2020 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.

Amber Sausen, AIA, is a thoughtful designer and committed leader who harnesses the power of the arts and architecture to build community. By blending two disciplines, she has demonstrated that she is a true global citizen who is eager to collaborate locally in Minnesota and across the globe.

Upon graduating from high school, Sausen originally planned to become an opera singer, and she spent her early working days as a dance teacher as she studied music. While she developed a love for performance and art making, she also took undergraduate architecture classes at the University of Minnesota and spent several semesters traveling to locales such as the Dominican Republic, Yugoslavia, and Mexico. After performing in a number of theater productions and interning for an architecture firm in Norway, Sausen returned to the university to pursue graduate architecture studies, which culminated in an installation of sculptural fabric inspired by choreography.

Today, as a senior associate at Minneapolis’ Alliiance, Sausen relies on her background to focus on design and advocacy for clients in the arts community. Her deep understanding of how the arts can change lives and open minds is evident in projects such as the expanded Reif Performing Arts Center in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Sausen’s design there rejuvenated the 25-year-old theater, added music and dance studios, and created space for experimental works.

In addition, Sausen is the president of Urban Sketchers, a global nonprofit that forges international connections through a shared love of drawing and education. In her role as president, Sausen engages with a broad creative community and leads an international board of directors. In addition, she hosts an annual symposium that gathers more than 800 people to sketch. Under her influence, the organization has grown to include 303 chapters in 57 countries and experienced a 500 percent uptick in fundraising.

Beyond access to the arts, Sausen helps communities in Minnesota access design to solve problems they are facing. Since 2005, she has volunteered with AIA Minnesota’s Minnesota Design Team, which gathers design professionals in small towns across the state for weekend design workshops. Sausen focuses on sustainable and inclusive solutions that meet the needs of all citizens and relies on her keen communication skills to transform ideas into shared visions. In the city of North Branch, for instance, Sausen proposed a series of pocket parks and murals to replace vacant lots. Construction began last year and community-focused murals followed shortly thereafter.

As a teacher, Sausen endeavors to give students the tools and techniques to think beyond typical expectations. While digital tools make capturing the work quick and relatively easy, she leads workshops focused on deliberate observation for organizations such as AIA Minnesota, the National Park Service, and her alma mater’s design student and alumni board. Her leadership has reconnected current and future architects with the long history of on-location sketching and rekindled in many an interest in drawing by hand.

While the responsibilities of helming a global nonprofit can be daunting, Sausen balances her responsibility and her career as an architect with aplomb. Minnesota’s design community will no doubt continue to benefit from her leadership, critical sense of design, and drive for inclusion.


Edward Vance, FAIA (Chair), 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, New Mexico

Frances Halsband, FAIA, Klimet Halsband Architects, New York, New York

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

Image credits

Sausen- Amber-03

Brandon Stengel, Farm Kid Studios

Sausen- Amber-04

Marc Van Liefferinge

Sausen- Amber-06

Brandon Stengel, Farm Kid Studios

Sausen- Amber-05

Malanda Jean-Claude for Walker Art Center

Sausen- Amber-07

Peter Vodelinde