A letter from an alum living and working outside the U.S.


Photo by Yolanda Escobar

Photo by Yolanda Escobar

I AM WRITING YOU FROM QUITO — la mitad del mundo (the middle of the world) and the first city to be declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. After earning my master’s degree in architecture at Rice, I opted to base my design studio, Estudio Ernesto Bilbao, in my hometown. I also teach at the School of Architecture of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ). Quito’s unique geography (it’s 9,350 feet above sea level) and striking contrasts serve as a fascinating case study of the Latin American city and make it a great place to practice architecture.

Quito possesses one of the best-preserved historical centers on the continent — one that is subject to both the pressures of modern real estate development and the realities of an extreme topography. In my practice, I have been exploring how architecture and public space can respond to this strong opposition between the city and the natural landscape. The design studios I took at Rice taught me that architectural structures cannot be seen as objects apart from their context. It was great to explore these ideas in Texas towns, including Houston and Marfa.

After teaching design and theory classes in the mornings, I drive back to my office, review our projects and meet with clients. My office now has 11 full-time architects and four students-in-training. On an easy day, I’m usually at the office until 7:30 p.m.

On the weekends, I love spending time with my family. My wife, our two sons (ages 10 and 6) and I usually visit the city parks and plazas or explore the nearby mountains and valleys. Sundays in the Old Town of Quito are dedicated for pedestrians — and the plaza is full of locals and tourists alike. One of my favorite examples of colonial religious architecture is the Compañía de Jesús Church (the Church of the Society of Jesus), a masterpiece of Spanish baroque architecture in Latin America.

Soon, I’ll be moving back to Texas to pursue a Ph.D. in architecture at the University of Texas at Austin. It will be great to be close to Houston again and especially to the Rice Owls!


Are you a young alum living outside the U.S.? Write us a letter and tell us about your day-to-day experiences: ricemagazine@rice.edu