Elizabeth Hernandez: Bridging communities and breaking barriers through Architecture

January 22, 2024 /

Elizabeth Hernandez is a Kern County-based architect who owns her firm, Ethosphere Studios. Her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Guanajuato, Mexico when she was eight years old and she grew up in Arvin and Lamont. 

After graduating from Arvin High School, Elizabeth Hernandez started as a civil engineering major at Cal State Bakersfield before transferring to Cal Poly where she quickly realized something was missing — the art of being creative. 

“Not that there’s no art in civil engineering but I wanted to do something a little bit more in the artistic and creative sense. And I switched my major to architecture or that’s what I was intending, to transfer to Cal Poly as I knew that [Bakersfield College] offered classes that were supplemental [and] I can transfer so I started going to both schools.  And had a job and then just worked really hard those two and a half years. Then finally Cal Poly took me in and then I transferred over there and that was a great education.”

This led to Hernandez working at a firm for 10 years in Los Angeles before eventually coming back to Bakersfield to start her own firm. 

I was working with them while I was going to school at Cal Poly. So I would come back in the summers and work. And so I started kind of getting experience very early on.  Whenever I was back [home] I really enjoyed the city and started seeing the potential and the growth,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez always had a passion for learning but she felt like her old firm was still set back in systems that were archaic. So in 2018 she left her old firm in LA, and with her own driving force, started her own company. 

“The first six months were just so hard. Not getting a paycheck and just relying on myself. And so finally in the middle of 2018, I decided ‘Oh, I need help.’And one thing that [one of my teachers] taught me is that if you don’t know something you could always hire the people that do,” stated Hernandez. 

After a few partnerships that went their separate ways, Ethosphere Studio became itself in early 2019. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a very hard time for Hernandez and her company. There was a lot of uncertainty on future projects and hiring new people became difficult. But through an internship program that she started every summer, she ended up hiring in the beginning of 2021 and then again the following year. Two of her intern hires are still with her today. 

“That’s like the beauty of starting your own business and your own firm like that,” Hernandez said. “You always go through partnerships and sometimes they don’t work out. Sometimes they don’t, but sometimes it’s always a good start.”

One of the reasons why Hernandez started this firm was to bring more innovation to the inner city and the community.  She takes clients that most architects wouldn’t take because of her background and being bilingual as a Spanish speaker.  

Hernandez stated: “Not all the projects are [the same] that you show in your portfolio, but they bring a lot of joy because you get to meet really great people. And sometimes it’s just having somebody reach out to you and help you. I know that. People did that to us when I was growing up and my parents and I want to do the same thing and kind of pass it forward.”

Herandez has worked on both residential and commercial projects in the past. So thinking back it’s hard to recall her favorite projects but the residential sector in Kern County is much more involved. 

Whenever she gets to help a couple or family build their home and the customization of it, she gets to know her clients better on a personal level and enjoys the process along the way.  

“I love to work on residential projects because of that because you really form a relationship with the client.  Once their project is done, you kind of feel almost like a breakup. Like I want to see them again.  And so it’s great whenever they come back and find another project for you because it’s so enjoyable to work with them,” commented Hernandez.

Although it is not as intimate, Hernandez also has fun working with commercial sectors.

Hernadez believes that the city is changing. That Kern County is changing. Which is why she enjoys being part of and working in the community. 

“It’s really great to kind of put your seat in there and see it grow and be part of the change. I think housing is going to be a big force here. Especially if they do somehow design this because you’re going to have many more people wanting that affordable housing,” said Hernandez. “We have a lot of farm workers. People who don’t necessarily have big incomes and they need housing too. And so the single-family home is going to be hard in the future if all this migration does happen from the bigger cities.”

Hernandez wants to be part of that change. To try to align the firm to do more multifamily and get as much education as they can to inform their clients on how to make better decisions when it comes to the affordability of housing and how the firm can design them.

As a Latina in the architecture field, there are some challenges Herandez faced that she wishes didn’t exist but it does. When she started her career, Hernandez was the only woman in the office.  

She quickly noticed whenever her male boss invited her male colleagues out for a drink after work they got many more opportunities for mentorship, one-on-one time, and to talk about projects. If he asked her for more one-on-one time after work, Hernandez knew it would look differently because she was a woman. 

“It was normal. So you would see those people getting projects and having the ear of the boss. It’s something that I think about a lot and how [even though it] was very in a small firm, but even in bigger firms, I think that’s something that probably happens to a lot of women,” Hernandez revealed. “Where if you look a certain way, don’t dress a certain way, or dress a certain way, there’s all of this judgment that comes with it… That really hinders you from growing as fast as probably a male counterpart.”

Because there are those challenges Hernandez tries to change within their firm and she sees that change. 

“There’s more respect now and there’s more awareness that there is sort of this inequality. I think being Hispanic was in a way really great because you get to help other people who don’t speak the language and that happens a lot in our firm. We just get a lot of clients who just speak Spanish and they’re like, ‘Oh, somebody took advantage of me and I already gave them all this money,’” said Hernandez. “People don’t get the concept of what an architect really does. We don’t just do the design, we manage the project. We helped you with permits, and we helped you through the process of building, and getting a contractor. We’re like your biggest ally. So being Hispanic always kind of helped me help the community.” 

The biggest advice Hernandez can give for those who want to get their career started in architecture but are not sure how is to talk to an architect, go to a firm, and shadow somebody to see if that is what they really want to do. 

“You’ll be surprised how easy it is for somebody to give you that opportunity,” stated Hernandez.

Currently Ethosphere Studio is working on a project with a climbing gym downtown Bakersfield, Great Valley Climbing. 

Hernandez and her team are excited about this project because they are excited to use it as well. 

Haley Duval

Haley is a reporter based in Bakersfield, CA.