Growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, Monica Ponce de Leon was surrounded by modernist buildings. Following high school, she arrived in the United States with her family in the 1980s, speaking very little English but determined to pursue her goal of becoming an architect. The first person in her family to graduate from college, she earned degrees from the University of Miami and the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
As a practitioner and an educator, Ponce de Leon has pioneered the application of robotics in architecture. Her innovative buildings, such as the Macallen in Boston, the Conrad Hilton in New York City, and the Fleet Library at the Rhode Island School of Design, represent her commitment to sustainability. In 2007, as a founding partner at Office dA, she shared the prestigious Cooper Hewitt National Design Award in Architecture Design, becoming the first Hispanic woman to win the prize. In 2011, Ponce de Leon started her own firm, MPdL Studio.
She has taught at Harvard and headed the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. From launching a program providing architecture preparation for Detroit public school students to revamping university architecture curricula, Ponce de Leon has championed diversity in the field. In 2015, she was named dean of the Princeton University School of Architecture, becoming the first woman to hold the post. As she told Architectural Digest, “Architecture materializes culture. We have the capacity to put on the table alternatives to the status quo. But if architecture is going to impact culture, it has to represent and argue for a broad cohort of communities.”
In 2016, Ponce de Leon was inducted into the National Academy of Design. That same year, she was selected by the State Department to cocurate the U.S. Pavilion for the 15th International Venice Architecture Biennale.