Virginia Emerging Architect Award for 2023 Goes to Agdinaoay and Gemmer

The Virginia Emerging Architect Award honors individuals who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made significant contributions to the architecture profession early in their careers, whether through design, service, education, or advancement of social justice, equity, diversity, or inclusion. For 2023, Erin Agdinaoay, AIA, and Jessie Gemmer, AIA, will receive the award. Both women are graduates of Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

Agdinaoay, an architect and project manager at Work Program Architects in Norfolk, leads WPA’s hiring process and culture/strategy development. “What truly sets Erin apart is her ability to effect meaningful change,” notes firm principal Mel Price. She led the creation of the firm’s Summer Internship & Scholarship for Diversity Advancement, which has attracted LBGTQIA+ and racially diverse applicants from a dozen universities. She has shared WPA’s success with improving DEI strategies through hiring practices and pay transparency with other firms.

Agdinaoay also mentors students at the K-12 level. An active member of the Virginia Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (VANOMA), she believes the future resiliency of the profession and practice will be led by designers from nontraditional backgrounds.

Agdinaoay’s innovations extend to her abilities as a designer. For example, Agdinaoay took charge of the largest and most complex building design in WPA’s history — the Norfolk State University Science Building, a $122-million project spanning 131,000 square feet. With a team of more than 70 NSU stakeholders and 50 architects, engineers, and specialists, her exceptional leadership skills have been instrumental in navigating the project to its current success.

Since 2022 the principal of Acme Architecture in Richmond, Gemmer has contributed to her community through several volunteer paths, including her work with the Richmond Urban Design Committee and Storefront for Community Design. She has given back to the profession with her service on AIA Virginia’s Design Forum committee and as a juror for AIA Richmond’s Alice Lehman Sunday Prize. Her commitment to education is evident in the classes she has taught at the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design in Washington, D.C., the University of Virginia, as well as the studio critiques at VCU’s interior design department. Teaching led her “to define my thoughts regarding design and architecture and identify the tools and techniques that would develop students into innovative and critical thinkers,” she recalls.

Before opening her firm, Gemmer previously worked with Richmond practices Fultz & Singh Architects and Spatial Affairs Bureau, as well as New York firm Danny Forster Design Studio, for whom she served as designer and project manager on Manhattan’s 31-story Ground Zero Marriott at only 22. The project’s facade addressed the gravity of the site while standing alone as a part of the New York skyline. Her Virginia work ranges from a 1,500-square-foot coffee shop to a 20,000-square-foot corporate headquarters for 200 employees and now includes many residential projects.

For their contributions to the profession, Erin Agdinaoay, AIA, and Jessie Gemmer, AIA, will be recognized with the Emerging Architect Award at the Visions for Architecture event on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023, at the Hippodrome Theatre in Richmond.

McDermott and Parker Honored with Virginia Emerging Professional Award

Whitney McDermott, AIA, and Carrie Lee Parker, AIA, are recognized this year with the Virginia Emerging Professional Award by AIA Virginia. Launched in 2015, the Virginia Emerging Professional Award is intended to recognize the accomplishments of emerging leaders in Virginia for their contributions to the profession in design, research, education, discourse; service to the profession, mentorship, or service to the community. Most recipients are accomplished in several of these areas, and all demonstrate the strength of the architecture profession in their early promise as thought leaders and designers.

McDermott, an architect who holds degrees in civil engineering, architecture, and urban planning, has demonstrated an extraordinary consistency and focus for more than a decade on architecture’s capacity to improve the lives of others through construction innovation, design thinking, and community-focused collaboration. While at the University of Virginia, she became the Project Manager for the University of Virginia’s eco/MOD Design Build project and graduated with dual degrees in Architecture and Urban and Environmental Design. Post-graduation, she received a year-long fellowship at the Allegheny Mountain School and then returned to Charlottesville to help manage over 26,000 square feet of organic gardens at the city’s six elementary schools.

In 2017, McDermott began working with a group of residents from the Southwood Mobile Home Park, five miles south of Charlottesville, to create a strategy that would transform the way marginalized communities participate in community design. For nearly five years, she has offered her professional and volunteer time working with the 85 percent Hispanic community to create a resident-led strategy to guide the neighborhood’s redevelopment. McDermott has created and led the training programs for residents using the principles of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) to reach across cultural boundaries in preparing workshops that communicate effectively. By employing ABCD coordination and governance, McDermott has helped residents create their own neighborhood redevelopment plan, write their own code of development, and create a mixed-income and mixed-use neighborhood 400 homes strong.

Parker, a Senior Associate at CannonDesign’s Washington, DC office, works with higher education clients on large, complex projects, to improve the user experience and provide innovative solutions at all scales. Her leadership activities inside and outside of the office, however, define her nomination for this award. For two years, Parker worked tirelessly on behalf of a group of front line designers and emerging professionals from across the globe that directly advise the Cannon’s leaders as part of its NEXT Council. For two years, she also worked with NCARB to make its Licensing Advisors Summit a success and enrich the proceedings of its Intern Think Tank, committed to improving both the practices and policies of architecture. Currently, she serves on AIA’s Manufacturer’s Council as an architect volunteer to maintain bonds between building product manufacturers and design’s vanguard, as well as a proposal author for the DC Board of Trade’s “Urban Design and Quality of Life Working Group,” where she has advanced ideas for storm surge monitoring and photo point monitoring for public spaces. 

Her community work includes board leadership for Horizon House, a 291-unit building in DC entering its sixth decade and serving senior and disabled residents. Wielding a hammer, she worked with Rebuilding Together Alexandria to renovate and rehabilitate the homes of families and seniors in need, putting in the sweat equity her own community needed to not just survive but thrive. She has served as a board member for her own residential community, driving numerous capital improvements and providing pro bono design services for the renovation of the lobby, community center, pool house, and other amenities. Parker’s enthusiasm carries over to the office, as well. In her nomination letter, Patricia Bau, AIA, a principal and co-director of Cannon’s education practice, noted, “Carrie has served many roles in the life cycle of a project as programmer, planner, designer, project architect and project manager. Her versatility makes her a valuable member of our team locally as well as across the firm nationally.” Parker personifies the values of service leadership, community outreach, and mentorship, says Roland Lemke, AIA, a design principal at Cannon, in his nominating letter. “In the seven years that I have known her, she has positioned herself as an irreplaceable member of our team and office family.”

The Awards will be presented at Visions for Architecture on Thursday, Oct. 8 in an online awards ceremony beginning at 4:30 p.m. The program is free but registration is required.