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Tonya Ohnstad


Tonya Ohnstad, AIA, NCARB
Associate Dean of Graduate Studies

Assistant Professor of Practice
Director of Experiences in Architecture
School of Architecture + Planning
The Catholic University of America

Tonya Ohnstad is a practitioner and professor with an interest in tectonics and materials. She is interested in the intersection of history culture, and construction. Her research uses humble, repeatable components from iconic buildings to explore sociocultural, historical, and embodied human energy. These projects reveal complex cultural conditions, innovative and responsive technologies, and are poised to transfer intangible heritage over generations. She engages the designer, builder, and student through making while setting up a novel pedagogical framework. She sees these projects as a bridge to practice as they harness the power of project collaboration: between historians, craftspeople, students, curators, and academics.

She has practiced in large and small firms, working on projects that address near needs of communities to far flung aesthetic competitions (from funeral homes to floating Guggenheim galleries). Her practice has been international and collaborative by nature, having previously worked at Ateliers Jean Nouvel on projects in Doha and Rio. In Oslo, she worked at Naarud Stokke Wig on projects of urban scale. In the United States, she started by working with her father, for his sole practice, as a teenager in the 1990s. She has worked in Los Angeles as a junior architect at Gehry Partners, primarily on the LVMH museum in Paris and the Novartis Pharma building in Switzerland. She also worked in Boston at Kennedy Violich Architects (KVA), where she was the design lead for the 34th Street Ferry Landing in Manhattan. She received a patent for her work on the award-winning Portable Light project in Mexico with KVA MATx, integrating portable flexible photovoltaics into traditional weaving techniques. She was a partner at Rhetra LLC from 2014-2020, developing a Maasai girls’ campus for Kakenya’s Center for Excellence. She continues to work with Kakenya, engaging architecture students in the design and development of the school buildings. In 2020, students from her design studio completed the library design, which is currently under construction. The common thread in her practice is built around material’s potential to impact the lives of its inhabitants, and how buildings are stewarded. Tonya has a master’s degree in Architecture from Harvard Graduate School of Design. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Minnesota with a dual Bachelor of Arts in Architecture and French.