Member Spotlight: Wanda Dalla Costa


August is an exciting time at AWA+D; it’s a moment to look back on the accomplishments of our past fiscal year, and an occasion to look ahead at the next 12 months as we bring on new leaders, establish and extend our goals, and start the process of reaching out to members as they renew their own commitments and memberships with the organization. In anticipation of our Design Talks: Indigenous Architecture event being generously hosted by Knoll at their Santa Monica Showroom on Wednesday, August 5th, AWA+D is offering those who met us at the Dwell on Design event and those simply contemplating membership a chance to try us out. Check out our event pricing here, and read on to learn more about the fascinating work and background of our event speaker, Wanda Dalla Costa, Principal and Owner of Redquill Architecture Inc.

1.    Biographical InformationI put a backpack on 25 years ago and headed for Australia & New Zealand. I intended to spend a year abroad; I travelled for seven years. The Australian indigenous peoples sparked my curiosity – the patterns in the artwork, the lines on their body paint and the symbols inscribed in rock. I also was fascinated by their affinity for their land. I heard that those who wandered urban environments were tracing the paths of their traditional territories.After exploring 37 countries (working, living and backpacking), I came home to North America to understand my own culture. I am a member of the Saddle Lake First Nation in Northern Alberta. We are part of the larger group, Nehiyawak or Cree, which number 300,000 in Canada. Growing up ‘urban’ there were missed opportunities for the generational transfer of knowledge. Fortunately, the job of an architect is the perfect vehicle to investigate and ask questions.I started Redquill Architecture Inc. in 2010 to work exclusively with tribal communities. My goal is to study traditional worldviews and find ways to re-embed meaning within the built environment. Prior to this, I worked at Formline Architecture (a Native owned firm), Perkins + Will (formerly Busby & Associates Architects) and Zeidler Partnership Architects.I will be taking a one-year Eminent Scholar position at Arizona State University this fall to explore the subject of indigenous architecture and construction. I have been Adjunct faculty at Woodbury University’s School of Architecture since 2012. I received a Master of Architecture from the Faculty of Environmental Design, University of Calgary (2002) and a Master of Design Research in City Design, Planning and Policy from SCI-ARC or the Southern California Institute of Architecture (2011).

2.    Why did you want to become an architect?To explore the potential for cultural meaning within built environments, specifically architecture as a means to preserve culture and as a teaching tool for future generations.

3.    Who have been your greatest influencers? Why?Douglas Cardinal is a Native architect from Alberta, Canada. Cardinal was the underdog competing for the Museum of Civilization in Quebec, yet he had the boldness to disregard mainstream architectural styles and forge his distinctive curvilinear landscape-inspired forms. He was also a pioneer with computerization. In order to calculate and construct complex curves his office was fully digital by the 1970’s.

4.    What do you feel are some of your most important achievements?Having a 3-year old and finding balance in this profession. Becoming the first Status Indian women in Canada to become an architect. Representing a minority perspective (cultural + female) within this profession.

5.    What are some of the insights of being a woman in your occupation?I continuously look for female role models. I want to understand what contributes to their success and happiness in this field. Is it a work-life balance? Is it their behavior or attitude? These traits provide insight for all of us.

6.    What excites you creatively, spiritually or emotionally?Contemporary expression imbued with depth and meaning. Innovative use of traditional materials. Spaces that ground us, connect us to humanity, and inspire ways of knowing.

7.    What do you think/hope your occupation will look like in 10 years?The decline of modernism as a global solution will continue to inspire diverse perspectives. Architecture, as an amalgamation of art, science and most importantly, the humanities or the study of culture, necessitates not only artistic creativity and technological innovation, but also an acute perception of culture.

8.    What role do/have you played in AWA+D and what is the importance of the organization in your life?I am a new member (since 2014). I attend the monthly salons, which are invaluable for meeting women in the profession, finding role models, and staying informed with current perspectives and events.

9.    What advice would you give the graduating class of 2020?Find fuel for your perspective by reading, traveling, learning and listening. It may take years to express and articulate, but trust your early beliefs and predispositions, especially those you had prior to architecture school.