Fung Feature: Jenina Yutuc, Honors ’21 (Interdisciplinary Studies)

“Architecture empowered me to be curious and critical about the built and imagined spaces both around and beyond me.

Jenina Yutuc is an Fung Fellows Honors student, majoring in interdisciplinary studies and minoring in global poverty & practice. Here, she shares her experiences as a second-year fellow, her honors team project, and her ambitions and reflections as an aspiring architect.

Tell us about yourself!
I’m Jenina! I am a fourth-year majoring in interdisciplinary studies with a minor in global poverty & practice, and a certificate in design innovation. My hometown is Apalit, Pampanga in the Philippines. When I was 7 years old, my family and I moved to Gainesville, Florida, and lived there for 13 years. We currently live in California where the weather is much nicer.

How has the Fung Fellowship impacted you?
I found the Fung Fellowship during the spring semester of my sophomore year, which was a pivotal time for me as I was changing majors and career paths from pursuing a pre-pharmacy track to exploring the intersection of design and public health. I was drawn to the Fung Fellowship because of the opportunity to explore the different frameworks and tools of public health and human-centered design in tackling social issues. When I first entered the Fung Fellowship, I was a completely different design student — I was primarily interested in UX and product design spaces and highly influenced by the works of Charles and Ray Eames, Kenya Hara of Muji, and Ilse Crawford.

My experience in the Fung Fellowship helped me figure out what lens, frameworks, approaches, and applications of design I enjoyed the most, which eventually became architecture and spatial justice. Designing in a world rife with social, political, and economic inequities requires the willingness to be wrong, to be able to pivot, and to adapt to circumstances beyond your control and capacity. Because the nature of the issues we tackle are highly complex and political, they require collective interdisciplinary effort. My experience in the Fung Fellowship has been educational because it fostered my sense of collectiveness, community, compassion, and accountability. I became more aware of the responsibility we have to ourselves, each other, and the communities that we are a part of and impact through our designs.

“Because the nature of the issues we tackle are highly complex and political, they require collective interdisciplinary effort.”

What are you working on as a Fung Fellow Honors student?
I am excited and proud of the upcoming launch of our honors project, Take a Seat. Created with my teammates, Wajiha Zahid, Ken Whang, and Paul Ruback, “Take a Seat” is a digital community space for college-aged children of immigrants. Our team was driven by the possibilities of the digital mental health landscape, amid the social isolation and the exacerbation of social and environmental inequities we’ve experienced this past year.

Through our extensive research and interviews, we identified many barriers that college-aged children of immigrant families face in accessing mental health resources and spaces, including cultural stigma, cultural discrepancies, lack of effective culturally-competent care, and limitations to tele-health. We offer Take a Seat as an affirming, relatable, and “chill” space where we build community by listening to, sharing, and affirming our lived experiences through the many layers and intersections of our immigrant identities.

What are your future career ambitions?
I am pursuing a career in architecture as both a researcher and a licensed architect. There are only so few licensed architects and partners that are women, and the percentage for women of color are even lower. My long-term goal is to start my own multi-disciplinary firm that specializes in research and practice in architecture, design, urbanism, sociology, and art. While designing buildings is a fundamental component to the field, I would like to also advocate for new infrastructures of capital and funding in the creation and sustenance of well-designed, inhabitable, and community-informed built spaces.

I do not want to be a “capital-A” Architect that claims grand proposals that will single-handedly “solve” the world’s complex social, political, environmental, and economic problems. I pursue architecture in hopes of becoming a “lower-case a” architect, while continuing to be curious and critical about the built and imagined spaces both around and beyond me.

How has COVID-19 impacted your perspective?
The impact of COVID-19 poses a rightful urgency for architecture, the field of organizing space, and shaping environments. Social inequities that have existed for generations are magnified during crises. COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated the social and health inequities across different scales, acutely — and unevenly — impacting already marginalized and vulnerable communities and social groups.

As a future architect, I am compelled by the questions of building and being in both material, physical, built spaces and the imagined spaces of our collective memories, everyday interactions, and histories that make up our lived experiences. I am inspired by Mabel O. Wilson’s concept of radical repair, which emphasizes transformation instead of restoration and acknowledges the social and material conditions that have inflicted these inequities in built spaces. I’ve also been inspired by Kader Attia who offers insight on how alternative forms can take place by arguing that the act of repairing for non-Western cultures is not merely retrofitting or fixing the object back to its previous state, rather it involves the creation of a totally different object.

Instead of offering singular “answers’’ or “solutions,” I want to open three questions for deeper and more critical inquiry: (1) How can we care for ourselves, our communities, and our work?; (2) What structures and systems do we need to unbuild and rebuild to address and reduce the social inequities that have under-valued marginalized histories, lived experiences, spaces, and ways of thinking and living?; and (3) What futures should we then be reimagining, materializing, building, and sustaining? Architecture, no matter how deceiving the brutal concrete stands beyond human scale, is not static. It was imagined and can be reimagined into different, more just forms.

“Architecture, no matter how deceiving the brutal concrete stands beyond human scale, is not static. It was imagined and can be reimagined into different, more just forms.”

Jenina and her family celebrating her first birthday.

What is your undergraduate thesis about?
My undergraduate thesis aimed to expand the idea that health outcomes have spatial, political, social, and environmental components. I explore how Filipino and Filipino-American healthcare volunteers navigate both built, architectural spaces (clinics, community spaces, healthcare centers, and hospitals) and imagined, unseen spaces of memory, homeland, and in-betweenness, thereby giving insight into the volunteers’ lived experiences, generational histories, and practices of care given and received by both themselves and their patients.

The multi-layered investigation of space was inspired by bell hooks, who said, “Spaces can be real imagined. Spaces can tell stories and unfold histories. Spaces can be interrupted, appropriated, and transformed through artistic and literary practice.” I believe in the active participation and dialogue of co-creating and exploring material conditions and everyday lived experiences that allow practices of care, caring for, and caring about ourselves, practice, and communities, to flourish and thrive.

Jenina’s thesis will be published in the Berkeley Undergrad Journal this winter. View her visual supplements for her thesis.

Through my thesis, I became aware of two major questions: (1) How can we care for ourselves and others? and (2) How can we care for our work and the spaces we inhabit and abandon? This thesis brought to the surface the choices we are faced with this task of organizing spaces in the built environment. It is easier to lean on pessimism that we are “just mere cogs in the machine”. If that is the easier choice, then we need to lean more towards the possibility of the architectural practice, not through the White Man’s Burden savior complex, but by acknowledging that we have agency. We have agency in choosing not to take projects that build prisons and condominiums, and by taking up the “unglamorous” projects within our communities. Architecture will not save the world, despite what grand proposals claim. Architecture is a tool to advance spatial justice, but it is not the only tool and it is not the only means.

“I’m interested in things that are alive, and I’m not interested in perfection.” — Ilse Crawford

The Fung Fellowship at UC Berkeley is shaping the next generation of health, conservation, and technology leaders for a better world. 🌱