Name: Vy Mai
Hometown: Houston, Texas
Current City: Boston, Massachusetts
Major: Bachelor of Architecture
Graduation Year: 2015
Current Employer: Leers Weinzapfel Associates / Wentworth Institute of Technology
Title: Architect / Adjunct Faculty
Why did you choose the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design? What drew you to design?
In ninth grade, I was enrolled in art rather than theater, my original elective choice. I ended up asking to stay because I made some friends but also liked learning to draw perspectives. My art teacher said I should consider pursuing architecture. I did not act on that suggestion for another six years. I applied to the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design while taking general classes at the University of Houston. In my first-year studio, I felt like this was my place. Design education was right for me. I liked the models. I liked interpreting the brief and creating something original. I liked the trial-and-error nature of working in the studio. Although difficult and often anxiety-inducing, I also liked getting constant feedback from practicing architects on my design project. More than design itself, I was drawn to design education. Design is a fortunate by-product of design work.
What is one of your favorite memories from your time on-campus? Was there a particular professor who influenced your education?
While studying architecture, I acquired a taste for Karbach Rodeo Clown at Pink's Pizza. Celebratory (and delirious) bursts between weeks of late nights with friends were some of the best parts of architecture school.
My undergraduate thesis advisor Bill Truitt was a key influence in my architecture education and, subsequently, my career. The 2014 Pan Asia Summer Program took our studio to Thailand and Myanmar. At the time, Bangkok, Thailand was under curfew during an army coup. Yangon, Myanmar had only been open to foreigners for a couple of years after half a century of authoritarian-led isolation. We were living and learning about these places through analysis, writing, and design, and I had a lot of fun. On this trip, I started believing I could find meaningful architecture work outside my day-to-day life. This experience led me to focus my undergraduate thesis on Myanmar and work in Thailand for a year after graduation. In Thailand, I worked with Agora Architects on the Mae Tao Clinic, a free health clinic for refugees along the Thai-Myanmar border, designing and building a daycare for the children of the clinic. As I was applying to graduate schools while in Thailand, Bill was generous with his time looking over my portfolio. I left Thailand to start my Master of Architecture degree at Harvard GSD. My academic experiences at UH opened up opportunities for me I could have never imagined, and I'm grateful to have had such dedicated professors along the way.
What does a typical day look like in your job? Do you have a particular design or business philosophy?
In the fall semester, my days alternate between teaching first-year studio at Wentworth Institute of Technology and working at Leers Weinzapfel Associates in Downtown Boston. One of the reasons I love living in Boston is because I can teach and practice while riding my bicycle or taking the train between both. I am in the studio two days a week, guiding students through projects with desk crits, presentations, and group discussions. On the other days, I work with a team at the office on presentations, construction documents, or construction administration for various projects. Currently, my main project is under construction, so I go on site visits often.
"My academic experiences at UH opened up opportunities for me I could have never imagined, and I'm grateful to have had such dedicated professors along the way."
"The current career accomplishment I am most proud of is the design of the Williams College Davis Center, a multicultural student center in Williamstown, Massachusetts."
"The quality and rigor of the UH architecture studios built the skills I needed to convey design ideas through diagramming and graphic communication that ultimately spoke to the client."
Top to bottom: Diagram of the glulam structure and light wood frame joists; Axonometric of the Davis Center at Williams College. A winding landscape design brings the buildings together; Render of the Davis Center at Williams College. New addition sitting between historic Rice and Jenness Houses, both of which will be renovated as part of the project; Night render of Davis Center from Bank Street, the commercial street in Williamstown.
What is one career accomplishment of which you are particularly proud? How do you feel the College prepared you for this?
The current career accomplishment I am most proud of is the design of the Williams College Davis Center, a multicultural student center in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The project is a renovation addition restoring a pair of 19th-century residential-scale structures and adding a 100-person lecture space, community kitchen, meeting rooms, and classrooms in a new mass timber building, all to facilitate future programming for the Davis Center. The Davis Center is home to student groups and resources, including the Black Student Union, Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, and Minority Coalition groups. I am excited by the playful design of the folding roofscape and the merging of a contemporary architectural language with historical houses, enhancing the articulation of the Davis Center as a complete complex. The quality and rigor of the UH architecture studios built the skills I needed to convey design ideas through diagramming and graphic communication that ultimately spoke to the client.
Left to right: Miniature mock-up built during the Construction Documents phase. The mock-up was used to refine details; Current picture of the construction site.
Top to bottom: Miniature mock-up built during the Construction Documents phase. The mock-up was used to refine details; Current picture of the construction site.
What is one valuable lesson you learned during your time at the Hines College?
I learned how to persevere in architecture school. Architecture school is long. Late studio nights are long. Projects you work on after school are also very long. One building project can last years. Good things take time.
What piece of advice would you give to current architecture and design students?
Architecture school is a special time. It is where you will start learning what you care about in architecture, with the guidance and support of professors invested in the success of your ideas. You will have the rest of your life to work, so invest as much time as you can as a student during these pivotal years. I think if you prioritize this investment in yourself, you will find work you enjoy after school.
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