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Member Profile: Ruth Vallejos, AIA

ruthI’m a new-old member: I dropped out of the I AIA for a few years during the recession. Also, I have major issues with AIA National, but isn’t that a prerequisite for joining AIA East Bay?

Anyway, I started down the path to architecture making mud villages in my back yard. Also, my parents did a major renovation project every year. Structure, site-work, finishes, equipment, you name it, we did it. This is too far back? OK, I started and finished my BARCH degree at the University of Oregon, enjoying the broad spectrum of classes there, especially architecture history, cultural landscapes, dance, sociology and – of course – design studio.

I graduated in ’83, at the height of a really bad recession in the Pacific NW. I had the choice of moving to Boston or San Francisco. I had family down here, so that was easy. I discovered later that two days before my arrival, HOK and SOM each laid off 60 people. In the Sunday classifieds on the day I arrived there was an ad for a position with a small firm in Marin County. I took Monday off from the job hunt, and arrived at that office on Tuesday with my crisp new resume in hand. They took the 100+ resumes they got the day before and pushed them to the side and I got the job of “Beginning Designer.” Times being what they were, I accepted the position.

After doing custom residential for five years, I moved to the East Bay and started my long association with both Muller & Caulfield Architects and the AIA East Bay. I see those years as a huge expansion of my knowledge base: at work we took on a variety of project types – housing for special needs groups, industrial projects, transportation projects, elementary schools and colleges and historic renovation. At the AIA I took every class I could: practice management, project management, specification writing, etc. And I did my turn on the Board and as President of the chapter. Exhausting but rewarding.

All that time, I was also learning to love Oakland. When I first started, it was the first big city I walked through on a regular basis. So many empty storefronts, so many empty streets – it was pretty lonely andfrightening. Now, it’s an exciting time to be in Oakland – we are hip. No, really, Oakland is hip. From the restaurants, to the Warriors and the First Friday Art walk: this is no longer the town that empties out at 5pm when all the State employees go home. When I work on the weekends, I can’t find a place to park! 25 years after starting with Muller & Caulfield Architects, here I am at MWA Architects (formerly Michael Willis & Associates Architects) in Old Oakland. Our branch of the firm specializes in interiors and “special projects” (such as the renovation and seismic upgrade of part of the Oakland Airport, Terminal 1). And now, I’m called “Senior Architect.”

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