Inspiring Future Architects to Make a Difference

(l-r) Hispanic Unity President Josie Bacallao, Claudia Galviz, FAU '07, and
Aron Temkin, RA, director of FAU School of Architecture,
reviewing Claudia's plan for a new Hispanic Unity complex

Claudia Galvis was not able to speak a word of English when she arrived in South Florida from Colombia at age 16.   Coached, educated and encouraged by Hispanic Unity of Florida, Inc, the well-known Broward County agency serving immigrants, Claudia went on to pursue her degree in architecture from FAU.   She was so touched by her experience at Hispanic Unity,   that she chose the organization as the subject of her thesis and designed a new building she hopes one day will become a reality.

The story of this School of Architecture 2007 graduate exemplifies the School's goal to help students see needs in their own communities and use their skills as architects and social problem solvers to make physical improvements, and, as a result, improve the quality of life for all citizens.

Claudia knew since she was a young girl that she wanted to pursue a career that combined her interests in art and science, but never dreamed she would end up practicing architecture in Broward County, Florida.   When she moved to South Florida with her family, she had already graduated from high school and was not able to take classes in the public school system.

At the recommendation of her aunt, who had lived in the United States for two decades, she enrolled in classes at Hispanic Unity, the largest non-profit organization in Broward County dedicated to serving immigrants and their families from varying ethnicities. Services at Hispanic Unity range from English classes, job placement, and emergency assistance to health education, free tax preparation, summer camps, children's literacy, and a senior activity center.

"Hispanic Unity helped me to adjust to a new country and meet people my own age," she recalled.   "Because of their help, my introduction to a new culture was smoother."

One day the registrar for Broward Community College visited Claudia's aunt's business and asked if anyone wanted to go to college.   She told Claudia immediately and helped her enrolled at BCC, where she also got a job in the registrar's office.   Because of her English training, Claudia was able to skip a year of English as a second language (ESOL) classes.   She continued her education at FAU, where she enrolled in the five-year bachelor's of architecture program.   When it came time to tackle her required thesis project, Claudia knew right away it had to be for Hispanic Unity.

"I thought about how much Hispanic Unity had helped me," she said. "When I went there to interview them, I was so impressed by how much they had grown and the services they offered.   I saw right away that their facilities were not adequate."

After spending many hours interviewing Hispanic Unity's President & CEO Josie Bacallao, Claudia began designing the "Center of Hispanic Unity."   She incorporated Josie's requests for a green focus, a campus feel, a place filled with natural light and a gallery-like setting for showcasing Hispanic art.   The design also mirrored her familiarity with Hispanic towns, which grow from a central plaza.

"In any architectural project, you have to envision how it will impact the surrounding community," said Claudia, who studied Hispanic towns around the world.   "I saw this center as being a seed of change in the transitional neighborhood where Hispanic Unity is located."

In her design, a four-story gallery tower, would be visible from Route 441 and serve as a central beacon, just as church steeples do in older towns.   Reflecting pools, garden spaces, and an outside monumental staircase leading to the top of the gallery space are just a few of the details this young designer included in her proposal.   Also included in the Center model are residential elements that blend comfortably with nearby homes, a grand café, long breezeways and multi-purpose areas for special events.

"This is a spiritual space, where people are renewing themselves as immigrants," said Josie, looking at the model of the center for the first time.  
"It would be fantastic to see it become a reality some day."

"Some of our strongest thesis projects have come from students like Claudia seeking to develop real and thoughtful design solutions that engage experiences from their own lives," said Director of the School Aron Temkin.   While a 16-week studio project will not produce all of the details required to construct something of this scale, Claudia's design shows very realizable ideas for the Center.   Certainly, this project could form the seed of a future home for Hispanic Unity.

"Claudia was an excellent student.   Perhaps someday her ideas and vision for this project can become reality."

According to the professor, Claudia was one of only 12 students selected last summer from a national pool to participate in a 10-day student residency program at Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.

Currently, Claudia is working at Architectura Group in Hollywood, Fla. and fulfilling her internship requirements toward professional licensure. She also is preparing to present her concepts to the Hispanic Unity Board of Directors.   Whether or not she is able to see her project become a reality at Hispanic Unity, this FAU graduate promises to make invaluable contributions to our South Florida community.

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