Alumni Spotlight:
Cindy Villarreal ('07)

December 12, 2023

Name: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­Cindy Villarreal, AIA, MBA, WELL AP
Hometown: Houston, Texas
Major: Bachelor of Architecture, Bachelor of Science in Environmental Design
Graduation Year: 2007
O’Connell Robertson
Houston Office Director

"There were many voices (and statistics) along the way that all said my becoming a registered architect was highly unlikely, but the voice inside me that believed I would be was the loudest. I hope to be that positive voice for someone."

Vision care, Glasses, Smile, Shoulder, Fashion, Sleeve, Standing, Eyewear, Collar

Why did you choose the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design? What drew you to design?
I am a Houston native and wanted to stay in Houston for college, and I was fortunate my hometown offered such an amazing, accredited program. Although I did not have any design professionals as context growing up, I was attracted to creating from a young age and looked for ways to express my creativity. As a first-generation student navigating through my educational journey, I was driven by the unearthing of knowledge. I anticipated majoring in international business during high school to complement my foreign language focus. Still, I remember looking at the courses on the day of orientation when I decided to change my major to Architecture. I loved my first year in studio and have never looked back. Architecture is the perfect profession combining the art and technical aspects of creating.

What is one of your favorite memories from your time on campus? Was there a particular professor who influenced your education?
I felt compelled to learn as much as possible about architecture during my first year. I recall loving the Jenkins Architecture, Design, and Art Library; it felt like a privilege to have a dedicated space where I would walk down the aisles and find dozens of books about design. The professor I think about most often is Donna Kacmar because she was very supportive. A group of us entered a national competition on airport design in my third year, and Donna reached out to her industry contacts. We were able to speak directly with someone from the Houston Airport System, who guided us through the project. This was in addition to our regular schoolwork, and I admire how she also put in extra effort and personal time to support our team.

Tell us about a typical day in your job. Do you have a particular design or business philosophy?
I wear many hats and enjoy the fact that my job is not typical. I serve as the director of the Houston office, a mentor, a project manager and architect, and chair for our internal wellness committee. My day may include client or user meetings, site visits, coaching others, networking, presenting, working on proposals, and generally meeting needs as they arise. The diversity in my day-to-day work is what I truly love. A philosophy that applies to design and business goes deeper than listening and focuses on a sincere effort to understand the client and the project’s users. When an end-user makes specific requests regarding the space, I explore the why to understand their perspective. This helps me approach design with empathy and insight. I then strive to optimize the function of the space for their particular needs while still creating flexibility to adapt to other requests and future possibilities.

above: THE Debakey high school for health professions; the labs for the university of kansas integrated sciences building; Two interior views of the San Antonio college Science Building

What is one career accomplishment of which you are particularly proud? How do you feel the College prepared you for this?
The breadth of projects I have worked on has been very rewarding, particularly the technical aspects of academic health and innovation projects for higher education clients. I have contributed to schools of nursing, allied health, and dentistry, as well as life science facilities with teaching and research laboratories for future biologists and neuroscientists. Helping create the spaces where these remarkable future professionals practice their expertise and hone the skills they will take into their real-life profession gives me a sense of pride.

The Hines College trained me to rely on data and to be informed as much as possible. I still practice gathering large amounts of information to consider many perspectives, variants, and constraints before diving into a solution or decision. Additionally, I am proud to be an example and a reference point for others, specifically minority women currently experiencing a similar path in the design and construction industry. There were many voices (and statistics) along the way that all said my becoming a registered architect was highly unlikely, but the voice inside me that believed I would be was the loudest. I hope to be that positive voice for someone.

What is one valuable lesson you learned during your time at the Hines College?
So much of architecture is an expression of ideation through the creation of form and space. In completing my senior thesis, I quickly learned how challenging it is to write about design. I am thankful my major required a thesis to graduate with honors. This experience demonstrated to me the importance of written communication and competent explanation of technical aspects. Strong written and verbal communication skills are necessary for my career and are essential for the success of any architect.

What advice would you give to current architecture and design students?
Embrace the design and problem-solving challenges of the coursework. Focus on the essence of assignments to discover optimal solutions and train yourself in processes resulting in best practices. Learn to think critically, collaborate, flex your creative strength, and enjoy your educational journey.

Social Media: LinkedIn


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