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.

Committed to inspiring youth and affecting change in their communities, Oswaldo Ortega, AIA, has nurtured a culture of mentorship in underserved communities across Illinois. Creative and dedicated, he is a role model for the next generation of design professionals and eager to lead programming that guides students from age 10 through architectural licensure.

A native of New York City, Ortega is now an associate in Gensler’s Chicago office, where he leads master planning studies, and architectural and interiors projects. Most recently he was project architect for Johnson Controls’ Asia-Pacific headquarters, coordinating the efforts of the firm’s Chicago and Shanghai offices. The world-class corporate campus for the leading building technologies and solutions provider minimizes impact on the natural environment while maximizing aesthetics and functionality. Ortega represented the firm during 11 trips to Shanghai, establishing himself as a critical team member and client contact.

Drawing on values he learned from his parents, who immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic shortly before his birth, Ortega has pursued architecture steadfastly while making time to support the underserved. Beginning in 2003, with his founding of the Society of Multicultural Architects & Designers while a student at Syracuse University, he has continued to develop initiatives that serve communities and diversify the profession.

In 2017, during his tenure as president of Illinois chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, Ortega devised a strategy to harness NOMA’s Project Pipeline Initiative to methodically support children from their early introductions to architecture all the way through their licensure exams. To accomplish this, he reformatted the chapter’s organizational structure, created new committees, and established a finance and marketing team that secured more than $200,000 in cash donations to support the expanded initiative. By identifying the journey of an architect from middle school to professional status, he established benchmarks for architectural education and developed programming for both parents and students. Recognizing the need to account for the profession’s constant cultural and technological shifts, he implemented a tiered mentoring system that encourages those moving through the pipeline to mentor the generation directly behind them.

For I-NOMA’s Architectural Summer Camp, the signature program of its Project Pipeline Initiative, Ortega revamped the curriculum to provide a deep dive into the creation of spaces and exposure to outstanding architecture. In 2017, when the camp was held at Illinois Institute of Technology’s S.R. Crown Hall, it introduced students to a different architectural scale each day. Ortega added a fifth day to the four-day camp so that parents could attend and learn more about the architectural education process.

With efforts that will ensure that the future of the profession will be more inclusive and relevant, Ortega’s has proven himself to be a tireless visionary. He embodies the responsibility and attributes of an architect who is keenly aware of how the built environment affects tomorrow’s thought leaders and innovators.


Raymond "Skipper" Post, FAIA (Chair), Post Architects, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

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

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

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

Roger Schluntz, FAIA, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque

Lora Teagarden, AIA, RATIO Architects, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana

Image credits

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Kai L Brown

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Garrett Rowland