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Pillars Scholarship Recipients 2020

Updated: Mar 9

Congratulations to our five Pillars Scholarship recipients!

Nazanin Ziasabounchi Graduate Student – Architecture- Second Year


Nazanin will research the role of smart phones on public spaces in San Diego after the COVID-19 pandemic. With the emergence of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in the urban field, and the popularity of using Internet and smart phones in daily life, the nature of space and the behavioral patterns of users seem to be altered. The study of possible influence of ICTs in urban arena, particularly in public spaces where cultural and social characteristics of a city are manifested, has started to become an exciting area for urban planners and designers in recent years. Social dynamics and people’s behavior are important aspects in the emergence of a place as public space. The observation of user behavior is more important these days because of the new issues concerning public spaces, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. A Gehl global survey on public space usage during the COVID-19 pandemic reveals the importance of public spaces on mental and physical health of people (Gehl, 2020). The study shows that a big percentage of people continue to use public spaces during the pandemic and they started to appreciate public spaces even more than before. However, their public space destinations and the way they use it, have been altered. People started to walk more and drive less than usual since they prefer to use their neighborhood streets, sidewalks, and parks.

Gaining a thorough understanding of how people’s experience of public spaces is changing would require a multidimensional approach to the subject.

Nazanin posits that the use of information and communication technologies, particularly smart phone applications, play a vital role in determining people’s behavioral patterns in public spaces..


Martín Polanco Graduate Student – Architecture – 3rd Year

Martin will investigate the typology of pavilions as space and interaction generators throughout California. He will study the environmental impact and engagement with nature and the ways pavilions supplement social wellbeing.


The outcome of his research project will be a kit to foster human-based design in pavilions. 3D models will serve as visual aids, with the endeavor of developing an app where one can find interactions, socially and culturally, within “pavilions” in the city of San Diego. He invites us to consider repurposing old buildings or providing more accessibility to these spaces while minimizing our carbon footprint.


Samantha Saltzman Graduate Architecture, IPAL Practicum Year


Samantha will continue her thesis work of re-strategizing the urban transit networks of San Diego County, Imperial County, Tijuana, Tecate, playas de Rosarito, & Mexicali. Her project redefined these places as one contiguous binational metropolitan area. The research left off with an understanding that the transportation network proposed was a response to the area’s architectural and planning history that intentionally segregated and excluded certain populations. The goal of the proposed research for summer 2020 is to continue the investigation of how transportation can provide more opportunity for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) populations in urban areas. She aims for a potential exposure of her project to the SANDAG’s Regional Planning Agency. She believes this exposure could begin a conversation about the necessity of improving our urban transportation and contribute meaningful ideas to the California-Baja California Border Master Plan. She hopes her project will help persuade and captivate people with the power to create a much needed change in the region’s segregated planning into a homogenized urban area that is sustainable, accessible, and more democratic. Samantha proposes a field and case study research throughout the entire Baja California region, and to attend online two international conferences on airport design and sustainable architecture, urban design and engineering.

Pillars: The first of these pillars reflected in the proposal is human welfare. Transportation reveals access to resources, and as a system it can either limit or expand the opportunities available to people based on where they live. Transportation is not only a determinant of urban form; it is a long-term investment in expanding the economy and limiting poverty. The second pillar addressed is environmental empathy: anything that discourages the use of automobiles in Southern California is a giant step in reducing carbon emissions. Light Rail trains, like the San Diego Trolley, are one of the most resourceful types of urban transportation vessels, but Samantha anticipates the investigation of the most efficient and sustainable systems is to be explored more in depth this summer. The third pillar addressed is community + industry engagement. It Samantha’s goal to be able to present the synthesis of her previous thesis project with the new research from this summer to SANDAG.



Antoinette Van Sluytman Media Graphic Design Major – Third Year


Antoinette is working to complete the first draft of her novel. She will develop her skillset in graphic design and book cover design/typography by enrolling in online courses.




Aubree Rose Van Sluytman Media Graphic Design Major – Third Year


Aubree is working on producing a full animation short film to promote diversity in the industry. She will enroll in animation and filmmaking technique courses.

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Pillars presentations and essays

Check out the inspiring presentations and reflection essays from the talented 2021 Pillars Scholarship recipients. Nazanin Ziasabounchi. Graduate Student – Architecture- Second Year. Communication Tec