Woodworker carves lasting impact on campus

University of Miami's School of Architecture model shop director, Adrian Villaraos, works on his own project by wood-turning what will become the handle for a cutting material on March 3rd. Sophie Barros // Contributing Photographer
University of Miami’s School of Architecture model shop director, Adrian Villaraos, works on his own project by wood-turning what will become the handle for a cutting material on March 3rd. Sophie Barros // Contributing Photographer

Adrian Villaraos, 63, comes to work every day to the smell of freshly cut wood and the sounds of classical music. He runs the School of Architecture’s (SoA) model shop and has had a passion for woodwork since he was a boy.

All architecture students who need to build models of their designs for a class or personal projects can use the SoA model shop. Villaraos, the director, acts as a facilitator in this process, guiding students during their projects and suggesting particular skills he thinks they should develop.

He serves as a teacher and a mentor, providing students with valuable advice and technique workshops.

Villaraos says he loves doing something he’s done all his life. His father taught him to work with wood and optical fiber when he was 12, and had just emmigrated from Cuba, he said.

“I grew up as a boat builder,” Villaraos said. “By the time I was 16, my father lied about my age and got me a job with Merrill Stevens [on Miami River], the oldest shipyard in southeastern United States.”

As his boat-building job was seasonal, Villaraos started working with large local department stores, doing woodwork and furnishings. He also took on anything else that came his way. From stair-building to custom woodcarving, he began to master all the artistic and manual forms of working with wood, which eventually paved the way to getting a job in the architecture school six years ago.

Villaraos loves woodworking, but he has a lot of other interests as well.

“What I do for a living is woodwork,” he said. “What I do for fun is painting, sculpting and printing. I took lithography with the lady [Lise Drost] who today is the chair of the fine arts department at UM. I studied with her back when I was taking classes at Florida International University (FIU). This means I can understand the artwork.”

Before coming to UM in 2008, he held a similar position as a model shop director at FIU. Now that he has been at UM for six years, Villaraos acknowledges that he made the right decision and would never go back.

“This is a great place to work,” he said. “You are surrounded by intelligent students. They are more cosmopolitan and have a wider world view. They’ve gone places, they’ve done things. Also the faculty is more experienced. They are professional and have been doing this for a long time.”

Joseph Roy, a fifth-year senior, works at the model shop under Villaraos’ supervision and appreciates having him as his boss.

“He is a character, a great guy to work with,” Roy said. “He knows literally everything, so when you come in here you actually learn a lot. The amount of things that he knows and the stories that he has … you can just learn so much from him.”

Villaraos also likes helping students outside the architecture school. For example, he worked with the School of Communication’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) Bateman Team to find a canvas for a public relations campaign.

“I was looking for a large wooden canvas for our PopMoney flash mob and asked my friend in the architecture school for help,” said Michelle Lock, PRSSA vice president. “She introduced me to Adrian, and he has helped me so much, even though I’m not even in the architecture school!”

Villaraos’ close relationship with the students illustrates the “debt” he feels he has with the people who taught him everything he knows today.

“They were old men when I met them and now they are all dead,” he said. “And I can never repay them for what they taught me, because what they taught me allowed me to earn my keep and feed my family. The only way I can discharge my obligations to them is to take what they taught me and to teach it to somebody else.”

Villaraos said he tries to take advantage of every experience at UM and keep learning.

“There’s a quote from ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea;’ it’s the motto of Captain Nemo – mobilis in mobili – you have to move with the movement,” Villaraos said. “In other words, you have to be constantly adapting. If you don’t constantly learn, your brain ossifies, it turns into a rock. And you don’t want to do that, you wanna stay forever young.”