Giving Back to the Community

Thinking like a designer means thinking about the experience.

That’s the approach School of Architecture alumna Mary Telling took when her career brought her design skills face-to-face with the task of creating affordable housing in San Francisco.

“I’m thinking about the experience—how does the tenant feel when they’re walking into the space? Do they feel safe? Do they feel connected to the community that surrounds them?” Mary said. “It’s not about me anymore, it’s about the community that I serve.”

Earning her M.A. from the Academy in 2009, Mary has taken various measures to improve the lives of underserved populations. Working as project designer for several affordable housing projects in the Bay Area, Mary draws inspiration from her experiences living in dynamic urban environments such as Tokyo, Brussels, and San Francisco’s Mission District.

“She had the balance between the student who wanted to get as much out of her education as possible, and the person who saw herself in the world, really in this for the long run,” School of Architecture undergraduate director Jennifer Asselstine said.

Currently, Mary works as project architect for 2060 Folsom—a new affordable family housing development featuring 127 apartment units for families and transitional-age youth in the Mission District. She also works on affordable housing projects spread around the Bay Area—including a new 147-unit mixed-use development in Hercules and senior housing developments for the Chinatown Community Development Center.

“Academy of Art University was the most impactful on my career,” she said. “The [School of Architecture] was extremely responsive and gave us the tools that we needed in order to be on the cutting-edge of the profession. It’s an amazing career path.”

For aspiring student-architects looking to make in the industry, Mary encourages them to remember the impact of their endeavors.

“I really get to experience so many different disciplines and I just hope that [students] stick with it,” she said. “It’s definitely a rewarding experience.”

Learn more about Mary’s story here, and find out how you can get your start by exploring the degree programs and sources at our School of Architecture.