Based in Davis, in California’s open and inviting Central Valley, Maria Ogrydziak, AIA, is known nationally for her valley-inspired built works and her design and policy leadership. Her bold custom homes, retail, and worship spaces build on 30 years in the ‘laboratory’ of the California landscape. She is a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was its first female student body president. She was awarded the Compton School Prize and Grunsfeld Architecture Prize in 1969. Maria serves on the AIA’s national Urban Design Committee and represents the Central Valley in the Housing Congress. She was Central Valley Chapter president for many years and helped found its annual Architectural Festival.
Why did you become an architect?
It was really a culmination of my interest in painting and landscapes. My parents moved to Taiwan when I was young, and I painted almost every day for two years. I learned Chinese brush techniques and appreciation for nature, landscapes, symmetry, contrast, so many things that drive my work even today. I felt I was in the painting, creating a place that started as a vision in my brain. And I discovered architecture is just like that, and more. It’s a system that lets me create a three dimensional place, a sense of place.
If you were not an architect, what would you be?
Once I decided to be an architect, I just wanted that, and after hundreds of projects it’s still so rewarding. And I’m still painting. In my mind painting and architecture are much the same thing — conceptualizing, creating places. I also sketch when I’m just starting with a client for their new house, not CAD drawings. It’s such a great way to share ideas I’m forming for them, to share the process and the energy.
What is your morning commute? What do you listen to?
I love that question, because my commute for years has been from one room to the next in my studio-home. As a mother, I’ve been so fortunate to design homes while having my family around me, and connected to them growing up. It drives so much energy. It seems to be much more common now than when I started so it’s fascinating to see more moms and dads working from home and getting that same energy.
As for what I listen to, I like silence as opposed to having a radio or music. Family activity and everyday noises are part of the background, and then when I have silence it gives me more focus.
Coffee or tea?
I’m a coffee person. I’d have infinite cups in my college years, but I’m down to one or two a day from a Nespresso machine.
What about your roles with AIA?
I’m on AIA Urban Design Committee and represent the Central Valley in the Housing Congress. But I really got more involved with AIA as the Central Valley Chapter president several years ago. When I was elected, my husband asked, ‘Well, what are you going to do?’. It struck me that we needed a showcase for our members and their work, so with our director Kim Anderson and later our committee, we created an architecture tour which hadn’t been done before. My first list for events and ideas had 27 things! It was a huge effort and I loved every minute. It’s still going strong, and changes to fit the times.
What’s on your bucket list?
Giving back has been part of my bucket list — doing what I hadn’t had time for (while raising two kids). One thing I’m in the middle of checking-off, is a huge pro bono project here in Davis. Paul’s Place is a four-story homeless-housing and services building that just won city approvals. I’ve done religious and institutional work but this brought so many people together for something we just don’t have, and every city needs.