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Omaha Magazine

Phuong Nguyen Advocates for the Underrepresented

May 27, 2022 01:26PM ● By Ryan Borchers
phong nguyen in bright office space

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

Phuong Nguyen is someone with a promising start to her career. She’s also someone who wants to help others have strong starts to theirs.

The full-time architect for BVH Architecture worked on Charles Drew Health Center’s recently opened clinic in Benson for teens and young adults. The 29-year-old has also assisted with the under-construction community building in Columbus, Nebraska, which will be the home of a public library, a children’s museum, the Columbus Area Arts Council, and city hall. She was recently accepted into “Next to Lead,” a leadership training program for women created by the American Institute of Architects.

“Ever since I was little, I knew that I always had this deep appreciation for art and spaces,” Nguyen said. “The more that I get to study and practice architecture, the more I realize my passions for space, and people, and the environment.”

“Phuong is insatiably curious,” said Mark Bacon, a design principal at BVH. “Out of that curiosity comes a desire to learn. We call her a rising rock star.”

This young up-and-comer is passionate about her art, and just as passionate about building more equitable spaces for underrepresented groups in her field. According to the trade website, equity in architecture means accessibility for the disabled, but also means being aware of details such as window heights in areas for young children.

“Being an architect or a designer will give me that opportunity to create better living environments for people of different cultures, needs, and wants,” Nguyen said.

Architecture as a culture, she said, has traditionally catered to wealthy white men. It has improved, but there needs to be changes, particularly at the academic level.

“Design is not just for the privileged and corporate world,” Bacon said. Members of underrepresented communities need to be able to envision themselves working in architecture and other design-related fields. “Good mentorship and opportunities are critical.”

Nguyen provides those for others by helping high school students as part of the Architecture, Construction and Engineering Mentor Program of America. This year, she’s working with a group of Omaha North High Magnet School students who are building an interactive model that shows how the different ecological layers of a river system work. 

She’s also been reaching out to international students at UNL who are aspiring architects. She left her home in Vietnam at age 17, so she wants to be a supportive presence for people going through similar experiences.

“I have been in their shoes before as an international student,” she said. “I understand how isolating it can be to be a member of an underrepresented group.”

The relative lack of diversity in the architectural field, Nguyen said, leads to not only inequity, but a loss of business opportunities. Inclusivity is key to changing that reality.

“Our world is just getting more and more diverse,” Nguyen said. “The architecture profession needs to catch up. We need to become more diverse in order to stay relevant.

“I want to continue to speak up and to advocate for the voices of people of color in our profession, for us to have opportunities to open up, to share our truth, our story, our perspective, and our passion.”

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This article originally appeared in the June/July 2022  issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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