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International Architecture Grad Devises Large – and Small – Plans for San Francisco

Academy of Art University Architecture alum Sanem Surel came from Turkey to the United States with details on her mind. Building details. With a bachelor’s degree in urban design and landscape architecture in hand, Sanem began searching for a school that would give her knowledge of smaller scale architecture techniques to complement her undergraduate degree in large scale urban design.

“As an urban designer, you assume that buildings are blocks. I wanted to learn the details of the blocks,” said Sanem.  “I knew that if I got into the details of architecture, I would have more advantages in the future.”

Academy of Art University’s unique urban location in the heart of San Francisco seemed like the perfect place to live and learn. “I liked the atmosphere of San Francisco. It’s very busy and more European,” she said.

Sanem wasted no time in San Francisco, snagging a job at Tanaka Design Group in her second semester at the Academy. She works for the same company today.

“I like to be busy, but going to school and working was difficult,” she said. “I had sleepless nights, but I did what I had to do to get what I wanted.”

Sanem’s thesis combined her undergraduate and masters degrees to showcase her unique abilities. Working closely with graduate advisor, Richard Smith, she created a challenging project that encompassed the design of an entire city block.

“I like to take risks, so I wanted to go with a more difficult project. Richard was a tough, but influential instructor to me.” said Sanem.

Her perseverance paid off. She completed her thesis, a multi-use live and work housing plan on Market and Turk to be built on a huge triangle block.

“The project was scary at first. Generally people choose a building-sized area only, but I wanted to create something impactful,” she said.

Addressing the housing and work needs of an artist community in her project, her design included affordable studios, an arts plaza, shop space for artists to support themselves, roof gardens, offices areas and galleries.

Sanem’s passion is the city. She strives to make a mark here through her work. “I love the city, hectic mornings and traffic. I want people to see a building and know that it was Sanem.”


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