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Gensler Voices: Argelia Bárcena on Serendipitous Moments with Lasting Impact

This Q&A is part of a series of interviews with Gensler architects, designers, and others in the firm about their career journey, and the impact that design and architecture can have on our communities and the human experience. Here, we sit down with Argelia Bárcena, Gensler San Francisco:

If you could impart any piece of advice to individuals beginning their design career, what would it be?

Discover something you are passionate about within the industry, become the best at it, and shine.

What is a daily habit of yours that you swear by?


What are you most excited for when it comes to the future of architecture and design?

New and improved technologies are emerging as essential tools in our practice and the future of architecture and design is likely to be characterized by a focus on sustainability and data-driven technology to implement innovation. Think smart workflows, smart design that leverages data and technology to optimize performance and enhance occupants’ quality of life.

A significant shift is happening in our practice that for anyone who is comfortable and resistant to change may end up a dinosaur in our industry. Architects and designers must be both creative and adaptable to meet the challenges of a rapidly evolving world. As the new Associate Director for the AIA San Francisco Board of Directors, I am excited to contribute to setting a strategic direction for our industry, an industry that is now dancing with data.

What’s the best career decision you’ve ever made?

Choosing a new and alternative path, halfway through my architecture career. Hesitated about doing it and ultimately took the leap and it has proven to be a fantastic choice.

Most career journeys aren’t linear. What has yours looked like?

I hold a degree in Architecture with a minor in French, and am one of those architecture professionals with expertise in both design and technology. My career pivoted away from the traditional architecture path to where I am now, leading digital transformation in our Northwest region. In fact, when I first joined Gensler, my role was Architectural Designer, and I joined with 11 years of experience in the field. All those years I had been practicing in a traditional architecture role of designing buildings and spaces.

A serendipitous opportunity presented itself in 2008. The Chair of the Architecture Department at a San Francisco college sought me out based on my reputation for BIM proficiency, particularly in Revit. He asked me to develop a Continuing Education curriculum for working professionals, marking the first time such a course had been taught at the college. What was meant to be a one-summer teaching stint turned into a decade-long tenure, during which I taught a double-semester course in addition to publishing my class materials as books. This experience earned me the nickname "Revit Queen" within the local industry circle.

Fast forward to today, I now have taught part time at two other universities over the years including teaching students doing their Master’s degree in both Architecture and Interior Architecture & Design. My classes not only encompass BIM but also Architecture and Fundamentals of Construction. Since transitioning into a Design Technology path, I progressed from an Architectural Designer/”unofficial” BIM Manager in a 20+ person studio in 2010 to ultimately becoming a Regional Design Technology Manager supporting the 500+ practitioners across our Northwest region.

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