Meet Fiona Smith-Calonico

ABA People

We’re pleased to welcome Fiona Smith-Calonico, a student in Cal Poly SLO’s architecture program, to ABA as our summer intern. Here’s a little Q&A to get to know her.

Tell us a bit about yourself, Fiona.

I am going into my fifth and final year of my architecture degree. My parents are both immigrants who work in a national lab. I grew up in the Tri-Valley with my younger brother, Conor. Some of my interests are painting, crochet, cooking, and environmentalism. Having an Irish father and a Mexican mother, I have been interested in exposing myself to new cultures my whole life. In Mexico it is more common to try and use up what you already have and reduce waste. That is how I became interested in how humans can impact the environment. I became vegetarian when I was 12 for environmental reasons, and now I am interested to see how we can do our part to reduce our impact through the built environment.

What drew you to architecture?

I originally applied to Cal Poly’s architectural engineering major because I had an interest in math and design. Architecture appealed to me because it combines practical application with creativity. I took my first architecture studio course in my freshman year of college, and I immediately knew I wanted to switch over. After all, there is nothing more rewarding than creating something and seeing it come to fruition.

In terms of creating something you can see built, what does good design mean to you?

A good design to me means that the space gets used in a way that promotes a positive community experience. As architects, we can’t always control how people decide to inhabit a space, but we can provide comfortability to encourage people to gather together. A good design is also built to last a very long time. An even better design is site responsive and informed by the context. So, if it gets used for a very long time, I can safely call it a good design.

Is there a particular cause or challenge you feel motivated to engage with as a designer?

Since the built environment is accountable for 42% of the world’s carbon emissions, I feel that is the issue that is the most important to address. The best way to reduce carbon emissions of a building is to prolong its use. Therefore, I am most interested in adaptive reuse and renovation projects. These types of projects come with their own sets of challenges which I find interesting. Hospitals, for example, cannot close down as you renovate them. Some buildings are so old you need to boost the structure to fit the new code. I find these challenges to be exciting to work around.

One last question. Where do you find inspiration as you pursue your architecture studies? Any roles models?

I would say my personal role model is my mother because it amazes me that she has four degrees, runs a nonprofit, has two kids, takes care of a dog, tends to the garden, does all the handiwork, cooks, cleans, and somehow does all of this in her second language. As for my architectural inspirations, I will always strive to design like Terunobu Fujimori. He is a Japanese architect that is a master of biophilia and harmony in architecture. I would love to design buildings as playful as his.

Posted June 26, 2024

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