Borderstan People: Rauzia Ally on Design, Sustainability, Preservation

by April 10, 2012 at 10:00 am 2,692 3 Comments

"Borderstan" "Rauzia Ally"

Rauzia Ally was recently appointed to the  District’s Historic Preservation Review Board. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Tom Hay. Questions for Tom? Send him an email at Tom[AT] You can follow him on Twitter @Tomonswann.

For our latest profile on noteworthy local residents, Borderstan had an opportunity to catch up with architect Rauzia Ally. Most will agree, this local resident’s star is on the rise, both locally and nationally. Ally came to the DC area from her native Guyana for school, and then settled with her husband in the Dupont-Logan area, just off 14th Street NW.

Locally, after serving many years on the Dupont Circle Conservancy — the non-profit whose mission is to promote preservation of the historic and architectural character of the Dupont Circle historic districts — Ally was appointed by Mayor Vincent Gray to a term on the District’s Historic Preservation Review Board. She will be the only representative from Ward 2 on the board.

Ally will also serve as director for a team of local college students competing nationally in the 2013 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. The Solar Decathlon challenges each team to “design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive.” The competition will take place in October 2013 in Irvine, California.

On top of all these projects, Ally also runs an architecture and design firm with her husband Gregory Rubbo and serves on the faculty of the School of Architecture and Planning at the Catholic University of America.

Borderstan:  Tell us a little bit about your background and why you came to DC.

Ally: My family came to DC because my grandfather’s brother went to Howard’s Dental school here before going back to Guyana to begin his own practice in 1947. Since then all of my mother’s family came and they also studied dentistry. So we all ended up here. I still remember though growing up in Guyana, when family would visit, they would bring back the souvenirs, the Washington Monument or a snow dome of the White House. Those memories of dreaming about what Washington was like upon touching those objects are still very much embedded in me.

Borderstan:  What made you and Gregory choose to live in the Dupont Circle area of Borderstan?

Ally: We love the quality of the row houses and the small streets like Swann, where we live.  The homes are beautiful, and the trees are lovely. It’s a joy to walk around, walk to Georgetown or down 14th Street, know all your neighbors, and be a part of the fabric.

Borderstan: You recently served on the board of the Dupont Circle Conservancy. What is your favorite building in the area?

Ally: Historic would be many but likely the Masonic Temple is very beautiful. The Finnish Embassy is also quite lovely. I love the houses on New Hampshire Avenue too.

Borderstan: What is the biggest challenge in reviewing changes or additions to historic buildings?

Ally: Really trying to forge a relationship between the old and new without copying just the look of the old, a stylized version. So keeping honesty in materials and methods of building while honoring the historic.

Borderstan: There is development along every block of 14th Street in our neighborhood. Do you see that as a threat to the historic fabric of the area?

Ally: No not at all, in fact it helps to upkeep historic properties when once blighted areas are redeveloped. I love seeing the new that is done well right next to the old.  It’s exciting.

Borderstan: Who’s your favorite living architect and who’s your favorite deceased architect?

Ally: Peter Zumpthor for living. He’s a master builder and a master of meaning and beauty as well. Frank Lloyd Wright for deceased as an embodiment of the American Spirit of individualism and zest for life.

Borderstan: How did you become involved with the Solar Decathlon?

Ally: Living in Guyana, where sustainability is not a buzz word but part and parcel of everyday practice, it’s easy to understand the principles. So it was naturally a project I wanted to be a part of and direct. After the BP disaster, I felt we truly have to be serious about alternative energy, and it was around that time we were studying at CUA the viability of the project. I feel that true environmental sustainability cannot rely on technologies, but on culture, society and art and humanities as the backbone. So trying to personify what that means in a project was very important to me. Our Solar Decathlon home exemplifies humanistic, scientific and spiritual ideas and you must have all three for sustainability to mean anything.

Borderstan: How many students are currently involved and what schools do they come from?

Ally: We have had in the past year about 40 from our school and 30 from George Washington University. Currently we have 20 from CUA, another 20 from George Washington University and about 15 from American University. All told, it will be likely about 200 students involved over the course of the project and a large host of professionals as well. Already we have students working in the professional offices like Arup Engineering, so the project is already accomplishing its intentions, to foster those kinds of relationships. You can follow our progress on Facebook, TeamCapitoldc or Twitter @dcharvesthome. Even though DC has hosted the Solar Decathlon since 2002, we’ve never had a team before. Team Capitol dc is the first DC team.

Borderstan: What do you think is the biggest misconception about solar power? How about the biggest misconception about historic preservation?

Ally: Solar power – that it is essentially impractical and that there are dim prospects for it. I don’t think anyone realizes how much energy solar power currently provides. All three universities in Team Capitol dc  are racing to put panels on as many campus buildings as possible. Historic Preservation – that you could care about it and champion it while desiring modern architecture for new buildings at the same time, both in harmony.

Borderstan:  You have a very full schedule. When you do have free time, where do you like to relax or eat out in the neighborhood?

Ally: I like to sit with my husband and while awayat Meridian Hill Park or go to the garden of the Smithsonian Castle or the Botanic Gardens. Living in Bordestan it’s easy to get to those venues. But I also love just sitting in my front stoop area and talking to neighbors on a Sunday morning. To eat, I love Plume at the Jefferson Hotel but Posto’s outside area on a balmy day is also nice.

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