Designing with Culture


ERO Architects aims to transform the experience of educational spaces

In South Texas, Ruby Red grapefruit and orange groves once stretched as far as the eye could see — a sight that one can hardly imagine today, considering all the retail centers, subdivisions, and venues for entertainment that now make up the Rio Grande Valley landscape.

Raised in Mission, Eli R. Ochoa, founder and managing partner of ERO Architects, has seen how, off-the-charts, growth and development has transformed the largely agricultural region into an up-and-coming metropolis with a population of over one million. Among other factors, the sudden and exponential growth translates into a large demand for public and private schools — education projects that perfectly align with Ochoa’s goal of creating 21st century spaces of possibility and belonging for the community in which they’re placed. Confident in the power of architecture, Ochoa envisions technology and architecture intertwining to create spaces that further transform the way our children learn and relate to education.

Get to Know ERO

Ochoa’s multi-disciplinary firm specializes in the public sector. From the look of ERO Architects’ busy office and history of success, one can say with confidence that Ochoa has the right idea (respecting the land, people, and history of a community in his firm’s designs and work), and the know-how and dedication with which to execute it.

Since 2001, ERO Architects have completed more than 200 public projects — some of which were nationally contested bids — and won many awards for their work. Their latest headline-making project, the new McAllen Performing Arts Center, is the perfect example of the design trinity that makes up Ochoa’s philosophy and approach to his design of public facilities.

“We can design an aesthetically pretty building that you can put anywhere. But we can also design contextually. For example, the performing arts center relates to the rest of the convention center plaza in context. Taking it to the next level is to design culturally,” Ochoa said. “That’s where you put in all the metaphors and nuances that tie the building to its community.”

Designing for the Public

Through the colors, symbolism, and architectural cues of the McAllen Performing Arts Center, visitors can feel comfortable, says Ochoa, because something there reminds them of their past that they connect with. “It’s subconscious but you feel it, and it helps you tie yourself to that building.” One of ERO Architects’ biggest goals is getting the community to embrace the importance of cultural design.

“Our design philosophy is to have the new building reflect the culture of the community — respecting its people, history, and land. By weaving cultural elements into the design, both interior and exterior, the community has a sense of ownership to the building. We believe that ERO can be a part of the building and community’s legacy, as well.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 10.06.39 AM


Educational spaces

Ochoa says they’ve had the fortune of getting some iconic projects like the McAllen Performing Arts Center, but what really excites him is the ability to design educational spaces for 21st century learning. “Educational architecture is so important. In schools, we can’t control the tools students get but we can make these environments that are conducive to learning, where a student will want to learn and an educator will feel empowered to teach.”  

He says buildings need to relate to the customer — in the case of schools, these are teachers and students. “A lot of children and teachers spend hours, days and weeks in these facilities and we’d like to believe that we design them in a way to make learning a bit more practical, easier and a little more fun,” Ochoa said. “The opportunity to impact so many of our youth is very fulfilling to us.”

He lists features being implemented in modern classrooms: open spaces, splashes of color, full spectrum lighting. “That’s why you see a lot of windows; sunlight is very important when you’re a child. You need Vitamin E and D to grow, be healthy, stay focused.”


Though he says it’s a balancing act between budgets, time, and best intentions, he hopes educational leaders understand the important positive difference architecture makes for learning. “Technology is the easiest thing to incorporate into a classroom, so that should be the last focus for learning spaces. We want to be able to leave some kind of legacy where people will understand that we can — and should — provide young learners the necessary environments for them to be successful in the 21st century.”


To learn more about ERO Architects, visit their website at