Platt/Whitelaw Architects has always embraced the beautiful diversity of our region’s population, and it’s consistently been reflected within our staff. Collectively, our team speaks five languages and represents heritage from countries around the world.
In this spirit, we’re paying tribute to National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15) by highlighting Platt/Whitelaw staff members Yolanda Velazco, LEED GA and Richard (Ricky) Sanchez.
As stated on the National Hispanic Heritage Month website, “We celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month to recognize the achievements and contributions of Hispanic American champions who have inspired others to achieve success.”
We’re proud to have our own Hispanic American Champions on our staff.
Yolanda grew up in San Diego but attended school in Tijuana and spoke only Spanish growing up. Despite earning a full-ride scholarship to a university in Mexico, Yolanda decided she wanted to attend college in California.
Her family was concerned that her language skills would hold her back, but Yolanda wasn’t deterred. She spent three years at Southwestern College, the first of which was comprised entirely of ESL classes. She quickly gravitated toward architecture and earned an associate degree. From there, she was accepted as a third-year student at Cal Poly Pomona.
“It was a big struggle for me,” said Yolanda. “I had to figure it out, including loans and scholarships.”
Now she gives back to others facing the same struggles. A former classmate who ended up in charge of the architecture program at Southwestern provided Yolanda with an opportunity to assist in design reviews for the college’s architecture students and to speak with them about her experiences. Yolanda also mentored a student who was facing many of the same language barrier challenges Yolanda experienced.
She sees her bi-cultural experience as a strength and something that influences her work. Considering Platt/Whitelaw’s focus on civic work, “we’re designing for diversity,” Yolanda said. She’s also found that her bi-lingual skills help her connect with community members and stakeholders during design charettes and other outreach meetings.
“Often, people are surprised when I can switch to speaking Spanish,” she said. “Something changes on their faces, and I can tell it creates trust.”
In contrast to Yolanda’s experience, Ricky’s immersion into American schooling happened earlier in his life, when his family moved to San Diego from Tijuana during his third-grade year of school.
“I hated it,” he said. “I was in bi-lingual classes until the end of junior high school. It was cool, though, that I got straight A’s from elementary school through high school.”
In fact, it was the opportunity for a better education for their kids that prompted his parents’ move to the States. Ricky became the first in his family to attend college when he earned a full-ride scholarship to San Diego State University.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering, he earned a second degree—this time in architecture—from NewSchool of Architecture & Design.
“I’m thankful to my family, and I’m proud of being Mexican and representing my culture in the U.S. architectural world,” he said.
Ricky loves travel and made a point of spending every weekend for more than two years traveling to a different part of Mexico to become more familiar with his home country. He brings an entire world of architectural inspiration to his work, having made at least one international trip to various countries around the globe each year since 2009—the pandemic year excepted.
“I love looking at different kinds of architecture and how spaces make people react a certain way,” he said.
The images included with this article represent some of Ricky’s travels and the inspiration he found. We’re thankful that he shared them with us. Make sure to like and subscribe!
To see more travel photos, browse to Ricky’s Instagram account here. ricky_trav3ls
His youtube account is here: youtube.com/c/rickytravels
We’re also thankful every day for our diverse staff and the richness their experiences and cultures bring to our work.