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.