When Charley Andrews addresses the 2021 graduating class of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture at the June 12 virtual commencement, she plans to talk about the importance of community.

Andrews, who is receiving her bachelor’s degree in architectural studies with a minor in classical civilizations, was chosen by UCLA Arts to be the commencement speaker for her exceptional academic achievements. Although Andrews and her cohort had to shift to remote learning in March 2020, the friendships she forged with her classmates helped them overcome the challenges of online collaboration.

“It’s called studio culture,” she said. “You spend your whole life in studio — you eat your meals there, sometimes you sleep there — and that’s how you make your friends.”

Andrews, who mainly grew up on the east side of Los Angeles County — in Alhambra, Monterey Park and Whittier — attended UCLA, in part, to stay close to her family, which includes six younger siblings. “It would have felt really weird to move away from all of them,” Andrews said.

Her academic interests developed while attending the Applied Technology Center High School in Montebello, where she took classes in architecture, construction and engineering. She learned woodworking and how to use AutoCAD, a computer-aided design and drafting software. During her junior year of high school, she designed tiny living spaces using shipping containers.

“I think that was the beginning of an obsession with tiny living housing,” she said. “Everything is a puzzle. You have to use everything to the extent of its capabilities.”

At UCLA, Andrews enrolled in Jimenez Lai’s architecture studio class, which she described as “absolutely everything I’ve been waiting for and dreaming of in an architecture class.”

She designed an innovative housing project called “Normie House,” which was eye-catching on the outside but intentionally unremarkable on the inside.

“[Lai] wanted plans, he wanted sections, he wanted physical model-making. It was so much fun,” she said. “And I think he was also just an excellent professor.”

For a class taught by Jason Payne, she worked with a group on “Flying Cloud,” a bubble-shaped hangar for an Airstream trailer.

She particularly enjoyed designing a project she calls “Oasis,” which she created while studying with Kutan Ayata. It’s designed to be a living space for two distinct families sharing a single plot of land.

“I’m just very proud of how it seems to be one cohesive unit, but when you look further at the plan, you realize that you have two distinct communities happening inside of it,” she said.

“Charley possesses the perfect temperament as a curious learner,” Ayata said. “She listens to feedback with a calm and receptive demeanor. She turns every suggestion into tangible outcomes that can be evaluated for further growth of her projects. She is not afraid to step outside of her comfort zone to explore new trajectories and, most importantly, she does not shy away from taking risks in her explorations.”

Andrews came to UCLA expecting to major in structural engineering, but when she realized she wanted to have more of a role in designing structures, she switched to architecture. She says she enjoys having constraints to follow, such as a unique plot of land, specific functions that a structure needs to meet or an intangible feeling that the space is meant to evoke.

“You have to get everything in the right place or it just doesn’t work,” she said.

Andrews uses the programs Rhinoceros (known simply as Rhino by designers), Illustrator and Photoshop to design detailed 2D and 3D renderings of spaces. She and her classmates also use Enscape and Premiere Pro to create animated videos, which, at first, she and other students didn’t understand the need for.

“All of us were thinking, ‘Why are we making a movie? Why are we making a GIF? Is this really architecture?’” she said. “But I do see its merits now. I do think it is super important. I think that its biggest grab is that it does what a lot of drawings and sometimes renders can’t do. And it gives you a feel for a space without actually having to go there. I think it’s really powerful sometimes.”

Andrews says she and her classmates are excited to see how the field of architecture is diversifying and making space for voices that are not typically heard in the profession. She recently learned that her two grandmothers had an interest in architecture, but didn’t pursue it because there were so few women architects in their time.

She and her classmates are also eager to see architecture education decolonize the curriculum and advance an understanding and appreciation of underrepresented cultural traditions.

“You take these architecture theory classes and you realize that all of the history that you’re learning is super European, and specifically almost always talking about Paris and Vienna,” Andrews said. She’s especially interested in learning more about the architecture of South America and Africa.

In addition to her required architecture classes, Andrews took six courses in American Sign Language.

“I don’t know any other languages other than English and some ASL. It was a lot easier to pick up [ASL] than spoken languages I’ve tried to learn, and it was really interesting learning about deaf culture,” she said.

Andrews also enjoys slow-paced, hands-on hobbies like painting, bookbinding, embroidery and sewing. Like many people during the pandemic, she started baking sourdough bread and acquired a number of houseplants.

Andrews will return to UCLA in the fall to commence the three-year master of architecture program. While her interest in architecture is broad, she’s especially interested in designing housing, particularly tiny homes. And she hopes to work in Southern California, where the need for affordable housing solutions is so acute.