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Applying Lessons from the Classroom to Reshaping Our Cities

By Isabella DeLeo

Co-Founder Hansy Better Barraza has recently announced that she will be retiring from her position at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) this coming June to focus wholly on Studio Luz Architects. Hansy has worked at RISD for 20 years as a Professor of Architecture. Her tenure at the esteemed design school included serving as the Graduate Program Director in 2014-2017, and spearheading courses aimed at eliminating excuses surrounding the marginalization of BIPOC and queer women in planning and design.  These include “Hidden Figures: The City, Architecture and the Construction of Race and Gender” and “Urban Ecologies,” among others.  Her coursework has ranged from teaching a lecture course on professional practice to design studios focusing on building equitable cities.

Following her final courses at RISD, which will end in June, Hansy has a few ideas for what she wants to concentrate on at Studio Luz. “I want to find ways in which education and building can go hand in hand,” she says. “Now I have the time to dedicate to the design and the operations of the firm. And its potential growth. With my full-time position at RISD, I was leaving the office twice a week to go teach, I couldn’t dedicate that time to the practice, I was not physically there.” Now, she will have the opportunity to be fully immersed.

Hansy has had an illustrious academic career, both at RISD and at other institutions. She’s taught at MIT, Harvard, Cornell, Boston Architectural College, Northeastern, the China Academy of Art, in addition to serving as an invaluable professor and mentor to countless students. Outside of her academic work,  Hansy has been working to address issues of equity and identity in the public realm with projects she is working on with various municipalities.

Students in Hansy Better Barraza’s Urban Ecologies class were charged with creating a design in response to Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood.

“What excited me most about the university was the gatherings around specific topics, and having all these external critics talk about that particular topic.” Hansy noted. “We would engage with questions about how to bring theory and criticism to practice.” Following her retirement in June, Hansy plans on bringing in the theoretical aspect of the academy to practice. “Our cities and communities more than ever, need us to rethink and re-imagine how we plan our cities to be resilient and people-centered” she continued.  “I plan on focusing primarily on university work, given that I have firsthand experience of academic spaces that worked or didn’t work around campus. In addition, I would like for our firm to also explore the concept of housing both as a right and as a commodity, part of an ecosystem that sustains you.” 

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