Designing Buildings And Scaling Mountains: Meet Vandana Dake

Aug 26, 2019

Architect Vandana Dake had a hand in revitalizing Durham in the 90s.
Credit Courtesy of Alliance Architecture

Architect Vandana Dake was recently listed in Durham Magazine as one of 20 incredible women making an impact locally and globally. Born in India, Dake landed in Durham almost by accident.

After a friend posted her resume on the American Institute of Architects website, Dake began getting calls from firms in Colorado, Virginia and New York offering her interviews. She was on vacation in California at the time, so she figured: Why not explore the possibilities?

She was scared off by Colorado’s snow; the Washington metro area’s traffic was too overwhelming; and she did not feel safe living in early-90s Manhattan. But when Triangle-based firm Alliance Architecture called, she visited and fell in love with their vision and the lush landscape of the area. Dake is part of the team that helped rebuild Durham, and she says they did so by rehabbing one abandoned location at a time. Vandana Dake joins host Frank Stasio to share her journey from India to Durham, her passion for architecture and her newfound hobby: hiking. Dake climbed Kilimanjaro in 2017, and has her sights set on Machu Picchu.

Interview Highlights


On the pressure on her parents to produce a boy baby:My sister is born five years after me, and the whole family, including my grandparents, are very, very, very disappointed because [there was] no boy in the family to continue the name … We both were raised as human beings not boys and girls. 

On her mother not understanding what architecture entailed: 

My mom had no clue about architecture. After two years she’s telling me: Well all I see you [doing] is just drawing. When are you going to study? 

On deciding to focus on Durham at a time when much of downtown was boarded up and abandoned: 

I don't think it was a well-thought-out plan. I think John [Warsila, founder of Alliance Architecture] wanted to be in Durham because of what he had seen in Baltimore. He had missed out on the development in Baltimore. And when he saw Durham, [he realized] that there was so much potential … When I saw Durham it was like a blank canvas. There’s so much that can happen here. 

On climbing Kilimanjaro:

You’re so alone. It’s the deepest of being alone and then at the same time you’re with everything ... I can’t explain. It’s an amazing feeling.


Dake, front left, hiked Mount Kilamanjaro in 2017.
Credit Courtesy of Vandana Dake.