An RWU Architect Travels the World and Uses Design to Protect Gorillas

Since earning her master of architecture degree at RWU, Emily Goldenberg '11 has worked on projects all over the world,
and is now designing a center for education on mountain gorilla conservation in Kigali, Rwanda

Person speaking into microphone.
Julia Rubin

KIGALI, RWANDA — Who would have known that studying architecture at RWU would one day lead to protecting mountain gorillas in Rwanda?  

While earning her Master of Architecture, Emily Goldenberg `11 studied abroad in Florence, Italy and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She completed her thesis on informal architecture and slum redevelopment in Mumbai, India. After graduating, she worked on a library in Monterrey, Mexico. Now, Goldenberg’s work has taken her to Kigali, Rwanda, where she is working to design a campus that inspires protection and conservation of gorillas and their habitats. Goldenberg is eager for positive change, she says. As an international architect, she gets to learn new cultural perspectives and help improve lives. She gave RWU News an inside look into her time at Roger, her design philosophy and what it’s like to work on gorilla protection and conservation. 

What are you doing now?  

I live and work abroad in Kigali, Rwanda as a Design Director at MASS Design Group, a 501(c)3 non-profit Architecture and Design firm focused on mission driven and impact-based work. Currently, I am working with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund on the design of a new purpose-built campus to expand their legacy of work protecting and conserving Mountain Gorillas and their habitats in Volcanoes National Park. One of the main goals of the new Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is to inspire all visitors, including local community members, to become conservation activists and contribute to the protection and conservation of gorillas and their habitats.  

People gathering on construction site in gear.

What do you like about your work?  

As an architect, I am incredibly lucky to work with amazing colleagues and partners who share the same passion and belief system. I am constantly inspired to work on projects that go far beyond surface level impact of design and have the power to improve the lives of others. It’s what keeps me going and makes me realize I can, and must, push for positive change and impact at every level, whether small or large.  

Which aspects of the Architecture program at RWU helped shape your career path?  

At RWU, I received generous support for my desire to explore social architecture through my thesis research and project. It was in my last two semesters that I began to develop strong opinions and ideas on the power architecture can have on communities and the built environment. These views were developed through history courses and research papers, and most significantly through my study abroad experiences in both Florence and Buenos Aires.  

People gathering on construction site in gear.

Are there skills/experiences that you gained in the program that you find yourself referring back to in your current position? What are they?  

I am grateful for the mentorship and guidance from several great professors in the architecture program at Roger Williams. I often refer back to the design process I learned in Buenos Aires with Julian Bonder, my Comprehensive Studio experience with Roberto Viola Ochoa, and the guidance received from my thesis advisor, Hasan-Uddin Khan. These design studios were pivotal in my development as an architect and pushed me to understand design and architecture differently. There was a real focus on the importance of design in other cultures, and the notion that as an architect you must be able to observe and perceive these differences in order to design for them. Those experiences embedded a level of passion and intentionality in my design process. I remain thankful for the new perspective, continued desire to travel and restlessness for positive change.