Cross-border community station models by Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman
Courtesy The Vilcek Foundation Cross-border community station models by Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman

While tensions over immigration policy make headlines nationwide, New York–based nonprofit the Vilcek Foundation continues its mission to celebrate and raise awareness of immigrant contributions in the U.S., most recently with the Feb. 1 announcement of its 2018 Vilcek Prizes. Established in 2006, the awards program traditionally honors two recipients annually, one in the field of biomedical research, and one in a discipline of the arts and humanities that changes each year. This year—for only the second time in the Prize's history—the latter was dedicated to architects and went to Guatemalan-born architectural designer and urban researcher Teddy Cruz for his work and research in border communities.

At 20, he immigrated to California, where he attended California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo. He later earned his Master in Design Studies from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Cruz was awarded the Rome Prize in Architecture in 1991, and is a two-time winner of ARCHITECT’s Progressive Architecture Awards. His firm’s work will be included in the American Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, which will take place from May 26–Nov. 25.

The Vilcek Foundation also awarded three emerging designers who have “demonstrated exceptional promise early in their careers” with the Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise. Those winners, who will receive $50,000 each, are Iran-born Mona Ghandi, an assistant professors of architecture at Washington State University; Los Angeles–based, independent practitioner James Leng, who was born in China; and Brooklyn, N.Y.–based SO-IL co-founder Jing Liu, who is also from China.

“The social, political, and cultural landscape of America has been shaped by generations of immigrant contributions,” said Vilcek Foundation co-founder and vice chairman Marica Vilcek in a press release. “With the Vilcek Prizes in Architecture, we are pleased to recognize the many ways in which they have shaped its physical landscape as well—through bold, original designs, and through research that challenges the status quo, both in the building arts and in society.”

Immigrants from the former Czechoslovakia, Marica and her husband Jan Vilcek—co-founder and CEO of the foundation—established the organization in 2000 inspired by their respective careers in art history and the biomedical sciences, and "the opportunities offered to them as newcomers to the U.S.," according to the foundation's website. The rotating disciplines for the prize in the arts and sciences include music, film, culinary arts, literature, dance, contemporary music, design, fashion, theater, and fine arts.