Nick Cooper, AIA, principal and design director at HKS in Richmond, will be presented AIA Virginia’s 2021 Award for Distinguished Achievement. The award recognizes the accomplishments of one or more architects each year in design, practice, education, service as “citizen architect,” service to the profession, or initiatives to advance social justice, equity, diversity, or inclusion.

Cooper is known for his award-winning design around the world. Since joining HKS in 2014, he has led projects that have received 14 design awards, 10 global honors and 17 internal design recognitions; his work at prior firms also garnered recognition. But his dedication to building community-through the power of design distinguishes Cooper for this award. He currently serves as director of Citizen HKS, the firm’s public-interest design and community engagement studio, through which he also directs his Richmond office’s Month of Service. In five years, the 35-person office has given 1,374 hours to nearly 30 non-profit organizations in greater Richmond. Cooper is also leading a firm-wide effort to create an all-inclusive playbook on how to approach future opportunities to include more affordable housing in the firm’s projects.

Cooper has also been an integral volunteer and visionary leader for Richmond’s Storefront for Community Design, a non-profit design center that connects community members to design tools and resources. Over its decade-long history, he has donated his design expertise to more than a dozen projects, including the Urban Hang Suite, the North-Bank Trail, and Bellemeade Bike Shop in a re-imagined shipping container.

Thanks to his personal discovery through his career, Cooper notes, he has “made it a priority to mentor our emerging professionals and empower the next generation of architects to become more intentional in advocating for all people; regardless of race, gender, social status and ethnicity.” He has done this through talks and critiques at his alma mater, Virginia Tech; as a board member for Richmond’s ACE Mentor Program in high schools; and with an annual one-on-one mentorship of a governor’s school student. Cooper was instrumental in creating a K–12 Committee for AIA Richmond to better serve the next generation of critical thinkers and raise awareness for the profession.

That initiative fits into his goal for his ongoing board service with the Richmond chapter, of which he was 2020 president. Cooper has focused on elevating three pillars of influence that he considers foundational: equitable design, investing in the future, and strengthening communities. In the pandemic year of his presidency, Cooper led several COVID response efforts to support chapter members and the Richmond community, including working with the mayor’s office and Venture Richmond to support local restaurants and businesses. This year, he is the Emerging Leaders in Architecture program’s first chair to serve without having been himself a participant in the AIA Virginia program. Rather, Cooper was sought out to lead the class because of his passion and extensive commitment to mentoring the next generation.

For his energetic leadership and passionate service, Nick Cooper AIA will be recognized with the Award for Distinguished Achievement at the Visions for Architecture celebration on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and online.