When Architecture Professor Diana de la Torre Arredondo was in the fourth grade, the recession hit her family so hard they had to move from San Diego to Tijuana where it was more affordable to live. Her father, who worked as a draftsman and in construction for most of her life, bought a small empty lot and designed and built their home across the border.
“I got to see that process, I got to see my dad sketching and doing the drawings and digging the trenches and pouring the foundations,” she said. “It opened my eyes to the fact that someone could just think of something and really build it and make it and then live in it.”
Seeing her father build their home in Tijuana was de la Torre Arredondo’s first introduction to the power of architecture and how it can serve communities and families. Since she was a kid she knew she wanted to be do something related to architecture. When she returned to San Diego and graduated from Castle Park High School, she enrolled in architecture classes at Southwestern College.
When de la Torre Arredondo started at Southwestern College, under the guidance of professor Tom Rogo, she took her first design studio classes and fell in love with architectural design.
“I fell in love with the fact that you can take an idea in your head, draw it on paper, create a model and know that one day it could actually be built,” she said. “I was fascinated by that, so I decided to go into the design aspect of the field.”
But even then in her early career as a student, she knew she wanted to come back and teach. She was a tutor while attending Castle Park High and Southwestern College. She tutored at local libraries and was part of the AmeriCorps program, where she helped elementary school students learn to read.
“I loved that aspect of teaching, being able to help someone and see them understand a complicated concept,” she said. “I love having the opportunity to help students succeed.”
De la Torre Arredondo went on to receive her bachelor’s degree from California College of the Arts and her master’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles before she returned to Southwestern College six years ago as an architecture professor.
“Our students here are very different than the students at any other community college,” she said. “Because of my own life experiences, it’s easier for me to connect to my students. I want them to see me as a mentor, not just a professor who makes them do homework.”
Part of developing those mentorships is taking the time to teach her students about career paths, transfer opportunities and scholarships available to them. One of de la Torre Arredondo’s biggest projects as the advisor to the Southwestern College architecture club is their university tour series where they visit all 11 architecture schools in California.
“We want to open our students’ eyes so they can see what’s out there,” she said. “Every single school is different – the environment, the atmosphere, the type of things they teach, so students have to find the right match. We try to do our best to help our students and foster that exploration.”
As a result, her students have gone on to transfer to top university architecture programs including California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; California College College of the Arts; University of Southern California; Yale; and Harvard. Many of them go on to have careers, not just as licensed architects, but also as graphic designers, industrial designers, furniture designers and telemedia professionals.
“Learning how to think creatively opens up a lot of doors for them,” she said. “Yes, we teach them how to design a building, how to put them together and how to create construction documents. But we teach them about the thought process behind it all.”
If you’ve ever walked past the 500 building at the Chula Vista campus during the spring, you may have noticed de la Torre Arredondo’s students building structures for their Design Village. Each year a group of students designs and builds structures they enter at the annual student architecture competition at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where the club often comes home with top awards.
Over the summer, you’ll see de la Torre Arredondo teaching the College for Kids class, “Homes for the Homeless,” where she teaches young, gifted middle school students how to design mobile structures for homeless people. Students also learn about the plight of homeless people living in San Diego and how architecture can change communities and lives.
“Architecture is the art and science of designing and constructing buildings,” she said. “It’s a combination of both and you can’t have one without the other. If you build a building without design, it’s just a box. That box has to have a function. In order for it to be good architecture, it has to be aesthetically pleasing. It has to evoke emotion.”