Oct. 27, 2021

Entrepreneur in the construction industry teaches students to learn how to learn

2021 Top 40 Under 40: Dr. Alicia Nahmad Vazquez, PhD
Alicia Nahmad Vazquez
Alicia Nahmad Vazquez Jared Sych, Avenue magazine

Dr. Alicia Nahmad Vazquez, PhD, 39, is an architect who wants to invite people into her world where robotics and humans co-exist ... in the construction industry. She sees a future where people and robots relate, collaborate and, ultimately, improve the planet — embodied in the startup she created in 2012 dubbed Architecture Extrapolated (R-Ex).

Dr. Vazquez is an assistant professor of robotics and AI, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, at the University of Calgary 

What has been your biggest career highlight to date?

Every project is a new challenge, as we are always building different prototypes that look at different ways of integrating technology with the traditional building trades. Each prototype has been challenging to design and build in different ways, but it’s always a highlight when you see others share your enthusiasm. Whether that’s researchers or builders and contractors — it’s very rewarding to see how careers can change when new skills are gained.

What is the biggest misconception people have about robots?

The kind of robots I work with are, frankly, industrial robotic arms which are not very smart, so they are not about to take over anyone or anything.

Where do you hope Architecture Extrapolated will be in five years?

Being a female entrepreneur in the construction industry has been a big challenge. Architecture Extrapolated has grown in an “organic” way, which means it’s based on projects rather than (venture capital) investment. We are working to grow and deploy robotic fabrication which we hope will make the construction industry exciting for young people again.

Who are your biggest heroes?

Shajay, my man, my hero. He always gets the full picture and moves forward with positivity and no regrets. I love him and admire who he is and what he stands for. I feel very lucky to have found him.

Any advice for students or new grads? 

Learn to learn. I find students are often worried about specific software or technical skills. Things are changing and moving so fast that the best thing you can do is learn how to learn and adapt to the robotic, built-environment and digital ecosystems that are rapidly changing and constantly evolving. Also, don’t forget to bring humanity to everything you do.

A guilty pleasure?

James Bond movies and books by Ray Kurzweil.

What are you watching or reading these days? 

The New Breed by Kate Darling.

When you are not working, what do you do?

I have a toddler so, when I am not doing professional work, I am doing mommy work. And often both.

With files from Avenue Magazine