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Meet Hansy Better Barraza of Studio Luz in Seaport

Today we’d like to introduce you to Hansy Better Barraza.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Hansy. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I was born in Barranquilla, Colombia and immigrated to the United States with my mother for better opportunities when I was six years old. Fast forward….took advantage of educational opportunities in the USA and earned my Bachelors of Architecture degree from Cornell University (1997) and a Masters of Architecture in Urban Design from the Harvard Design School (2000). After I graduated from Harvard, I briefly worked at a couple of other firms before founding Studio Luz with my husband and co-principal Anthony Piermarini in 2002. Anthony and I also co-founded BR+A+CE: Building Research + Architecture + Community Exchange in 2010, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to creating new community spaces. When I am not at Studio Luz, I am a professor at Rhode Island School of Design, where I focus my research and teaching on intersections between design and social responsibility.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has been a very rewarding experience. We have shaped the fabric of Boston through design advocacy. We have been very lucky to have wonderful clients who have entrusted us with taking their projects through from design to construction. The City of Boston have embraced us as Architects who have a vision and care about the quality and execution. Struggles have stemmed from breaking through barriers on project types and scale. There’s a lot of competition in Boston. We are surrounded by so many universities who graduates so many talented architects.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Studio Luz story. Tell us more about the business.
Studio Luz works with a uniquely diverse client base. In last couple of years, we have done work for Sociedad Latina, an amazing non-profit serving Boston’s Latino families, Wellesley College, and individual clients. We have also worked on multi-unit housing projects: we were extremely proud of Piedmont Park Square, an 8-unit apartment building in Boston’s Bay Village. Piedmont was a huge achievement for our office because it integrated sleek, modern lines with the neighborhood’s historic architecture.

Since we founded Studio Luz, Anthony and I have committed ourselves to building a practice seamlessly integrates modern aesthetics, participatory design and social engagement. Although our client base is diverse, these three traits are evident in each design process and result. For example, the project that we did this past year for Wellesley College transformed Acorns House, a historic building on Wellesley’s campus, into a cultural center serving students of Asian and Latina descent and LGBTQ students of color. The design process engaged multiple different groups from Wellesley’s community: students, advisors, administrators, and members of the facilities department. On a tight project timeline of only seven months, we were able to complete a renovation that met each party’s needs. We are most proud of projects like Wellesley, which serve a social good without compromising expressive design.

What do you like best about our city? What do you like least about our city?
Boston is a walkable city. I love walking hours around the different neighborhoods getting to know the people that live in it. What I dislike about our city is that our neighborhoods are still very segregated based on income. I have seen shifts in our neighborhoods where we both work and live. We are in fort point and I have seen artists displaced in the last 10 years due to real estate pressures. Where I live in Roslindale, I have seen the demographics change due to recent gains in popularity of the neighborhood. Every town faces this problem. As a Bostonian, I try to stay engaged with my community and be a voice for not necessarily stopping change but asking questions that will lead us to strengthen the viability of our neighborhoods.

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