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Behind the Bruin: Vira Williams on the road to architecture excellence

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

Architecture was never something Vira Williams considered when weighing her options on potential college majors.

She chose graphic design as her desired field of study when she arrived on campus, but during her first year, she decided she wanted to switch things up and began a search for something that would challenge her skills and thinking in a whole new way.

From there, she turned her focus to architecture and hasn’t looked back since — and her work has earned her the Kevin Roche Recognition Scholarship.

“I’ve discovered a passion that I never knew I had,” Williams said.

Currently in her second year, Williams is part of the inaugural class in Belmont’s architecture program, which was founded in fall 2020.

“It’s special that I’m a part of the first class to go through,” she said. “I love it. I felt like I needed something to challenge me and this program does that very well.”

So far, Williams has tackled every challenge head on, including an assignment that required her to come up with a conceptual design for the outdoor space in the place of the Belcourt Theatre’s parking lot located on Belcourt Avenue, less than a mile away from Belmont’s campus.

Williams' design for a community space at Hillsboro Village's Belcourt Theatre. Vira Williams

Williams’ design for a community space at Hillsboro Village’s Belcourt Theatre. Vira Williams

Given only one week to complete it, Williams designed this new addition that would provide an opportunity for different learning programs for students and other events for the surrounding community and would also serve as a place to gather and, of course, enjoy movies outdoors.

Williams also didn’t miss the opportunity to design a pavilion in front of Belmont’s famous Bell Tower that would allow students to have a quiet, enclosed space to study, hang out and relax while protected from the weather.

Williams' design for a Bell Tower pavilion. Vira Williams

Williams’ design for a Bell Tower pavilion. Vira Williams

“For me, it was important not to call attention nor take away from the Bell Tower or the rest of the surroundings in that part of campus,” she said.

The understated designs that serve the environment around them speaks to Williams’ nature as an artist.

“She’s the humblest student I’ve had the opportunity to work with,” said Paul Biggers, who teaches Williams in his architectural drafting class. “It’s an honor to know her. She’s very talented and she has a very clear vision of how she expects her designs to come to life.”

Biggers wholeheartedly believes Williams is a role model to other young architects and deserving of the PAVE honor, said Biggers.

As for outside of the classroom, Williams willingly shares her talent and helps her peers in the design process, he said.

After being rewarded for her hard work and dedication, Williams feels that she is ascending in the right direction.

“My scholarship means I have succeeded and I am doing some right in life,” she said. “All of my success really gives me a desire to do even better with what I am doing.”

Her message to her fellow classmates and professors remains humble as ever.

“I’m so thankful to be a member of this program, and I have so many people to thank for my achievements,” Williams said.

While reflecting on the decision to switch majors back in her first year, Williams says she has no regrets. “It was the best decision I ever made,” she said.

PHOTO: Vira Williams and Kevin Roche of Roche Design Strategy at the awarding of the scholarship. PAVE

This article was written by Landen Secrest.

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