2022 Young Architects Award

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.

Matt Barnett, AIA

Driven by the difficult experiences of his youth, Matt Barnett, AIA, aims to provide a voice to those whose circumstances mirror his own. As an architect, he seeks to shape beautiful and compelling spaces that serve the dispossessed because he knows full well what being without space feels like. He has emerged as a leader and a mentor because he is keenly aware of what it’s like to have no one to follow.

Growing up in a 1,000-square-foot single-wide trailer, Barnett had little exposure to art and design. By age 9 he had experienced homelessness, and by age 13 he had experienced jail and expulsion from school. But Barnett, who saw the classroom as one of the most positive aspects of his life, experienced a radical transformation through the guidance of his grandfather, who brought him to work full-time in residential construction and convinced Barnett that college should be his goal.

Barnett is the first person in his family to graduate from college, doing so with a B.Arch from the University of Tennessee in 2015. Always remembering his challenging circumstances, his goal throughout his education was the betterment of others through design. His focus led to six national awards, several leadership positions, and the advancement of AIA’s Freedom by Design program for universities across the country. He also received the University of Tennessee’s highest honor, Torchbearer, in recognition of his academic achievement and commitment to others.

“Matt is unique among our profession’s young leaders. His abundant talent and compassion emerge from adverse beginnings. Matt grew up at times impoverished, housing insecure, and homeless,” Laura L. Miller, AIA, past president of AIA North Carolina, said of Barnett in a letter nominating him for the Young Architects Award. “Matt personifies all that this profession can accomplish. His passion for design and its ability to change communities for the better is unparalleled.”

“Matt personifies all that this profession can accomplish. His passion for design and its ability to change communities for the better is unparalleled.”

Since his graduation, Barnett has worked for three of Architect Magazine’s top 10 national design firms: Brooks + Scarpa Architects in Los Angeles; Eldorado in Kansas City, Missouri; and archimania in Memphis. Today, he is a project architect and associate at LS3P in Wilmington, North Carolina, where his energy is focused on community-based projects, research, and engagement. The projects he has been involved with have been recognized with 14 national awards and 40 AIA design awards, highlighting the fact that design excellence has the power to change lives.

In projects like 3435 Main Workforce Housing, the Uganda Women’s and Children’s Clinic, and TRU Colors Brewery Gang Rehabilitation Center, Barnett clearly demonstrates the architect’s role in advocating for all people. His projects also show architecture’s ability to address some of society’s most pressing issues, such as housing inequality and social divisiveness. Much of his portfolio is centered on world-class spaces for those who need them most, and his distinct process examines the larger landscape before bridging the gap between owners, users, and the community.

Since returning to North Carolina, Barnett has been an active member of AIA Wilmington, serving as its 2020 president. During his tenure, he secured four grants to support seven community events and revived the dormant chapter with four new board positions. He was also able to place members on three state committees. As a voting member of the 2020 AIA North Carolina Board of Directors, he advocated for restructuring the board to include NOMA representation and an environmental stewardship directorate. His efforts there led to his appointment as the inaugural chair of AIA North Carolina’s Environmental Stewardship Committee in 2021, where he contributed to more than a dozen learning sessions and formed new alliances with parallel organizations.

“I cannot think of anyone who embodies the premise of this award more than Matt Barnett,” Dr. Michael Hill, AIA, said in a letter. “His dedication to the profession through his involvement in local and regional AIA leadership, his passion for engaging with students and mentoring, and his design ethic, which helps to better the world we live in, shows the true caliber of Matt Barnett.”

Image credits

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Andrew Parks

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