2019 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.
By uniting art with architecture, James Garrett Jr., AIA, creates dynamic spaces for the 21st century that demonstrate a commitment to diversity and equity in the profession. A visual artist and writer who was formally trained as an architect, he gives voice to underserved communities and is deeply invested in the human experience.
Born in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, to American parents who returned stateside when he was young, Garrett spent his formative years in St. Paul, Minnesota, where his interest in cities was sparked. Growing up in the post-industrial era that gave rise to hip-hop culture and graffiti writing, he has made it his mission to reconnect art and architecture. His work as the founding partner of St. Paul’s 4RM+ULA combines resiliency and dynamic expression in the form of vibrant color and diverse media. Founded in 2002, the firm has evolved into a full-service practice focused on transit design and transit-oriented development.
Garrett’s vision for a more equitable future is on display in projects such as Great River Landing. Slated for completion this summer in St. Paul’s North Loop neighborhood, it will provide single-room occupancy and efficiency apartments for up to 72 adults who have been homeless or unemployed due to incarceration. In Minneapolis he led the effort to transform Freedom Square, a once-vacant lot that has become a vital public plaza. While small in size, the project has altered the perception of the area and contributes to the aesthetics of the city’s West Broadway corridor in a manner that echoes the cultures of the community.
Garrett’s journey to becoming an architect was not easy, but he was unfazed by critics—including a high school instructor and graduate school professor who told him he was unlikely to become one. Those experiences help explain why he advocates for a more diverse profession and has dedicated himself to serving as a mentor for aspiring design professionals in his firm and as an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture. Garrett has worked tirelessly to increase the number of registered architects of color through hiring and training, and his boutique firm serves as an incubator that instills a strong foundation in design principles, project management, and community engagement.
Last year Garrett created the innovative Base Pay Matrix, which prompted an interview by the authors of the AIA’s “Guides for Equitable Practice.” The document maps compensation and career trajectory based on job descriptions and years of experience at his firm. Every employee can quickly identify their current position, salary, and earning potential. Women can ascertain that their compensation is identical to their male counterparts’, while employees of color obtain the same information in terms of their white colleagues. Garrett believes that transparent, equity-based policies are valuable tools for the profession to recruit and retain women and people of color.
Generous and responsible, Garrett is able to engage colleagues, students, and the public with equal aplomb. As an agent of change, he has made a profound impact on the profession and the communities he serves.