Dr. Margarita Gonzalez Cardenas, Associate AIA speaks architecture in numerous languages.
Colombian-born, Dr. Gonzalez was inspired by her civil engineer father. By the time she went to architecture school, she was very familiar with the design and construction process thanks to his work.
After she finished her undergraduate degree, Gonzalez spent her first several years as an architect moving around Barcelona, Paris and back to Colombia. During that time, she worked for Xavier Claros in Barcelona, Art’Ur Architectes in Paris and as a professor at the National University of Colombia.
Concurrently, Gonzalez earned her Master of Architecture and Criticism in Barcelona and her Master of Architecture History in Paris. When she was teaching in Colombia, she frequently submitted her work for local and international competitions and won several.
“Half of my time was spent practicing and half was spent doing research, and I felt like I was pulled in two different directions,” said Gonzalez.
She decided to focus more on practicing architecture, but not long after, the National University of Colombia in Bogota tapped her to lead research in the Department of Urban Planning. She also served on the city’s planning commission.
“That was my first experience interacting with people other than architects, which really opened my mind,” Gonzalez explained. “They were really involved with the community and it showed me that architecture is just one small piece of something much larger, like city planning and urban design.”
This experience has influenced Gonzalez’ career ever since.
“There is no way to describe how important other disciplines are in the practice of architecture,” she said.
She reflects on her time serving on urban commissions as an important reminder to talk about people instead of only buildings. “It’s important to realize how different groups understand communities—their problems, their goals—I think it nourishes architecture as a practice and a discipline.”
Being exposed to these diverse opinions in Colombia motivated Gonzalez to pursue her Ph.D. in urban studies through the Higher School of Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris. By immersing herself in a world of sociology and anthropology, Gonzalez grew even more as a designer.
“We need to hear diverse perspectives on how people actually live inside the structures we design.” Gonzalez explained. “How do they interact with what we create? How do they perform their daily activities inside our buildings?”
While earning her Ph.D., Gonzalez worked at TGT Architects as part of the team that designed the continuation of the Champs-Élysées west La Defense in Paris.
Along with her husband, who is also an architect, Gonzalez added several more stamps to her passport when she moved around the Middle East. In Uzbekistan, Gonzalez designed high-end villas; she joined as a junior interior designer for Alhambra Hotel in Raz-Al-Khaima, north Dubai; and taught as a professor in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
In Riyadh, the juxtaposition of being a working mother was pervasive, explained Gonzalez. While it was easier to find work-life balance and more affordable to hire childcare so that she could continue to work, it was also more difficult to be a female in architecture.
“In the Middle East, they don’t really believe in women,” Gonzalez explained. “They don’t trust you unless you keep explaining and insisting. I feel like you have to work twice as hard to be perceived as a professional in the Middle East.”
Gonzalez did not have her daughter until was 37 and admits that it can be difficult to raise children and practice architecture. “I wish I could describe the magic formula for finding balance, but I haven’t found it.”
Part of her and her husband’s choice to move to Colorado and open O&G Properties stemmed from wanting more balance in their lives. They chose Denver because of its rapid growth and thriving economy, while still being one of the smaller metropolises in the country.
“We also love to ski and wanted to live around people that are more open-minded and accepting,” Gonzalez said of her choice.
Having lived and worked across the globe, Gonzalez has seen the positive impact that architecture can make in a variety of communities, from lavish new cities to communities that were built centuries ago.
For example, one European design trend that she hopes will really take hold in Denver is improved public transportation and the ability to bike around the city.
“People do bike in Denver, but there are limited paths where I feel like I can safely bike with my daughter.”
Gonzalez has seen examples of low-cost ways to buffer bike lanes in Northern Europe that help to ensure bicyclists’ safety. She also hopes to see more attention given to public spaces, “where you can stop and relax, even for ten minutes.”
In many cities that Gonzalez has lived, these public squares are successful because they offer all citizens, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, a place to pause and take in their city.
In addition to launching her firm and raising her young daughter, Gonzalez is contributing to the local architecture community by offering her unique perspective on the 2018 Practice + Design Conference Steering Committee.