Ruhnau Clarke Architects’ success is built upon the diverse, collective experience of its employees. The XPLORE program has been established to enable greater exposure to outside influences and new ideas. This internal competition gives winning participants the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world, supported by additional funding and time from the firm. The intent of the journey is to expand personal growth and knowledge through significant, direct experience of a specific place. We offer this as an opportunity to learn, explore, and investigate; to enlighten our team members and then share that experience with the rest of the firm.  

The 2018 cycle of XPLORE saw nine entries in the final round, each with a unique proposal highly worthy of the final prize. They ranged in location from Zimbabwe, to Greece, to Japan and covered a wide arrange of subjects from deeply personal to obscure and fascinating. 

This year’s judges were chosen for their unique and varying perspectives. They reviewed each submission individually before coming together as a group to discuss and debate their final selection. This was by-far the toughest judging session, as each proposal was well thought out and beautifully presented. It was a lively discussion in which each proposal was carefully evaluated against the submission criteria, the presentation of the proposal, and the potential for the impact of the journey on participants and the firm as a whole. 

I am truly blown away by the personal stories that each individual brought to the XPLORE competition. As someone that has had the pleasure of working with Ruhnau Clarke Architects, this program is another reflection of the company’s commitment to encouraging creativity and innovation. I feel privileged to have a little bit more insight into the dynamic individuals that make up this amazing company and have been inspired by this effort to foster curiosity and interest in the world around us.
— Kelly Malloy, Director of Strategic Services, East Valley Water District, 2018 XPLORE Judge

This year’s winner, The Last Dive, captivated the judges with its unique subject matter; they were particularly struck by the idea of preserving or documenting a dying cultural tradition.

The Last Dive

2018 XPLORE Winner, Hieu Nguyen

Hieu Ngyuen has proposed to travel to Jeju island in South Korea to meet the oldest female diver in the world, “the last mermaid of Jeju Island”, and understand how the heritage of the Haenyeo (women free divers) has shaped the people and economy of the island. Their stories often range from tragic to triumphant, Hieu has proposed to observe them first-hand. 

I think XPLORE is an amazing opportunity given to me by Ruhnau Clarke Architects. I would not have thought of doing something like this if it was not for the program. I have learned so much about Haenyeos as well as their incredible culture and unique profession. The more I read about Haenyeos, the more I feel touched and inspired by their history, sacrifices, and future.
— Hieu Nguyen, 2018 XPLORE Winner

Hieu’s next step will be to solidify the details of his trip, making contact with the appropriate organizations and people, often one of the most difficult elements of executing the Xplore journey. We are excited to see what he brings back. 

I hope that, by the end of this journey, everyone who sees and hears my stories of the Haenyeos will be touched and inspired the same way that I am and that their legacy will continue to pass on even when they no longer exist in this world.
— Hieu Nguyen, 2018 XPLORE Winner


XPLORE is a personal journey in the pursuit of growth and exploration, encouraging individuals to create an experience that connects them to a wider span of influence and share that experience with colleagues. There are three basic components to a winning XPLORE entry:

1. Destination

The destination and the purpose should be intertwined- the choice of location should reinforce the exploration or purpose of the travel

2. Purpose

The purpose of the XPLORE journey should be clear; any topic is valid and above all it should be an opportunity to explore beyond the boundaries of one’s daily life

3. Documentation

Submissions should convey what the proposed XPLORE initiative is, and perhaps most importantly, how the XPLORE journey will enrich the participant and their colleagues at Ruhnau Clarke