Cesar Olivas became interested in architecture from an early age through a unique perspective into housing challenges for families. The son of Mexican immigrants, Olivas grew up in Southern California, moving from apartment to apartment. During that time, he experienced firsthand the challenges of affordable housing and displacement. In fact, in the mid 2000’s, Olivas’ family fell victim to the escalating housing costs so notorious in California, which ultimately displacing his family and forced them to move to Colorado in his senior year of high school.
As a response to the challenges in his upbringing, Olivas today has grown into a passionate advocate for better housing solutions and increased educational opportunities for diverse populations within the U.S.
“I have no problem sharing my personal story. My path to architecture was certainly not an easy one – culturally, financially or socially. I hope to never waste a chance, though, to utilize my experience to help young people find hope in their own possibilities,” said Olivas.
Today, Olivas uses his experience to help fundraise for a new scholarship in partnership with CU Denver’s College of Architecture and Planning: the Student Relief and Opportunity Scholarship Fund. Aiming to raise just $10,000 a year, the fund will offer one selected student a semester’s worth of architecture school. It will also provide urgent support in smaller amounts to several others.
“Since joining the building industry here in Colorado and seeing such a stark contrast between the population’s demographic mix and that of our profession, I have been looking for the right ways to help change this problem. CU Denver has been a tremendous partner in setting up this fund aiming to help in this mission, and I am really excited to help press forward with this fundraising effort in the months ahead,” said Olivas.
Because of his passion for increasing diversity around the design table, Olivas also started AIA Colorado’s Jumpstart Architect Committee, which helped to present architecture as a viable career choice to Denver’s inner-city students. While that committee has since wound down, Olivas hopes to inspire other architects to help carry this torch.
“A lot of times kids need an influencer early in their lives if they’re going to find the architecture profession. A lack of minority role models in this profession doesn’t allow for a diverse set of students to truly see themselves being able to be part of it. This effort with the AIA, getting in front of this city’s youth, is a tremendously valuable one and I really hope our architectural community can help continue this program forward in the coming years.”
As a team member at the Denver-based firm Shears Adkins Rockmore (SA+R), Olivas has also had significant opportunities to pursue his passion for creative housing solutions. Olivas served as a longtime member of the AIA Colorado Housing Committee, and has continued those efforts within S+AR. In addition to their dozens of large, urban infill apartment and condominium projects, the firm is currently working with Habitat for Humanity and the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative on an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) project for various West Denver neighborhoods. The firm was also recently selected to design new tiny home concepts for the city’s homeless population.
“We are so proud to have Olivas supporting the work of this firm, and in return, supporting him right back. To have passionate, community-oriented designers on our team like Olivas was our dream all along and we feel lucky to have found him and partnered with him years ago,” said Jesse Adkins, AIA, a partner at SA+R.
Olivas graduated from architecture school in 2009, in the midst of the Great Recession. His experience through this tricky time, emerging into a field where the work was sparse nationally, has greatly influenced his perspective today. As many of his classmates and friends were forced out of architecture and into other fields to earn a living during this time, he is one of the lucky few with a consistent resume working specifically as an intern architect through that time. Olivas did, though, have to move across the country in order to do so. He was able to find a position in the Washington DC area for a few years, before he and his wife ultimately made their home back here in Colorado in 2011.
As a father of two, committed to his architectural practice, Olivas also manages to find time to enjoy all the beautiful parts of our state, primarily on bike. He also serves as a volunteer board member with Bicycle Colorado’s Respect, Inclusion, Diversity, Equity (RIDE) Committee, where he helps the organization’s pursuit of making biking a more accessible mode of transit and sport for people of all colors, cultures and abilities.
“In addition to pushing our profession to be more, do more, and welcome more, I also feel great pride to be a part of this professional community. It’s a pride and responsibility I take very seriously each day as I push myself to be better,” Olivas said.