José Alvarez, AIA, is a 2015 AIA Young Architect Award recipient and a principal at New Orleans’ Eskew+Dumez+Ripple (EDR), the 2014 AIA Architecture Firm Award recipient. Alvarez has led the design of a diverse group of award-winning projects at EDR. He’s also committed his free time to volunteering for the Louisiana chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), AIA New Orleans, and local youth programs.
My interests really grew out of our firm’s philosophy. Allen Eskew was an important mentor for me, as he always encouraged me to be as engaged as possible. It’s about growing as a designer while building the culture of the firm, as well as leadership and mentorship. All of those ideas coalesce in my work as the president of NOMA Louisiana, where I focus on programs with positive social impact, education, and the issues of diversity in the profession. An architect certainly should care about design, but an architect also has the responsibility to mentor—to pass along their understanding of the profession to others. It perpetuates itself.
NOMA’s Project Pipeline creates a continuum of mentorship. The reason we start at the high school level is because, after analyzing the data, there are still a small number of minority students interested in architecture and fewer that matriculate—and graduate—from architecture schools.
Project Pipeline guides young kids and architecture students at each critical step, creating a lasting mentorship network as each person may elect to mentor a younger student. That process of mentoring helps our members reaffirm their interest in architecture, and supports them through architecture school. The program further extends to support the Intern Development and Architect Registration Examination processes.
In my career, I’ve had a chance to work on a wide range of building types. As a design-first advocate, I’m more concerned with the experience, the successful resolution of the spatial condition, and its detailing, rather than saying that I’m a specialist that focuses on one thing, like healthcare design or hospitality design. I remember starting as an intern with a work visa, certainly not expecting to be in this position by this time in my career. Thankfully, my firm created an environment for me to seek and develop my talents at different stages of my career. If a firm is committed to you, it will foster your shifts in curiosity and ability. —As told to William Richards