Perspectives 10.13.2020

Conversations with Colleagues: Rodrigo Reyes

Rodrigo Reyes, Senior Project Architect in our Durham studio, reflects on Hispanic and Latin Heritage Month 2020

Q: What drew you to the design profession, and what is keeping you here?

A: I was born into a big but close-knit family in Managua, Nicaragua. Several of my family members are architects, interior designers, and artists.  My grandfather, Julio Cardenal Arguello or “Papino” as we used to call him, was the first native Nicaraguan to get a degree in Architecture and is remembered in Nicaragua as the architect that brought modernism to country. My mom, an artist, ran her own art school for children, were my cousins, friends, and me where free to express ourselves. Once, my mom left us for about one hour, and my older cousins decided to paint me from head to toe! I was 4 and loved it!  Design and creative thinking, order and balance, color coordination, and awareness of space were part of my daily experiences from an early age.  When I was 8 years old, I told my mom my dream was to become an architect.

I have been an immigrant all my life, leaving my home country of Nicaragua when I was 7 because of civil war and settling in Costa Rica.  At 19, I immigrated again to follow my dream at the University of Miami (UM) in Florida, where my passion for design flourished.  Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, from the firm Duany-Plater-Zyberk (DPZ) known for their leadership in New Urbanism, was the UM’s School of Architecture Dean at the time. As such our training was in urban design and how each building contributes to the overall fabric of a town or city.  With the university, and then university professor Jose Gelabert-Navia, now managing principle of the Perkins& Will Miami Studio, I spent a semester in Rome, and was immersed in history and culture, understanding of scale and proportion, and enamored with the way architecture has shaped an entire society for centuries.

Soon after graduation I joined Perkins&Will Miami office and learned how to apply the concepts, I learned in UM to real life projects.  Through my years at Perkins& Will in Miami, Atlanta, and now North Carolina, I have had the opportunity to worked in numerous large-scale, complex projects. I have learned the importance of listening to our clients to understand their vision, while at the same time, understanding the history of the site and the relationship each project has to the wider community.

UNC Marsico Hall is a great example of how a large building with an incredibly complex program could seamlessly fit in a constrained site, enhance the urban fabric, and  elevate the human experience of those working in the building as well as those just going by the site.  The goals of Perkins&Will to use design as a tool to “inspire joy, uplift life and strengthen the spirit of a community” are my own goals and what keeps me here, inspired to look forward to everyday and, in the hustle and bustle of life, think broadly about how my actions have the power to change lives.

Q: Describe a design project you’re working on right now, whether professional or personal, that you’re especially proud of—and why.

A: Recently, I had an awkward opportunity to redesign a new addition to a hospital in Raleigh North Carolina for a confidential client. It was awkward because our team was asked to redesign something that one of our competitors had designed and the client did not like. But our task was not to take over the project, just redo the design and have our competitor document it.

The client had a vision with a simple idea: a hospital with a boutique hotel feeling.   The walls were set, and we could not go back to the users to make significant changes to the floor plans.  So all we could do was shape the already created spaces.  We came up with a simple concept of crafting a calming visitor experience through the thoughtful use of materials and proportions and the use of architectural wayfinding elements.   The client loved blues and greens, so we incorporated these colors into the design as accent colors on specific walls, art, and furniture.

We also used white gyp and wood accent walls on straight runs with simple radius curves, and quiet portals through the walls to identify destinations, creating a striking composition. We have a very happy client, and I love the design because of its simplicity, materiality, and beautiful overall composition.  The project is currently being built and the client has retained our services to help them ensure design intent is carried through to completion.

DRaH Hospital Design, 2018

Q: Tell us about a time when you met someone who told you your project had somehow uplifted them, or improved their life—what did that person say, and how did it make you feel?

A: The best part of being an architect and seeing your ideas become tangible, inhabitable spaces, is when, years after the building is done, someone comes to you and tells you how well the building or space is working for them. We design buildings not to put our stamp on the world, but to create spaces where people feel comfortable and at peace, and, if we are lucky, get inspired.

The design of hospitals and health care facilities is my passion. Creating healing spaces that provide natural light, views to nature, and a sense of harmony can go a long way in helping people cope and recuperate from their ailments.  In 2014 I designed the interior for a 75,000 sf addition to Hospital Vivian Pellas in Nicaragua.  The addition included a children’s wing where the concept was the sea. We had a very limited budget (about 1/3 of the budget of a typical hospital in the US), but with gyp, paint, graphics, plastic laminate and intentionally situated windows,  we created simple themed spaces, shaping the nurse station as a boat centered in the unit for visual control; corridors ending on windows to the outside; and designing each patient room to look like a cabin in a cruise.  Every time I go back to visit the space, I get comments on how the children love it and have a chance to forget why they are there.  Every project we do, we put our passion into it and do it with love.  It brings tears to my eyes to think that something I did and poured so much love into, is allowing others to have positive, enriching experiences.

The love that we put into a project is embodied in the buildings we create and is given back to the people that use it. That is what architecture is all about!

Q: In what positive ways have your experiences at Perkins&Will changed you, personally or professionally, and/or your outlook on the world?

A: My experience with Perkins&Will spans my entire architectural career.  It all began when then Professor Jose Gelabert-Navia, my professor at University of Miami, was asked to start the Miami Perkins&Will office, and, when I graduated from the university, he asked me to  join.  I was employee #4, and that was 1995! A lot has happened since then. First, I moved to the Atlanta office for a few years (1998-2001). Then I went back to Nicaragua (2001-2004). Finally, in 2004 I returned to Pekrins&Will working in the North Carolina office. Across all of these years, my experiences at Perkins&Will have continued to open my eyes to realities that are not easy to see but affect our daily life.  For example, Perkins&Will has issued a call for all of us to be stewards of our own environment through research and drive to sustainability and the challenge to create buildings that produce their own energy, generate no trash, and enhance the world around them by simply existing.  I believe that the impact that design and the construction industry can have on the overall carbon footprint of humanity is immense.  This understanding has changed me both in the way I approach design challenges and drives me every day to think about how I can personally make choices to respect the environment in my own life.

In sum, at Perkins&Will, I have learned the importance of understanding how our projects fit into the broader goals of society, and the power that architecture has to change lives.