2020 Young Architect 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.
Bridging the gap between architecture, urban design, and social work, Wayne Mortensen, AIA, has made unprecedented strides in his career and community-oriented leadership roles. He is a champion for Cleveland’s urban communities and their recovery, and his spirit and human-centered practice lends a voice to those who, unfortunately, lack one.
Mortensen settled on architecture as a profession at age 12 and, despite wavering a few times from his decision, is keenly interested in design’s ability to address society’s issues. During a gap year in his schooling, he spent time with AIAS National and emerged ready to pursue his master’s in architecture at Washington University in St. Louis. As he spent his days debating and pondering ways in which the profession could address past missteps, he decided to complement his studies with master’s degrees in urban design and social work.
Placing people and communities at the forefront of every project is a common thread running through Mortensen’s young career. As a project manager and outreach specialist for H3 Studio is St. Louis, he oversaw relationships that required the subordination of privilege in communities that were often skeptical of white architects intervening in their neighborhoods. After more than 200 public work sessions, Mortensen has proven himself to be a skilled facilitator who is able to extract meaningful solutions to seemingly insurmountable issues.
In 2010, he received an Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship and was hosted by Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Cleveland’s community development nonprofit. Mortensen has remained there for the past decade and now serves as its director of design and development. In Cleveland he has found unmatched social infrastructure and a significant roster of partners. During his three-year fellowship, Mortensen aided 16 neighborhoods in assembling strength-based target area plans to prioritize investment and lay the groundwork for redevelopment projects, such as Saint Luke’s Hospital, which Mortensen calls his altruistic thesis project come to life. The adaptive reuse of the hospital has emerged as the centerpiece for the transformation of the city’s Buckeye neighborhood and is poised to top $1 billion in new development.
Mortensen’s involvement with AIA began with AIAS Nebraska, where he quickly moved through the ranks and became chapter president in 2002. He strengthened the chapter’s programming and its relationship with the Matt Talbot soup kitchen in downtown Lincoln. The chapter was responsible for all aspects of a monthly community dinner for up to 85 people. Later, Mortensen served as the AIAS national president and joined the AIA Board of Directors in 2004 as the national student director. Since joining Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, and as an AIA Cleveland board member, Mortensen has helped AIA Cleveland re-engage with the architects it serves and placed them in the spotlight during the chapter’s annual summer festival. Next year, Mortensen will begin his term as the chapter’s president.