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 Gabriela Alvergue, a designer in our Chicago office:
Did you have a mentor growing up or at any point during your career? If so, how did that relationship impact your growth as a person or in the industry at large?
All the women leaders I encountered along the way have had an impact on me. I’ve had so many mentors but starting with my mom and my high school art teacher, and some of my Gensler mentors: Lisa Adkins, Sheryl Schulze, and Eleftheria Riga-Derrico. They taught me to persevere and stay positive through every situation. I also admire their attention to detail — they’ve shaped how I view every opportunity.
How can architecture and design make space that’s inclusive for everyone?
Users journeys through buildings and spaces. Every project has a different journey and concept behind it, and I love that design has so many ways for people to move through space physically and experientially. Being inclusive is always going back to the bigger picture and making sure everyone can experience the design in a similar way.
How were you first introduced to architecture and design?
I was first introduced to architecture and design in high school, so I grew up with art around me. My mom, sister and I would take on new art projects from painting, making clothes, paper mâché, sculptures etc. We were always making something. That led me to taking a lot of art classes in high school. I was then introduced to a high school summer program at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). I had to choose two classes to take, and being part of a family with a technical background (i.e., finance, insurance etc.) I wanted to take an academic/major-focused class (an intro to architecture) and an art focused class (drawing) while I was there. That’s where it all started.
I loved it so much I went back to SCAD full-time and studied architecture and interiors. It was perfect for me because architecture is so versatile. I also loved collaborating with other majors like fashion, advertising, and industrial design. When looking at career opportunities later, my diverse art school background is one of the biggest reasons I chose Gensler for its cross-disciplinary look at design.
What do you think are the most important skills to succeed in architecture?
Perseverance, fearlessness, and passion. There are so many paths in architecture so being passionate and inspired about what you want to explore and work on is essential to me. Being unafraid to fail, say the wrong thing, ask too many questions, etc. is so important, as is learning and growing from failure.
What’s life at Gensler like?
A lot of fun! I love that it's an environment where everyone gets to be truly themselves. Everybody cares so much not only about project work and professional goals but also who we are as individuals outside of work. I am so lucky to be working with the most creative and passionate team out there.
Most career journeys aren’t linear. What has yours looked like?
I grew up in a family with polar opposite careers to architecture and design. Most of my family members are in accounting and finance and some are in creative fields like music and fashion. So, when crafting my career journey, I had the technical and design brains at play since I didn't have a precedent on a career in architecture. I had a linear journey from undergraduate to graduate school. I went to SCAD for my undergraduate studies in architecture and interiors. For my master’s degree in architecture, I wanted a diverse design background with a focus on story and digital experience, so I chose University of Michigan.
Professionally, I started off with hyper- technical work in aviation, tall residential buildings, and cultural centers to help me explore multiple types of projects. Then, I started my Gensler journey as a summer intern in workplace interiors. Those experiences led me to come back to Gensler full-time and discover my passion for complex mixed-use buildings and the importance of the user journey from detailed interiors to the exterior. In those four years, I’ve had the opportunity to work on all scales in areas including adaptive reuse, mixed-use and entertainment, tall buildings, workplace interiors, master planning and residential.
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