Designing for Justice: Alumna Seeks to Reshape Housing Across MENA

Nour-Lyna Boulgamh using VR goggles in her design research

After conducting research at the University of Arizona, presenting at the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics, and Informatics in 2020 and winning AUC’s Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award one year later, Nour-Lyna Boulgamh ‘21, an Algerian Amazigh and Tomorrow’s Leaders Scholarship recipient who majored in architectural engineering, now has her sights set on a larger feat: solving the housing crisis for displaced individuals in the Middle East and North Africa.

Boulgamh began her research during her junior year at AUC, when she studied under the tutelage of Magda Moustafa, associate professor of architecture, and got inspired by her work on designing for people with autism.  

“This experience was the lantern that illuminated my path into creating human-centered designs — those that prioritize humanitarianism over materialism,” she explained.

Boulgamh went on to earn a scholarship through AUC’s Tomorrow’s Leaders program to study abroad for a semester at the University of Arizona, where she explored the potential of using Virtual Reality (VR) in daylight design strategies, which seek to optimize the user’s perception and experience of space based on how and when daylight is allowed in.

Boulgamh conducting research using VR goggles
Boulgamh conducting research using VR goggles

 

With the help of a grant from AUC’s Undergraduate Research Program, Boulgamh published and presented her research at the 24th World Multi-Conference of Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics, an international forum aimed at fostering collaboration between researchers from various disciplines.

Her innovation and achievements throughout her time as an undergrad are what snagged her AUC’s 2021 Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award.

“When I won the award, I was extremely thrilled, motivated, proud and grateful for two main reasons,” she recalled. “First, because it reminded me of why I chose to be part of this institution, and second, because it supported my next academic journey in joining one of the world’s most prestigious schools of architecture: Harvard Graduate School of Design.”

Now at Harvard, Boulgamh is motivated to enact positive social change in both her professional and personal life by identifying and correcting inequities across both realms.

“Architecture isn’t pristine structures and ornate buildings; it’s ample with venues for corruption, sexism and racism, but also change,” she said. “As an undergraduate, I excelled at sketching and building structures, but as a Harvard graduate, I'll vehemently dismantle bigger structures — those of injustice.”

Nour-Lyna Boulgamh sits in front of Harvard University
Boulgamh sits on the steps of Harvard University

 

The young researcher expressed her gratitude for AUC and the Tomorrow’s Leaders program for supporting her along her journey.

Unable to pinpoint just one memorable moment at AUC, Boulgamh recalled how much she enjoyed the Tomorrow’s Leaders meetings, sessions and workshops. “They were the most fun and fruitful, as I had the opportunity to engage with renowned community leaders in several fields and have inventive conversations with my fellow TLers.”

The experience at AUC and in the Tomorrow’s Leaders program, according to Boulgamh, allowed her to build networking skills, become more politically aware and develop her overall resilience. Shortly after her acceptance to Harvard, a number of scholarship programs for international students were canceled worldwide due to the coronavirus pandemic. With help from thousands of people worldwide, she was able to fundraise more than USD 20,000 and continue her dream.

"I am very grateful to every person who supported me," Boulgamh remarked, stressing to other students the importance of "trusting the process."

“AUC instilled in me the will to seek excellence, as it surrounded me with diverse yet like-minded leaders," she said. "The Tomorrow’s Leaders program shaped and sharpened my perspectives, opinions and leadership skills by pushing me to take action and embark on several leadership positions within AUC and beyond.”