An Architecture of Empathy

After living most of her life in the chaos and beauty of Mexico City, Alejandra Ruiz enjoys Portland’s calm vibe.

Ruiz, a licensed architect in Mexico and adjunct professor of architecture at PSU, started her education at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). From there, she spent two years as a student fellow at the PSU Center for Public Interest Design working on a variety of design-built projects while earning a Master of Architecture and Graduate Certificate in Public Interest Design.

The two-year Masters program culminated in a thesis project. For this, Ruiz  collaborated with her peers Janna Ferguson and Genevieve Wasser in an exploration of radical hospitality and understanding in the US-Mexico Borderlands.

“Our thesis was more focused on understanding 'the other' and building an architecture of empathy,” she said.

In order to document the physical and socio-cultural conditions of the borderlands, the students received the L. Rudolph Barton Travel Fellowship. They traveled the entire length of the US-Mexico border, crossed the border on foot, spoke with guards and visited towns. Their goal was to learn as much as they could through their experiences and interactions -- and to ask questions with an open mind.

“We interviewed residents from both sides, talked with border patrol, talked with activists and humanitarian aid,” she said.

Following her strong interest in education, Ruiz started teaching in 2016 as a studio instructor at PSU's Architecture Summer Immersion Program. Since graduating with her Masters degree in Architecture in 2017, Alejandra continues to stay involved with the PSU community and encourage other architecture students in their journeys. Today she is an adjunct professor in the School of Architecture teaching design fundamentals and visual communication studios.

“Teaching has always been one of my passions,” she said. “I intend to practice architecture, and I also intend to teach.”

Ruiz is making good on her intentions. This past year, she joined the design team at Salazar Architects Inc.  The Portland-based firm with a long history of community design projects that involve housing, community/commercial developments and public space.