Ricardo A. León, Assoc. AIA, is a designer at Baldridge Architects in Austin. He has been a member since 2015. Learn more about Ricardo from the Q&A below!
What has been your involvement with AIA and TxA?
Most of my involvement within AIA and TxA centers around what I am most passionate about, which lately has been focused on disability advocacy, inclusive design, and teaching/mentorship. I currently serve on the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee at TxA working with a very dedicated group of peers fostering a thoughtful conversation and program since its inception. When I was a member of AIA Dallas, I was chair for the Ken Roberts Memorial Delineation Competition (the longest-running drawing competition in the world), and continue to serve as a committee member. Drawing continues to be my favorite medium for spatial and graphic exploration, so a platform celebrating the future and craft of representation like KRob is extremely rewarding.
One of my favorite volunteering outlets however has been with the ACE Mentors. Having participated in ACE as a high school student myself, I owe a debt of gratitude to the mentors that encouraged me to study architecture in the first place. Not only am I hopefully influencing a new generation of students interested in architecture, engineering, and construction, but I’ve become more mindful of the aspects of the profession I find important and worth sharing.
How did you become interested in the architecture profession?
I have always had a passion for art, drawing, and history as far back as I can remember, so architecture seemed like a natural fit to weave all those interests. My parents would take my sister and me to The Science Place every weekend, and how can anyone not be inspired by those buildings at Fair Park in Dallas? But perhaps what influenced my pursuit of studying architecture was traveling. Since most of my family lives all around Mexico, we’d frequently visit; growing up between two cultures with different traditions, people, languages, etc., the spaces that I would associate with fond memories kindled my understanding and curiosity about what architecture is, and it continues to excite me today.
What was your first job? What did you learn there?
In my senior year in high school, before the days of BIM, a friend of mine told me if I wanted to be an architect, I had to learn AutoCAD. I immediately enrolled in an evening class at the local community college and through good recommendation, had a summer internship at Corgan in Dallas. Despite my expectations of drafting on the computer all day, I began to realize that design has no single “correct” path. On the contrary, some sketched for hours by hand, others developed quick models, and many would develop schemes on the computer through drafting or 3D modeling. As I began architecture school, that lesson never escaped me while working on my own projects in studio sequences. I would find myself frustrated with assignments and translating the method being taught into something I felt proud of, but I knew I could step back, and ask “what is the problem I am responding to and how can I apply my own skillset or way of thinking to it?” Make time to develop a system or creative output that excites you, embrace it, unlearn it, relearn it, and push yourself to discover everything about it. That unique way of making will only evolve and help define what is important to you as you find your voice.
What building or space is on your bucket list to visit?
I have a soft spot in my heart for expressive and glorious PoMo. I would love to visit the early seminal works by Ricardo Bofill like Walden 7, La Muralla Roja, or The Pyramid.
“Architects must understand that we are not experts at everything, but we can be proactive, assemble a diverse group at the decision-making table, seek out the proper feedback to listen to, and be agents and allies for those lived experiences we are not familiar with especially when engaging with clients and stakeholders.”
How can the profession improve and grow?
There is a phrase often used within the disability community and disability rights activism that goes, “Nothing about us without us.” There is a valuable lesson in that. Oftentimes as designers we do not consider the experiences or points of view of people for whom we aspire to serve, especially when the demographic falls outside of the “standard” of what is familiar to most. Speaking from my own experience as a disabled designer, I see this all too often. With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1991, every commercial building must adhere to an array of standards developed with our specific needs in mind; one of the many unprecedented protections for people with disabilities. The irony is that as architects, “design thinking” and problem-solving form the backbone of our design development, yet when it comes to accessibility and inclusivity, that methodology is pushed to the side and seems to be left solely to the hands of those codes. It’s unfortunately an additive process and consequently, leads to an alienating and underwhelming solution that could have been much better. I’ve lost count of the number of buildings and spaces I visit with a beautiful, grand entrance and a monumental stair leading up to the front door. Yet off to the side is an access sign with an arrow directing me to a ramp and door out of sight that can accommodate my needs. Or entering a business where the main floor is two steps up from grade, and the solution to ascend the two steps is a lift in an employee-only closet that likely is out of order. This isn’t “access.” This isn’t “inclusivity.” But for all intents and purposes, it meets the minimum interpretation of the code.
These are design issues and failures as much as societal, but our profession influences so much of how we engage with daily life, it is imperative that architects Do. The. Work. What I mean is that architects must understand that we are not experts at everything, but we can be proactive, assemble a diverse group at the decision-making table, seek out the proper feedback to listen to, and be agents and allies for those lived experiences we are not familiar with especially when engaging with clients and stakeholders. This is not limited to disability but a wide range of identities including race, gender, religion, and culture.
What aspect of the profession excites you the most?
I feel extremely hopeful for the profession with architects of different generations pushing for a more diverse and inclusive field. I believe in the importance of representation. Having a lifetime of experience interacting with spaces that all too often are not made for people like myself, I am that much more determined to be a part of the change for future generations. We are asking the right questions and hopefully holding ourselves accountable. There is much to be excited about.
This post is a part of our “Member Spotlight” series, which highlights TxA members who are making amazing contributions to the architectural community. If you know a TxA member who exemplifies our mission of supporting the creation of safe, beautiful, sustainable environments, you can nominate them to be featured here.