2017 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.

A dynamic designer with a wealth of built and conceptual projects in his portfolio, Luis Vélez-Alvarez, AIA, has brought a new level of discourse to the profession. A thoughtful leader, he brings his unique viewpoint to all aspects of architecture, including education and engagement with the community.

A native of Puerto Rico, Vélez-Alvarez developed an appreciation for the natural world early in life that has continued to influence his design thinking. Working to ensure that architecture is an extension of nature, he is an associate at SmithGroupJJR’s Washington, D.C., office.

When he joined the firm, in 2006, Vélez-Alvarez was quickly entrusted with leading the design for a number of major projects. At 1331 L Street NW in Washington, he oversaw the design of the common areas in a new 240,000-square-foot mixed-use building and served as the LEED coordinator for the project, which achieved LEED Gold certification and in 2009 was named the LEED Core and Shell Project of the Year. Nearby, he is leading the design effort for the National Press Building repositioning, a 500,000-square-foot office building in the heart of the District.

In 2009 Vélez-Alvarez took a two-year break from the firm and joined the faculty at Virginia Tech to lead the School of Architecture and Design’s first-year design studio. Facing the challenges of a first-time professor head on, he created a curriculum from scratch while developing his leadership skills and re-engaging with the fundamentals of architecture from a new perspective.

In 2013 Vélez-Alvarez was a member of the inaugural class of the Christopher Kelley Leadership Development Program, a nine-month program for young professionals. Later that year he co-founded LA.IDEA, an AIA|DC committee for Latino design professionals. Driven by the group's passion to connect Latino professionals across the country, the committee’s membership tops 200, and its monthly meetings and regular events feature lectures by renowned architects.    

As AIA|DC’s associate director, Vélez-Alvarez works closely with the Chapter’s board of directors and its Emerging Architects Committee. He has also been active with the Washington Architectural Foundation’s Architecture in the Schools program, where he helped educate young students about the value of architecture. His tireless work to promote the Chapter and the district as a hub for design led to his receipt of a 2016 AIA|DC Emerging Architects Award.

A strong voice for diversity in architecture, Vélez-Alvarez exemplifies the profession’s need to embrace a broader demographic spectrum. Fueled by his boundless energy in support of architecture, he is a tremendous asset to both his Chapter and the built environment.


John Sorrenti, FAIA, (Chair), JRS Architect, PC, Mineola, New York

Josh Flowers, AIA, Hnedak Bobo Group, Memphis, Tennessee

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

Lenore M. Lucey, FAIA, LML Consulting, Washington, DC

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

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

Image credits

Luis Vélez-Alvarez, AIA