Marcela Oliva, Assoc. AIA​ - Professor, Architecture and Environmental Design, LATTC & Board Member, USGBC LA
Marcela Oliva, Assoc. AIA​ - Professor, Architecture and Environmental Design, LATTC & Board Member, USGBC LA


Questions for Marcela Oliva, Assoc. AIA​Professor, Architecture and Environmental Design, LATTC & Board Member, USGBC LA

Personal Background and Design Philosophy:

What initially drew you to the field of architecture, and what aspects of architecture specifically excite you?

I was drawn to architecture by the power of space and the potential it holds for design. What excites me most is the opportunity to tap into the incredible talent within our neighborhoods and catalyze it in creative ways.

Can you describe a defining moment or project in your career that shaped your design approach?

A pivotal moment for me was realizing the impact of population growth and the need for quality living spaces. This awareness has shaped my approach to design, emphasizing the importance of creating spaces that sustain and enhance communities. It is simple math, we need more people participating.

What are your core values as an architect/designer, and how do they translate into your design decisions?

My core values revolve around elevating the impact and responsibility of architecture toward our planet’s future. As architects, we are uniquely trained to tackle complexities and utilize all available tools to create solutions that foster thriving communities.

Questions about LATTC’s entry for the 10X Grand Prize: Clean Cooling Student Competition:

1. Biomimicry Inspiration: Can you elaborate on the specific biological principles or natural phenomena that inspired your shade structure and cooling system design? How did this influence the form and functionality of your solution?

Our shade structure and cooling system design draws inspiration from various biological principles. We utilize biomimicry to maximize natural ventilation, optimize light filtration, and incorporate mathematical patterns that enhance spatial efficiency and align with neuroscience. Research has shown that mimicking natural forms and processes in design can improve human well-being and environmental sustainability (Gibson et al., 2017).

2. Scalability and Replication: How did your team ensure the scalability and replicability of your design across different urban settings? What are the key design elements that allow for easy replication in various communities?

Incorporating gamification as a scientific methodology, our design ensures scalability and replicability across diverse urban settings. By integrating architecture and engineering tools, we empower broader participation from conceptualization to maintenance, fostering carbon-free neighborhoods. Studies have demonstrated that gamification can enhance engagement and learning outcomes in various fields, including urban planning and design (Deterding et al., 2011).

3. Community Engagement: Describe your plan for engaging with the target communities in Pico-Union. How will you ensure that the design addresses their specific needs and preferences while empowering them to maintain the system?

Our plan focuses on engaging with target communities through educational initiatives and workforce development. By connecting learning and making with community improvement, we facilitate personal transformation and ensure that the design addresses specific needs and preferences. Research indicates that community-engaged approaches lead to more sustainable and equitable outcomes in urban development and the completion of degrees and certificates.(Shier et al., 2018).

4. Low-Maintenance Considerations: Considering the involvement of local talent with potentially limited maintenance expertise, how did your team prioritize low-maintenance materials and design elements for the cooling system?

We prioritize low-maintenance materials and design elements by leveraging the self-teaching capabilities of community members and access to certification programs. Additionally, our project serves as a testing ground for new green products, enhancing efficiency and availability. Studies have shown that investing in low-maintenance and sustainable infrastructure can reduce long-term operational costs and environmental impact (Gupta et al., 2019).

5. Sustainability Beyond Cooling: Does your design offer additional benefits beyond mitigating heat, such as rainwater harvesting, light filtration, or fostering community interaction?

Beyond mitigating heat, our design offers additional benefits such as rainwater harvesting, light filtration, and fostering community interaction. These features are simulated and tested virtually for efficiency and ease of deployment. Research suggests that multifunctional design solutions can optimize resource use and enhance social cohesion in urban environments (Sloane et al., 2020).

6. Cost-Effectiveness: How did your team approach the cost of materials and construction to ensure the affordability of implementing the cooling system in underserved communities?

Working closely with local and national companies specializing in trades related to our project, we ensure affordability without compromising quality. Collaborations with associations further facilitate cost-effective implementation in underserved communities. Studies have demonstrated that collaborative approaches involving multiple stakeholders can lead to more cost-effective and sustainable infrastructure projects (Loorbach et al., 2016).

7. Implementation Timeline: If chosen for implementation, what is your team’s proposed timeline for building and installing the first iteration of your shade structure and cooling system?

Our proposed timeline for building and installing the first iteration of our shade structure and cooling system is 6 months, including community training and systems for duplication. Research suggests that efficient project management and stakeholder engagement are critical for meeting implementation timelines in complex infrastructure projects (Flyvbjerg et al., 2003).

8. Future Vision: Beyond the competition, how does your team envision this project evolving or being adapted to address broader urban heat challenges in the future?

Beyond the competition, our project has garnered interest from multiple government agencies and private companies. Regardless of additional funding, we are committed to evolving and advancing the project to address broader urban heat challenges in the future. Continued collaboration with stakeholders and ongoing research will be essential for scaling up and adapting our design to meet evolving urban challenges.

For more info about the 10X Grand Prize, please CLICK HERE.

Marcela Oliva, Assoc. AIA​Professor, Architecture and Environmental Design, LATTC & Board Member, USGBC LA

For over a decade, she has served as the Knowledge Architect for the $9 billion Building Program at the Los Angeles Community College District, leading the development of the nation’s largest Digital Twin/Virtualization BIM/GIS System, in accordance with National Intelligence Standards. As a Professor of Architecture and Environmental Design at LATTC, she founded UCLA Extension Courses in Transforming Community and Design for Social Justice, underscoring her proficiency in Omniverse/Metaverse/Digital Twins and their impact on society. Her significant contributions to NASA’s Knowledge Management and as the principal investigator for the Cyber-Physical Systems NSF Grant highlight her leadership in the field. Recognized with the California Governor’s Award in Geospatial Technologies, she is a prominent speaker at forums dedicated to education, technology, and social justice worldwide. Accolades such as the Alpha Rho Chi Medal from USC and the 2012 Educator of the Year award emphasize her innovative use of biomimicry with digital twins. Holding degrees in Architecture and Building Science from USC and Columbia University, and leading initiatives like the Mayor’s Workforce Initiative for the Green New Deal, she continues to be a pioneer in AEC education and practice. The 2022 AIA LA Presidential Award for Educator of the Year further confirms her lasting impact on academia and the industry. She also serves on the Board of Directors for USGBC LA, Pando Populus, and Architecture and Advocacy. Her Architecture and Environmental Design Program at LATTC was recognized by the Los Angeles Business Journal at the Diversity, Equity + Inclusion Symposium. Celebrated as a champion in the Los Angeles region, her efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the AEC industry span higher education, the workplace, and business leadership, fostering an environment where diversity and equity can flourish. Building on this foundation of inclusivity and leadership, she has recently collaborated closely with NOMA to introduce a certified course endorsed by the United Nations for the “New Urban Agenda.” This partnership exemplifies her commitment to expanding educational opportunities and advancing urban development strategies that embrace social justice and sustainability, reinforcing her role as a visionary in shaping the future of architecture and environmental design.


How can we create neighborhoods where every person has access to experience their human rights: to work, produce, create, heal, to access healthy food and shelter, free energy, clean air, fertile soil, feel safe, enjoy green spaces, move easily whether by walking or driving, express their art, perform, and learn?

I believe Architects play the most important role. These are fundamental human rights according to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted in 1948, serving as the foundation of modern human rights law. Starting with the most dilapidated neighborhood as our focal point, our solution presents a comprehensive solution to address these challenges and eliminate poverty, eradicate crime, and resolve educational and health crises. Through environments characterized by low carbon production, the use of net-zero products, recycling initiatives, and adherence to Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria, our platform strategically identifies opportunities for urban interventions to uplift one neighborhood at a time and foster networking among all. Urban interventions, likened to acupuncture for the planet and the neighborhood, embody a strategic, pinpointed approach to urban development and revitalization. Much like acupuncture seeks to relieve stress and heal the body by targeting specific points, urban acupuncture targets precise areas within a city for intervention, aiming to relieve stress on the urban environment, stimulate social and economic improvements, and enhance the overall health and well-being of the community. These interventions are typically small-scale, localized initiatives that, despite their size, have the potential to bring about significant positive changes.

As a member of the USGBC CA Board and an AIA Citizen Architect in LA, my role extends far beyond traditional architectural practice. Through my involvement in these esteemed organizations, I have the opportunity to leverage my expertise and influence to promote sustainable and community-centric design principles.

Within the USGBC CA Board, I actively engage in initiatives aimed at advancing green building practices and promoting environmental stewardship within the architectural community. By advocating for sustainable design standards and policies, I contribute to shaping the future of architecture in California, ensuring that our built environment aligns with the principles of environmental sustainability and resilience.

Similarly, as an AIA Citizen Architect in LA, I am committed to using architecture as a vehicle for positive social change. Through educational outreach programs, public advocacy campaigns, and community engagement initiatives, I strive to empower individuals and communities to actively participate in the design process and advocate for equitable and inclusive built environments.

By integrating my roles as a board member, educator, and practitioner, I can facilitate new levels of collaboration and interdisciplinary exchange within the field of architecture. Through workshops, lectures, and collaborative projects, I seek to foster dialogue and collaboration between architects, policymakers, educators, and community stakeholders, ultimately enriching the practice of architecture and promoting the common good.

As a Professor, USGBC CA Board member, and an AIA Citizen Architect in LA, I have a unique platform to elevate the discourse surrounding sustainable design and community engagement. By bridging the gap between theory and practice, I endeavor to inspire the next generation of architects to embrace their role as stewards of the built environment and advocate for positive change.

BOOK LAUNCH – Terrestrial Architecture Book  – May 7th

I wanted to emphasize the importance of this book in my school of thought and the development of innovative applied curriculum thinking of our participation in new ways. Terrestrial Architecture Book dives deep into the concepts of environmental design and large-scale architecture, exploring the future of our biological systems at critical scales. Through the frameworks of geometry, geospatial modeling, and philosophy the book outlines the sacred relationship of design and computation with the biosphere. By analyzing ecological and biological systems, we can better comprehend the nature of creation and imagine particular futures for our cities, our ecologies, and our planet as a whole. Terrestrial Architecture outlines opportunities to engage in the transformation of our environments through techniques of design, visualization, and collaborative thinking, providing space for all to have agency in our Earth’s evolution..   May 7th is the Book Launch.