Student Q&A: Irene Figueroa Ortiz (MUP/MArch ’15)

Irene Figueroa OrtizHometown: San Juan, Puerto Rico

Undergraduate school/major: University of Puerto Rico / Bachelor in Environmental Design (Architecture)

What was your work experience/background before coming to the GSD?

I worked in an architecture firm as an architectural designer. During my time there, I mostly developed civic projects.

Why did you decide to pursue planning as a career?

My educational experience in Latin American and Europe taught me to conceive the built environment as a cultural artifact: the physical trace of socio-economic process.  Planning is a professional practice that approaches the development of human spaces from a different perspective. As a designer, it provides me the tools to use design as an agent of change.

What made you decide to come to the GSD?

In 2010, I entered the GSD as a MArch I student. However, I also wanted a set of skills that would enable me to approach the design and development of the built environment in a holistic manner. After taking a couple of electives in the urban planning program, I was impressed with how the department articulates the intersection between design and implementation.

What are your main interests in planning and concentration area?

My main area of interest in planning is sustainability. We must approach future development as the creation of balanced ecosystems, in which natural resources, physical infrastructure, people, and politics are intertwined.

Are you writing a thesis? What is your topic and why did you choose it?

Since I am doing a dual degree, this year I am working on my architecture thesis on farmworkers’ housing. Most research on development is focused on cities and urban areas, while the rural landscape has gone through a dramatic, sometimes imperceptible transformation over the past century. The industrialization of the countryside has, in places, led to the disintegration of local communities and to a nomadic landscape of migrant farmworker communities, creating impoverished living conditions. It is an area of intervention in which architectural interventions and building technologies could provide solutions to regional issues.

What has been the most surprising aspect of the GSD?

The trays, the idea of an open studio is pretty amazing (and overwhelming at times).  There is so much going on in the school that the opportunities of self-development are endless.

What has been your favorite class or project? Why?

The Public and Private Development class provides students with a comprehensive understanding of development. The syllabus is broad, combining lectures by practicing professionals, theory and practical exercises. By the end of the class students are well-equipped to have a discussion on the key issues behind public and private development and are capable of running a real estate financial analysis.

What did you do over the summer? How did that add to your education and goals?

This summer I was a fellow at the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics. I worked with an incredible team of professionals who are identifying areas of innovation in government. Today, we can observe the leading role that city mayors are taking in the development of cities. The experience exposed me to the inner operations and politics behind local government.