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Outstanding Herberger undergraduate inspired by indigenous culture

Julia Lopez wants to be an advocate for those without a voice in design

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Julia Lopez has kept a close connection to her heritage, which has inspired in her design work.

Lopez, who is earning a BSD in interior design, has been named the Outstanding Undergraduate by the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University.

“I grew up in a small town in Mexico and the indigenous people there focus on building with things they had, because they didn’t have many resources,” said Lopez, whose family is form Chihuahua, where she would spend a month every summer.

“So I want my design to focus on simple materials,” she said.

“The indigenous people feel a connection to the earth and the way things grow and how when you build something, you factor in the place it’s in. They use materials from the earth, like adobe.”

Lopez became interested in the way spaces make people feel.

“I discovered the design was a great outlet for my creativity and that it can enhance emotions and things like that,” she said.

Julia Lopez is the Herberger Institute's Outstanding Undergraduate this semester.

Lopez, who is an active member in the ASU Latino Architecture Student Organization, also has worked as the Kids at Hope program coordinator at Garfield Elementary School in Phoenix, where she helped the young students design rockets.

She answered some questions from ASU Now:

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I grew up in the Phoenix area and I chose ASU because of the location and also because The Design School intrigued me. The focus on interdisciplinary collaboration is really important in design because you’re working across different fields, like architecture and landscape.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: One of the major things I learned was how to collaborate with others. I’m a reserved person and quiet but being at The Design School has helped me to open up and work with others and learn from them.

This semester, before everything happened, we were working with Porter Elementary School in Mesa and the Mesa Arts Center on a design/build studio where we were going to create a space for the public to connect with their inner child. We worked with the kids, who really opened our eyes to a different perspective. We learned a lot from them.

It’s unfortunate it never got built. We were a week away when everything happened. But it’s an experience I’ll take away with me.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Elena Rocchi has been a mentor for the past four years. Even just over coffee she taught me design and how to be a better human. Her classes focused on architecture and learning about the narrative of a place and I discovered myself and my story through her. One class was “The Image of Rome” and I learned about Rome and our own cities and it helped me to discover my passion.

Jose Bernardi was special to me because he’s also Hispanic and it’s important to have someone from the same culture and values. He focuses on design using simple materials and in one of the studios he taught, we designed a homeless shelter, which was an eye-opening project. We got to collaborate with shelters in the Valley like Circle the City and interview people to understand how design can affect people and how to create simple spaces that promote healing and hope.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Don’t be afraid. You’re going to make mistakes and want to compare yourself to others. That’s OK, but get past that and don’t be afraid to venture out and discover yourself. Another thing that helped me was learning from my classmates and groups at ASU, like the Latino architecture organization.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: One of my go-to spots is the ASU Art Museum. On the stairs outside, it’s so peaceful and the lighting works well there.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I got accepted into the master’s of architecture program at ASU. I want to focus on public design, like libraries, and being an advocate for people who may not have a voice when it comes to design.

marybeth.faller@asu.edu