Anjelica Gallegos; photo by Sydney Holmes

CU Denver Grad Weaves Indigenous History into her Architecture Studies at Yale

June 28, 2021

Anjelica Gallegos BS ’15 began her studies at CU Denver as an undeclared major. Since she grew up in a family of artists, Gallegos had lots of interests, including drawing, sculpture, film photography, and basket making. When Professor Phil Gallegos (no relation) told her about a new undergraduate program in the College of Architecture & Planning, Gallegos was intrigued: “As architecture is the nexus between art and engineering, my background helped me to recognize the potential of using art in the practice to form building solutions.” In Spring 2013, she became one of 32 students in the first undergraduate architecture class at CU Denver.

Anjelica Gallegos recently earned her MArch from Yale University.

First Undergraduate Architecture Class

Professor Gallegos firmly believed that if the department supported students transferring into the architecture program, they would succeed. “My assertion was that what mattered was the quality of the experience and not so much the number of courses,” he said. “If we care about them, they’ll do well.”

Anjelica Gallegos’ experience at CU Denver illustrates how supportive faculty can help students succeed. “Phil [Professor Gallegos] guided me through the beginning of my undergraduate career to be ready for the program when it became available, and he became a very important inspiration and mentor to me,” Gallegos said. “Contributing to the inaugural undergraduate class was challenging and liberating because I was able to experience the courses for the first time and provide work and feedback to strengthen the classes thereafter,” she added.

Moving from West to Northeast

Gallegos just graduated from Yale with an MArch degree, but this accomplishment doesn’t mean her college career was easy. “I am from the Jicarilla Apache Nation and Santa Ana Pueblo and grew up across the metropolis of Denver, the Bitterroot Valley in Montana, and the high deserts of New Mexico,” Gallegos said. As a Native American student in the field of architecture, which remains a white male-dominated field, Gallegos has faced some challenges. “She’s had even more barriers than I’ve had,” Professor Gallegos, who is a Latinx architect, said. “In the professional industries, women are dismissed. Here is a woman, an Indigenous woman who is so talented, so creative.”

Prior to Yale, Gallegos had been accepted to another prestigious graduate school in the Northeast—but it wasn’t a good fit. “Based on interactions with the school, I decided not to enroll,” she said. “Anjelica called me and told me she was struggling,” Professor Gallegos said. “My message to her was don’t worry about it. It’s your career and you can do whatever you want; you don’t have to follow a straight path.”

Bottom left: material and lighting structure model made with silicone tubing, LED lights, fiber optic cables, and an electronic driver; Right: Making Space for Resistance Exhibition; Top left and center: Site plans and rendering for polyculture 3D farming zone at Brant point, Nantucket.

Indigenous Scholars of Architecture, Planning, and Design at Yale

Gallegos postponed graduate school and worked for the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in Chama, New Mexico and served the Jicarilla Apache Nation in Dulce, New Mexico. She applied to other master’s programs the following year. She consulted with Professor Gallegos and ended up choosing Yale, where her identity has shaped her work. “I recognize the value of living within interconnected systems and the responsibility of contributing to a future that protects those systems and landscapes,” Gallegos said. “Ultimately, I develop as an architect to empower sustainable building that elevates all of society.”

Gallegos co-founded the Indigenous Scholars of Architecture, Planning, and Design at Yale and ended up curating an exhibit at the university’s North Gallery titled, “Making Space for Resistance.” The exhibit highlighted past, present, and future visions of Indigenous space connected to the objectives expressed during the Occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969. “Architecture was fundamental to envisioning a brighter future for American Indians and catalyzing a cognizant American society,” she said.

Gallegos believes Indigenous culture can help inform the practice of architecture: “Respect, restraint, reciprocity, long-term sustainability, recognizing the history of a place, and acknowledging natural cycles are a few of many Indigenous thought principles that all architecture can respond to.”

Diversity and Mentorship at CU Denver

Professor Gallegos thinks Anjelica Gallegos did well at CU Denver partly because of the university’s diverse community. When he retired in 2019, the undergraduate Architecture Program had grown exponentially—and its students represented many different countries, ethnicities, and cultures. “Poland, Thailand, Mexico, Ethiopia, India—what a wonderful group to end my career with,” he said. “It was absolutely wonderful to see that type of diversity. That’s what CU Denver should be.”

Student diversity and faculty support helped Anjelica Gallegos find the right career path. “The instruction I received from CU Denver prepared me to work further at Yale University and spotlight architecture and Indian policy priorities at federal and international levels,” she said. “And, like my brother who had a stellar experience at the institution, I wanted to form long-lasting connections with mentors and colleagues to exchange ideas and support.”

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