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.

Yiselle Santos Rivera, AIA

As an architect, advocate, and thought leader, Yiselle Santos Rivera, AIA, has created positive change in the profession by empowering the next generation of architects. She encourages them to explore innovative solutions that will shape a more resilient and equitable future for all, and the influence she wields is felt by many. Unique in her commitment to making the profession more inclusive and dedicated to justice through design, Santos Rivera is a tireless champion for her professional and physical communities.

The notion that advocacy and architecture are intertwined first arose in Santos Rivera’s early life while growing up in Puerto Rico. Her parents, who always stressed the importance of giving back to the community, were accomplished healthcare leaders who built their legacies by supporting communities in need. Santos Rivera continues that service, leveraging design to advance her parents’ vision.

Her work stands at the intersection of people and practice, and she nimbly blends her background in science, expertise in healthcare design, and passion for connecting people with one another. Although she has felt that the profession could at times feel unwelcoming, and even considered pursuing another venture, she persevered and chose to embody the representation she wished for in the very early days of her career.

Santos Rivera is a trusted leader and advisor at HKS in Washington, D.C., where she thrives on inclusive community design and equitable practices. She is a vice president, architect, medical planner, and the firm-wide director of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI). She is an integral member of HKS’ Global Design Council and supports its education efforts around Design for Equitable Communities and Design for Change. Her leadership has resulted in a measurable increase in the firm’s socially just and resilient design practices.

“Her work is centered around making space for everyone. She builds platforms of support, especially for women and underrepresented designers who are systemically excluded in our profession.”

Through a partnership with the firm’s marketing and communications department, Santos Rivera created the quarterly LIMITLESS panel webinar series, an externally facing program that amplifies HKS’ exemplary JEDI projects. The comprehensive series, among the first of its kind for a firm, has helped HKS demonstrate value alignment among stakeholders while highlighting the relationship between design and social equity.

“Her work is centered around making space for everyone. She builds platforms of support, especially for women and underrepresented designers who are systemically excluded in our profession,” wrote Patricia Acevedo Fuentes, AIA, in a letter supporting Santos Rivera’s nomination for the Young Architects Award. “She approaches design and community-building in the same methodical way she approached the development of her career—starting off college as a biology major, sinking herself into the technical aspects of life, and then turning to architecture because of the impact it has on human behavior.”

Santos Rivera is an eager mentor, committed to strengthening the profession and ensuring that future generations of professionals have the opportunity to effect change and make an impact. She volunteers to teach elementary and middle school students about architecture through the Washington Architectural Foundation’s Architecture in the Schools program. She is equally engaged as an advocate for the profession, having served on the AIA National Associated Committee as its Mid-Atlantic regional associate director from 2015 to 2016 and its at-large director of advocacy and community engagement. During her time in those roles, the Emerging Professionals ArchiPAC won both the AIA ArchiCup for most money raised and the greatest number of donors.

In addition, Santos Rivera co-founded AIA DC’s Latin American Interior Designers, Engineers, and Architects Committee, and created its bylaws, roles, and responsibilities. She also founded Women Inspiring Emerging Leaders in Design, now known as the AIA DC Equity Committee by WIELD, which was recognized with the 2019 AIA Diversity Recognition Program  Award.

“Yiselle has an insatiable passion for the potential our profession holds and the moral imperative we have to lead through action,” Ryan Gann, Assoc. AIA, wrote in support of Santos Rivera’s nomination. “Yiselle is a mentor and role model, to me and others, worthy of this distinction. I know I join the chorus of support in this nomination and implore the jury to validate and empower architects to Be More Like Yiselle.”

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