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"What do you want to be when you grow up?" The number one question every kid encounters.

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" The number one question every kid encounters during their childhood. Children usually don’t have a solid answer to this question; I didn’t either, but I knew that I loved to draw and paint as a kid. In addition to being creative, I liked math in school. People told me that if I liked to draw and I liked math, then the architecture field was for me. I decided to pursue architecture, but I didn’t know where to start. No one in my family pursued architecture. My parents did not finish high school in Vietnam, so it was difficult to ask my family for help in the design field. So, I looked for guidance by reaching out to my classmates, teachers, and counselors in school.

I went to the University of Colorado Boulder and majored in the Environmental Design program. Since it was an ENVD degree, I got to learn about various disciplines in the design field such as architecture, landscape architecture, urban design & planning, and design studies. When I took my first architecture studio class, I was enamored. I loved the design process and the idea of my designs coming to life. I ended up getting involved in various architecture related student organizations and made multiple connections with the staff and faculty at CU Boulder. These connections led me to an internship with LOA Architecture which turned into a full time job right after graduation. LOA Architecture is an architecture firm based in Denver, and they focus on educational building design services for schools all over Colorado. I had the opportunity to work on Rocky Top Middle School, Horizon High School and CU Boulder which were schools that I went to growing up. It was surreal to attend meetings with my past teachers not as a student, but as an architectural designer.

Working on design projects that help the community is a highlight of being an architect; but, there are still some flaws in the architecture industry. According to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), nearly 2 in 5 new architects are women, and less than 1 in 5 new architects identify as a racial/ethnic minority in 2020. I first became aware of the lack of diversity in architecture when I conducted social justice research with my fellow colleague, Ana Quinones, and design researcher/assistant professor, Shawhin Roudbari at CU Boulder. We attended the AIA (American Institute of Architects) conference in 2018 and made observations of people’s reactions to controversial topics such as the #MeToo movement and race & gender in architecture. From the research that was collected, we created a free-form poetry booklet called “In-Fringe”, and moderated a panel discussion about race and gender inequity at the AIAS Seattle Conference. Also, we worked on an art exhibit about forming anti-racist and counter-hegemonic spaces in February 2020 that was featured on the Boulder Daily Camera. The scarcity of minorities in architecture affirmed my ambition to start my own architecture firm and become an advocate for social equity within the architecture work industry.

Currently, I am on a full ride fellowship to attend Washington University in St Louis, Missouri to pursue my master’s degree in Architecture for three years. I am working with Arcturis, a multi-disciplinary design firm that is certified as a Women's Business Enterprise. Additionally, I am a board member of the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (J.E.D.I) committee for AIA St Louis, and I am a part of the Academic Organizing team in the Design As Protest (DAP) Organization. The JEDI committee provides programming, training, volunteer, and community engagement opportunities to increase diversity and equity within the architecture field. DAP is a collective of designers mobilizing strategy to dismantle the privilege and power structures that use architecture and design as tools of oppression.

My path to pursuing architecture is an unconventional one, but I wouldn't be where I am today without the support of my family, friends, coworkers, and teachers. As I delve deeper into the design field, I find my niche in social justice within architecture. I hope that whoever is reading this post will realize that there isn't a "right path" to go down for any career. It takes multiple trials and errors to find the right career, but each encounter and experience is worth it.

Ann Dang

Graduate of Adams 12 Five Star Schools and University of Colorado

Job Campaign Designer at LOA Architecture

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