Lan Duong

For Lan Duong, Class of 2015, who grew up in Los Angeles, building Abu Dhabi is a literal obsession. As a civil engineer and project manager at AECOM, she sees the magic in places that many cannot — the underground systems that power cities through subterranean wizardry.

She jokes that it’s easy to think of her field of water engineering as “cold, robotic, and soulless,” before adding: “When you think about Atlantis or ancient Rome, what comes to mind first is the infrastructure.”

Duong carries that weight of significance to her job developing the capital. One recent project she partnered on was Reem Central Park, an aesthetically pleasing mix of promenades, sports parks, and pocket lawns that were designed to enhance human interaction. It’s what landscape architects, Duong’s engineering cousins, might call a “well-made place.” And it’s a place Duong says she’s especially proud to have helped build.

Eventually, Duong hopes to use her experience designing Abu Dhabi to assist the less fortunate. One possibility: critical infrastructure restoration after disasters. And yet, no matter where she sets up shop next, she says she’ll always strive to make “a tangible impact on people’s wellbeing and sense of attachment to their home.”

Iron and glass (and underground pipes, apparently) can certainly have that effect; physical structures are often how people describe their communities to others. But as inspiring as the built environment is, ideas can be equally effective at bringing people together.

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