2018 Young Architects Award Recipient

Emerging talent deserves recognition. The AIA Young Architects Award honors individuals who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made significant contributions to the architecture profession early in their careers.

Michelle Acosta, AIA, realized her proclivity for design at a young age. While relocating from Los Angeles to Tucson at age 10, she was tasked by her father, an engineer, with drawing the floor plan and laying out the family furniture for their new house. Hooked on space planning from that moment on, Acosta has merged her passion for architecture with leadership skills to craft a successful career in healthcare planning and design.

Acosta is currently a healthcare project manager for SmithGroupJJR in Phoenix. Working alongside medical planners, she provides input on projects such as the master plan for the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada and the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System. For the former, she was the day-to-day client contact deeply involved in planning the project, which will increase available beds for Nevada’s only Level 1 trauma center and align the center’s physical environment with modern caretaking models.

Prior to joining SmithGroupJJR, Acosta was an associate at HDR Inc., where she helped lead a production team for the interior buildout of nearly 330,000 square feet for the Wilford Hall Ambulatory Care Center, the U.S. Defense Department’s largest ambulatory care facility. Acosta’s leadership on the project crossed state lines, as members of the team and consultants were scattered throughout Dallas, Los Angeles, Charlotte, and Phoenix.

Acosta’s involvement with the AIA began early in her career, when she joined the Arizona State University AIAS chapter, which at the time had only 20 members. After she was elected chapter secretary, membership rose to more than 100, thanks in part to programs she introduced and nurtured. As associate director of AIA Phoenix Metro, she helped fellow emerging professionals transition to ARE 4.0 and supported them with test prep classes, monthly lunch meetings, and an annual conference that in 2018 will celebrate its 10th anniversary.

When Acosta relocated to Los Angeles, in 2014, she joined AIA Pasadena & Foothill, and was elected that year to become 2016 chapter president. By harnessing her unique outlook as a woman and young architect, she energized the chapter with new ideas that traveled up to the AIA California Council level. By reinforcing the leadership pipeline, she shaped the chapter’s board into one that was half female, multigenerational, and better-connected to the membership. As a result, its associate membership grew by 10 percent, and the AIA California Council honored the chapter with an Academy for Emerging Professionals award for outstanding programming aimed at young professionals. Her presence at the state level as a member of AIA California Council’s board and several of its committees was vital as the chapter reorganized to respond to new requirements for accreditation.

By emanating confidence and integrity, Acosta garners the respect and dedication of the teams she leads, whether in the office or as chapter officer. Her spirit is contagious, and her efforts to attract the next generation of design professionals to the AIA laudable.


Lenore M. Lucey, FAIA (Chair), LML Consulting, Washington, DC

Raymond "Skipper" Post, FAIA, Post Architects, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Edward Vance, FAIA, EV&A Architects, Inc., Las Vegas, Nevada

Peter Kuttner, FAIA, Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts

John Castellana, FAIA, TMP Architecture, Inc., Bloomfield Hill, Michigan

Evelyn Lee, AIA, Savills Studley, Oakland, California

Image credits

Michelle Acosta

HDR Architecture

Michelle Acosta-04

Led Sled, Inc.

Michelle Acosta-05