For Brie Smith, there’s no better way to learn about architecture and urban planning than getting her hands dirty and living in the environment in which she’s working.
Smith, an intern in Scottsdale’s Planning Department, intends to do precisely that — just in a more rural locale.
On June 30, the Arizona State University graduate will leave for Woe, Ghana, a fishing village in West Africa that has been damaged by decades of sea erosion.
Just as the 23-year-old has assisted Scottsdale with its general plan — or blueprint for development — Smith will be charged with helping to design buildings and plan future development for the weather-beaten village.
"It’s overwhelming at the moment," she said. "But I’m ecstatic."
Smith graduated from ASU’s School of Architecture last May, and has since worked for the city on a variety of projects, from designing facades for post-World War II Scottsdale homes to helping create Web site and CD-ROM versions of the city’s general plan.
At least one of her supervisors isn’t surprised that Smith is going from a relatively rich city with computers at every desk to a village where electricity, flush toilets and indoor showers are a luxury.
"She is a very smart and adaptable person. She is incredibly mature for her age," said Monique de los Rios-Urban, a Scottsdale senior planner. "I think it will benefit her in the short-run for her trip, and for the long-run for where she is going to go in her career."
Eighty years ago, Woe was a thriving coastal village in southeast Ghana, but it has since experienced an exodus of people, government facilities and industry as sea erosion has destroyed most of the town, Smith said.
She applied for the assignment through Cross-Cultural Solutions, a New York-based nonprofit organization that specializes in international volunteer work. She’ll earn graduate credits for the five-month adventure.
Smith said she is interested in how architecture affects society, and sees the developing area as an ideal place to focus on the discipline. In addition to planning work, Smith said she’ll help build some structures.
"There is so much history. You go back to the origins of storytelling. You go back to early construction — it all kind of links back," she said. "To live in a village where cell phones and automobiles aren’t predominant, you can really focus on social dynamics and interaction within the community. You can focus on people as opposed to the things."