Groundbreaking indigenous architect signs on to ASU faculty

Wanda Dalla Costa joins Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts; also cross-appointed to Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

March 1, 2018

Wanda Dalla Costa, an architect who has spent nearly two decades working with indigenous communities in North America, has joined the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University as its fifth Institute Professor. A member of the Saddle Lake First Nation in Alberta, Dalla Costa was the first First Nations woman to become an architect in Canada.

Dalla Costa was originally inspired to pursue architecture after spending seven years backpacking around the world. What began as a six-month adventure ended up taking her to almost 40 countries. Herberger Institute Professor Wanda Dalla Costa in front of a shade structure she built in Gila River Indian Community. Herberger Institute Professor Wanda Dalla Costa stands in front of a shade structure she built in Gila River Indian Community, as part of a dialogue with GRIC around traditional building, design and materials. Photo by Selina Martinez

Dalla Costa said she “fell in love with walking around in cities and the vitality of the indigenous architecture overseas; … ‘indigenous’ means everyone who’s trying to maintain their ancestral environment. For me it’s a broad definition … about built environments nurturing our cultural connections.”

When she returned to North America, she applied for a master's degree in architecture at the University of Calgary.

The question that drove her, she said, was this: “Why are we living in these boxes in the landscape that have no relation to our culture? The reservation is so divergent from the way we were traditionally so connected to our environment and to the land.”

“My mom grew up on the reservation,” Dalla Costa said. “She was very tied into her culture growing up. We spent a lot of time on the rez. For me there’s a clear disconnect — when I got to architecture school, nobody was teaching (indigenous architecture); nobody understood it.”

In addition to teaching and mentoring students at ASU, Dalla Costa is acting as an adviser on issues of creative placemaking and as an adviser on the Herberger Institute’s Projecting All Voices initiative.

“Wanda is an architect who thinks deeply about the social and cultural aspects of place,” said Herberger Institute Dean Steven J. Tepper. “She has developed a practice that fully engages community partners and honors local knowledge and traditions.”

“As an Institute Professor, Wanda will help us build nationally funded projects around creative placemaking and indigenous culture, and she will help us extend and deepen relationships with the tribal nations in our region.”

Jason Schupbach, director of The Design School at ASU, said that Dalla Costa will be “a key partner in bringing new voices and ideas to the design school, creating a school that is collaborative, relevant and equitable.”

Dalla Costa is one of the nation’s leading authorities on indigenous architecture, with expertise in culturally responsive design, sustainable-affordable housing, climatic resiliency in architecture, and built environments as a teaching tool for traditional knowledge. She joins four other Institute Professors already teaching at the university: creative placemaking expert Maria Rosario Jackson, dance legend Liz Lerman, composer and multi-disciplinary collaborator Daniel Bernard Roumain and theater artist and civic innovator Michael Rohd.  

Dalla Costa's position at ASU is a cross-appointment between The Design School and the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. She held the Eminent Visiting Scholar position in the Del E. Webb School of Construction for two years prior to joining the Herberger Institute.

“We are thrilled to have this opportunity to partner with the Herberger Institute,” said Edd Gibson, director of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment in the Fulton Schools. “Our built environment increasingly requires thinking about the intersections of technology, construction, design and culture. Wanda’s position helps us build those ties.”

Dalla Costa’s first priority, she says, is mentoring students. To that end, she hopes to start an indigenous design collaborative at ASU.

“I do a lot of projects with tribal communities,” Dalla Costa said. “In the courses I teach, I bring students out to the reservation, and the students design or plan or build something for a tribal client. I think it’s a powerful way to teach.”

Ideally, she said, “there would be a system or a mechanism in place that could help think through a best approach, a best practice for each project we’re embarking on. It would be a resource center, and it would be a center of mentorship for those up and coming in this field, creating the support system for this work to come alive at ASU.”

Dalla Costa holds a Master of Design Research (City Design, Planning and Policy) from the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) and a Master of Architecture from the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary. She is the owner of Redquill Architecture, and is also one of a team of 18 indigenous architects representing Canada at the Venice Architecture Biennale, which opens in May.

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


Gemneo Bioscience receives entrepreneurship award from Flinn Foundation

March 1, 2018

Gemneo Bioscience, a genomics technology company seeking to revolutionize diagnosis and treatment for cancer and other diseases, was named last week as one of six Arizona bioscience startup firms that will participate in the Flinn Foundation’s 2018 Bioscience Entrepreneurship Program.

Gemneo will receive $30,000 in funding support and program services through a nonprofit partner. The company was selected from 30 applicants, a record for the program. Gemneo Executives at Biodesign Institute Gemneo Biosciences was ASU’s 100th spinout company. Its leaders are (from left): Joseph Blattman, chief scientific officer; CEO Anil Shrikhande, and CFO and COO Gavin Chandler. Photo by Jim Poulin/copyright 2018 Phoenix Business Journal

“The six companies chosen this year are further evidence of the amazing innovation that is occurring in the biosciences here in Arizona,” said Tammy McLeod, Flinn Foundation president and CEO. “The leaders of these companies demonstrate both the talent and entrepreneurial spirit to bring new technologies to market that will improve and save lives.”

Gemneo is the result of a five-year, multimillion-dollar research journey to bring new single-cell genomics technology to market. Led by Joseph Blattman, an immunology researcher at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute and associate professor at ASU’s School of Life Sciences, Gemneo’s platform technology can be used to profile an individual’s cancer genomics and identify rare cells that influence disease progression that current technologies are not able to detect. The technology will give physicians a more precise tool for effectively treating cancer and a host of other diseases. Gemneo research partners include Hao Yan and Louis Schoettle, both researchers at the Biodesign Institute.

“The Gemneo team is extremely grateful to the Flinn Foundation for their support,” said Anil Shrikhande, Gemneo’s chief executive officer and executive-in-residence for ASU’s Startup Program. “Their support comes at an opportune time as we seek to operationalize Gemneo and bring our first product to market.”

“Gemneo truly embodies the way we like to work at the Biodesign Institute,” said Blattman, Gemneo’s chief scientific officer. “Our goal is to quickly link our scientific discoveries to creating better tools for diagnosing and treating disease. Our first product will be instrumental in decoding the human immune system in a way that will lead to better ways to treat cancer and infectious diseases.”  

“We have developed an open collaborative model that will be driven by speed to market and multiple academic and industry collaborations,” said Gavin Chandler, Gemneo’s chief operating officer and chief financial officer. “Our goals are to reduce research costs, enhance productivity and, ultimately, bring new diagnostics and therapies to market for better patient outcomes.”

ASU’s 100th spinout company, Gemneo is taking advantage of incubation space at ASU’s SkySong campus and the innovation ecosystem that ASU has established to facilitate faculty-led ventures. As a demonstration of a successful federally funded university research venture, Gemneo was selected to exhibit in Washington, D.C., at the National Academy of Sciences, and at the University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Showcase, sponsored by the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

Other winning companies, based in Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tucson, are Avery Therapeutics, GT Medical Technologies, TheraSpecs, TouchPoint Solution and Vapometry Biolabs.

The Flinn Foundation program was established to foster entrepreneurship and help early-stage bioscience companies develop into successful and sustainable businesses in Arizona. The Phoenix-based Flinn Foundation has allocated $825,000 in grants since 2014 to nonprofits to administer funding and services to 28 bioscience startups.

The Flinn Foundation is a privately endowed, philanthropic grantmaking organization established in 1965 by Robert S. and Irene P. Flinn to improve the quality of life in Arizona to benefit future generations. In addition to advancing the biosciences, the foundation supports the Flinn Scholars Program, a merit-based college scholarship program; arts and culture; and the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership.