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Influential Women in Business 2020: Ana Maria Llanos

Community builder: Architect bears heavy responsibility for meeting needs of diverse, sometimes competing interests in designing projects
Ana Maria Llanos, principal of Diamond Schmitt Architects, is sensitive to the lasting influence of her work on communities | Chung Chow

For Ana Maria Llanos, being an architect is far more than just a job. Each morning she wakes up to an opportunity to leave a lasting impression on society.

“It’s not only understanding architecture as a way of making a living, but architecture is a way of contributing to society in a way that’s meaningful,” said the principal of Diamond Schmitt Architects.

Architecture occupies a unique place in society at the intersection of very different, often competing community interests. A building design provides an opportunity for artists, business leaders and residents to collaborate and create something meaningful and lasting. The ability to build communities, both physically with wood, concrete and glass, and interpersonally, with understanding and trust, is what attracted Llanos to the industry.

It was only a matter of time until Llanos caught the architecture bug. Her father was an architect, and during her childhood she was surrounded by creative people, including her grandmother, who was a painter. Whether she was creating artwork with her grandmother or watching her father design a building, Llanos never lacked for examples of people pursuing their unique visions.

Influenced by her father’s work and her innate passion for creativity, pursuing a career in architecture seemed like a natural step to Llanos. She recognized that her father was doing much more than simply building, say, a new social housing unit on a vacant piece of land, but that, more importantly, he was building a community.

Once Llanos decided to pursue a career as an architect, she never turned back and was never interested in exploring other paths. As a child, she took art classes, loved playing with Lego and putting together models. The artistic aspect of architecture had definitely caught Llanos’s attention, but her love for design and creativity weren’t the only things drawing her to a career in architecture.

What really encouraged Llanos to become an architect was the opportunity to create a sense of community, like her father, a task uniquely suited for those who design buildings.

“There’s nothing more fulfilling than after having worked with a group of people for four or five years, to walk through a building with them and hear them speak about it with a sense of ownership and pride,” she said.

Throughout her career, Llanos has worked to build on her father’s legacy, working with communities to create a space that they can thrive in.

Just one example is the $122 million Emily Carr University facility Llanos designed for the new campus. Creating a community takes on special importance when it comes to education, with students needing an environment that is conducive to learning and collaboration. It’s not an easy task, but Llanos is not one to walk away from a challenge.

She engaged with a large cross-section of the school, talking to nearly 400 people on a regular basis to ensure that each community within the university had not only its specific requirements met, and also taking into consideration its vision for the future.

“It’s a huge responsibility that you have on your shoulders as an architect to deliver on everyone’s vision.”

The building projects that  Llanos works on carry an additional layer of responsibility for the architect. Buildings are a huge capital investment and funding can be difficult. It took 20 years to get the money needed to build the Emily Carr facility. The investment of time and resources in the project puts added pressure on Llanos to make sure the space embodies the community’s needs and its vision.

The profound effect that community support can have is something Llanos experienced first-hand. Thirty years ago, Llanos immigrated to Canada, a new place where she had to learn a new language. Llanos is grateful for the embrace she received from Canada and says that the country has given her every opportunity she could have asked for. Now, by providing a sense of community to others, Llanos is returning the favour.•

Business in Vancouver celebrates the 21st annual Influential Women in Business Awards, March 6 at  the Fairmont Waterfront hotel. For more information, visit