Meet the Team: Diego Martin

Our vision for Sivana is always evolving but one aspect that stays consistent is the expectation that we are building and fostering a warm, safe community of learners. In the spirit of this resolve, over the course of the next few weeks we will be spotlighting our team of interns and their work on all the improvements coming to our blog, website, and social media. We look forward to all of you meeting the individuals building our learning community, which you can join at www.sivana.live

Today we will focus on Diego:

Three fun facts: favorite time to nap is between 7-9, never skips leg day, favorite little known Peruvian food is salchipapas (French fries with sausage and a ton of sauces)

Bryant:

Hi, my name is Bryant and I’m joined today by my co-worker Diego Martin. How are you doing today?

Diego:

I’m doing good. A little tired, but good overall.

Bryant:

You were born in Lima Peru and moved to Chicago; can you share what it was like immigrating here?

Diego:

Originally when my family came over, we stayed with my aunt and uncle in a Chicago suburb. I’m super grateful for that experience but it was trying in a bunch of ways. I think a lot about how that experience led me to architecture and particularly made place-making really important to me. Growing up there made me change my perspective on how you traditionally use a space and, broadly, how you create a space for people.

Bryant:

Since you just mentioned it. I know your honors project at Vassar was place-making in Peru, can you explain what working on that was like?

Diego:

Place-making is a super broad idea. When I started conceptualizing the thesis the summer before my senior year at Vassar, I was reading a book called “Planet of Slums” by Mike Davis, which discusses how we will live in a world of what popular Western discourse has popularized as slums. But “slums” is both a derogatory term and one that’s starting to be reclaimed. “Slum” just means informal settlement or urbanism, anything that’s not created by formal place making systems.

I found that really radical because there were more ways to live that are outside the hegemonic institution of building practices. How people around the world choose to place-make can just be legitimized through their lived experience. So, while reading Planet of Slums I was amazed by how many architectural phenomena there are in the world. For example, Cairo City of the Dead, which is these catacombs where there are squatters using mausoleums as shelter, or the Tower of David in Venezuela, a half-finished sky-rise squatters took over during the financial crisis of 2013–squatters made an entire building management system and everything. But frequently these place-making wonders would eventually get shut down by governments and I was shocked by the hypocrisy. It felt like governments could see the flaws in these systems but not their own.

So, for my thesis I wanted to tackle that issue and turn it into a portfolio project that was engaging and made people want to read these stories. Since I didn’t have time to do all of them, I decided to pick one, and that was barriadas, informal settlements in Peru. Coming from Peru they were close to my heart and in doing research I was able to learn even more. For example, there are a lot of similarities between the formalized building practices in Peru and the barriadas. There is mostly just a difference between the resources used… I could talk about this forever, haha.

Bryant:

It’s really amazing that your capstone project doesn’t just highlight your four years in college but so much of what you’d been through up to that point in life. Was it a conscious decision, to go all the way back to where you were born, or did it just happen?

Diego:

It’s funny that you mentioned that. After I turned in the thesis and showed it to my mom, she told me about how much it reminded her of home. And then she said, “I didn’t tell you that we lived there?” (laughs). Even though my parents were engineers in Peru they had a similar urban experience. It just goes to show the expansiveness.

Bryant:

Do you think all the urban studies thinking you’ve done, and its interdisciplinary nature has played a role in your interdisciplinary approach to the studio art courses you’ve taken?

Diego:

I think the appeal of it is similar, but more selfishly I think that the perspectives you get from putting together different disciplines presents a certain freedom. At the beginning of college, I liked not having to choose and then I learned how beneficial that could be for my creativity.

Bryant:

Transitioning to the art side of your work, when did that start?

Diego:

I was always good at drawing, but I think a lot of my creativity comes from my family not having a lot of money when I was growing up, and me having to be resourceful in finding ways to create. I remember we had one of those boardgames sets—one of the ones everyone has that has like six board games in it. My cousin, who lived on the first floor, had the connects building magnets, but there weren’t enough pieces for me, so I started to use all the different games in the boardgame sets to build cities. My aunt would yell at me for misusing the games, but all I was doing was reconfiguring what I had to make something new. Just like so many other people around the world.

Bryant:

It’s so amazing that you’ve been working through the same ideas for so long but are able to keep finding more within them. Was there ever a time when you completely broke away from art and place-making and wanted to do something else?

Diego:

In high school (laughs). All the guys I was running cross country with were doing engineering, and I knew that I liked art and architecture, but the engineering course had my friends and it was an honors course (which is kind of fucked up, right?), so I ended up taking it. All that time in technical courses made my transition back to art in college a little difficult, since I was upset that I wasn’t learning technical skills like Adobe Illustrator, but learning to think outside the box is more important.

Bryant:

What made you choose Vassar?

Diego:

I applied on a whim and I didn’t love the idea of going there, but they gave me the best financial aid package. They were the only school that listened when I tried to explain that my legal guardians, my aunt, and uncle, weren’t going to be paying for my school since my parents were.

Bryant:

I’m sure Vassar would love to hear that. Considering it prides itself on having good financial aid (laughs). When you’re designing something, what’s your process?

Diego:

I guess in design, I try to combine my formalized Western education and the perspectives I’ve characterized as a maverick that’s separate from any popularized discipline. I try to use context to create a form, looking above and below for alternatives. It’s in the exploration of alternatives I think meaning can be derived.

Bryant:

I love this idea of context over form. It sounds quite poetic which leads me to one of your interests, spoken word poetry. You have a lot of extra-curricular passions from cooking, to singing a capella. How did you get into spoken word poetry and why is it meaningful to you?

Diego:

I was part of a high school college access program called the Schuler scholar program and they took me to a spoken word event called Louder than a Bomb which to this day is the best collection I’ve ever heard of spoken word poets. I just loved seeing all these college and high school students on stage speaking their truths and hearing people support them and since then it’s always been something I go back to for inspiration. I love button poetry, Phil and Sarah Kay, Rudy Francisco, and Adam Faulkner.

Bryant:

You also were involved in a capella singing. How’d that happen?

Diego:

I joined choir in sixth grade. Then I did theatre and more choir through high school and I just wanted to continue in college, so I auditioned for the Vassar Accidentals.

Bryant:

You also did some work with Interboro?

Diego:

I interned there the summer of 2018. It’s a firm headed by one of my most influential professors. That summer I composed a 24-foot-long model out of re-purposed wood to present different matrix options for a streetscape. The goal was to present it to Detroit residents so they could play around with it like a boardgame and figure out what they wanted. The question I was trying to answer was, what makes a safe streetscape vs. an unsafe streetscape? And, how is what I’m taught in school reflected in the minds of residents?

Bryant:

Wow, you created a translation object between the world of architects and people like me that don’t know anything.

Diego:

Yes! It’s the phrase: “the role of an architect has to be an advocate before a technocrat.” I think that’s true about so many systems. It’s why I like Sivana’s mission, because it’s valuing the knowledge of people that don’t necessarily have a formalized education.

Bryant:

Staying with Sivana, you’re teaching charcoal drawing. Why that over any of the many other topics you could teach?

Diego:

I liked that it wasn’t thinking-heavy. Art was taught to me as a visual language that could communicate ideas and emotions and I think there’s something therapeutic about that. I felt like I could teach charcoal drawing and do my work and it wouldn’t feel like too much.

Bryant:

Charcoal is one of the more unforgiving tools. Is there something about that quality that you like?

Diego:

No, I really like its range of abilities and how many different things you can do with it.

Bryant:

You’re our boss’s go-to person for anything that involves creative thinking and design. How have you felt about that role and working at Sivana in general?

Diego:

I have a studio art and architecture background, but this is the first time I’ve gotten to think about creating from the perspective of a user and that’s been amazing. I get to think about people and education. I love having a voice in the values of the company as well.

Bryant:

I know grad school is next, but where do you see yourself in five years?

Diego:

So, in five years I’ll be one year out of getting my Master’s. I know I will not be in city government. I will not be in some huge multi-million-dollar firm since I want personal connections with the people I work for. I will be practicing design, but whether it’s at a small firm or teaching, I’m not sure.

Bryant:

You’ve made a boardgame. How did that happen?

Diego:

I presented the boardgame at my senior reception for urban studies and it was received really well, but I never got to the finalizing steps (laughs) which I feel badly about. I really should reach out to people at some point.

Bryant:

If architecture school is the five-year plan, then boardgames can be in the ten-year plan.

Diego:

It’ll be my backup plan. (laughs).

Bryant:

Thank you so much for doing this interview!

Diego:

Thank you for having me!

3 thoughts on “Meet the Team: Diego Martin

  1. Pingback: Sivana Savant

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