Alumni couple share their passion for Mexican architecture, culture with students
Steven and Cathi House’s story is deeply intertwined with the Virginia Tech College of Architecture and Urban Studies.
The award-winning team behind the architecture firm House + House, the couple met as architecture students on their first day of design lab in 1970. Four years later, they married on campus, at the Duck Pond.
Over the next four decades, their partnership produced an architecture firm based in San Francisco and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; sculpturally magnificent buildings throughout the U.S., Mexico, and the Caribbean; worldwide travel and lectures; multiple books and publications; and over 50 design awards.
But they never forgot the place where it all started.
Steadfast alumni and donors, the Houses have employed and mentored countless students from their college, funded scholarships and planned gifts, returned to campus to host lectures, and served on the Dean's Advisory Board and the Advisory Council for the School of Architecture + Design.
Their most recent and proudest contribution is CASA, the Center for Architecture Sustainability + Art, a summer study program in San Miguel de Allende that allows the couple to share their passion for architecture and love of Mexican culture with students.
“Cathi and I are so thankful for the education we received at Virginia Tech,” said Steven House, who earned his bachelor’s in architecture in 1975. “Our own identities as architects were deeply influenced by world travel. For us, CASA is an exciting opportunity to share all that we have learned as architects working and studying around the world and to introduce another generation to the magic of Mexico.”
Founded by the Houses in 2012, CASA is an immersive five-week program that combines analytical design exercises, field trips, theoretical discourse, and lively debate with exploration of Mexico’s architectural, cultural, and historical treasures.
Based in the stunning, award-winning urban retreat home and studios crafted by the two architects, CASA allows students to take full advantage of the Houses’ expertise and hospitality. Students learn and live in an eco-resort-like setting, with classes in architecture, art, and sustainable building.
“I will always treasure the time I spent with Steven, Cathi, and my classmates,” said Xinyi “Cherry” Chen, a second-year architecture student from Suzhou, China. “In each excursion, they shared how architecture meets ground and harmonizes with the environment. They translated the history, stories, and architectural details of our surroundings in ways that opened up my mind. Best of all, they helped me become more confident about presenting myself and my ideas in front of other people. I can now step out of my comfort zone more to explore the world.”
“We had many lively discussions over great meals,” added Tamanna Tiku, a fifth-year architecture student from New Delhi, India. “It was very valuable to be with such established, renowned architects in a foreign country and to have them embrace us like family. That’s something I’ll take with me forever.”
Students’ days are filled with excursions to architectural and historical landmarks and ruins in Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende.
They explore villages, museums, theaters, places of worship, and House + House projects; apprentice with local craftsmen; tackle group design challenges; and present their work in a culminating reception. They also sample the food, festivities, recreational opportunities, and professional connections the area provides.
The Houses fell in love with San Miguel de Allende, a UNESCO World Heritage Site named one of the world’s top cities by Conde Nast Traveler, while scouting Mexican quarries in the early 1990s.
After purchasing a crumbling ruin, they transformed it into an award-winning urban oasis that has been their second home for more than two decades. In 2012, they expanded into the property next door, adding studios, classrooms, offices, and a pool, to accommodate students in an immersive summer program.
“It’s added another dimension to our life,” said Cathi House, who earned her bachelor’s in architecture in 1977. “Being able to engage with such a diverse group of students on a daily basis and see their evolution as people and architects over five weeks – and in their ongoing lives and careers – is very gratifying.”
The Houses are inviting students to join the CASA 2017 summer program, which will run from May 25 through June 30.
Interested students should contact them before the end of the fall semester. The deadline to apply is Feb. 15.