The SOM Foundation is pleased to announce the winners of the 2021 Robert L. Wesley Award. The award supports BIPOC undergraduate students enrolled in architecture, landscape architecture, interior architecture, urban design, or engineering programs in the United States. Alexander Htet Aung Kyaw (Cornell University, Department of Architecture), Sanjana Lahiri (Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, School of Architecture), and Xiluva Mbungela (Syracuse University, School of Architecture) will each receive a $10,000 award in addition to a yearlong mentorship program that connects the students with leading BIPOC practitioners and educators. In addition to the three fellows, the jury decided to expand the number of fellows to include two $5,000 awards, given to Kevin Chow (Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, School of Architecture) and Viridiana Hernandez Sevilla (University of Oklahoma, College of Architecture).
“Last year we were honored to meet the inaugural fellows of the Robert L. Wesley Award and provide them with economic support and a mentorship program” said Iker Gil, Executive Director of the SOM Foundation. “We discussed and learned about their interests, challenges, and goals. We can’t wait to learn from and support a new group of students whose contributions are felt in their universities and communities. When needed, it is also important for the SOM Foundation to extend our support beyond a year and, for that reason, we welcome back Viridiana Hernandez Sevilla as a 2021 fellow.”
Kevin Chow is a thesis student at the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. He is a corecipient of the 2021 Benjamin Menschel Fellowship for research toward an exhibition titled “Pastoral Silicon Valley: A Landscape of Quiet Crisis,” a critical revisiting of his hometown, set to open in February 2022. His research is primarily focused on technocracy; his thesis project is framed as an illustrated screenplay inhabiting scenes from an endgame society of postleisure, one which has fulfilled the promises of technology as progress. Accordingly, he is an amateur writer and artist, disguised as a preprofessional architect.
Viridiana Hernandez Sevilla is a second-year architecture student at the University of Oklahoma. Hernandez Sevilla grew up in Mexico and came to the United States at a young age as a Dreamer. She hopes to become the first in her family to obtain a college degree and to one day own her own design-build firm. Because she has not been able to visit her home country, she dreams of working internationally and becoming an advocate for people who come from a similar background—showing that it is possible to achieve anything if you really push for it.
Alexander Htet Aung Kyaw is a fourth-year undergraduate student at Cornell University and is pursuing a Bachelor of Architecture with a concentration in architectural science and technology. Htet Aung Kyaw is a research associate at the Cornell Robotic Construction Lab and a research team lead at the Sabin Lab. He aims to become the first student from Myanmar to graduate from Cornell’s architecture program.
Sanjana Lahiri is an Indian architecture student from Singapore, currently pursuing a Bachelor of Architecture at The Cooper Union in New York City. She is the cofounder of Cooper Union’s Architecture Lobby Chapter and a member of the Cooper Climate Coalition, a student-led group advocating for climate action across the institution. She has also previously curated Cooper’s Student Lecture Series. Lahiri’s in-progress thesis project engages with New York City’s community gardens as simultaneous sites of resistance and tools of the real estate economy.
Xiluva Mbungela is a third-year architecture student at Syracuse University. She was born in Benoni, South Africa and comes from an ethnic group that represents 4 percent of South Africa—the Tsonga. She believes that there is an unexplainable power that lies in the ability to create spaces that elicit emotion from people, whether that may be calming emotions or inspiring passion. A power that can be implemented to do good in the world by creating safe spaces for people. A power that can be used to form bonds and make connections.
This year’s jury was led by Robert L. Wesley (Retired Partner at SOM, Chicago) and included Danei Cesario (Architect and Project Manager at SOM, New York City and Founder at WALLEN + daub, New York City), Chris Cornelius (Founding Principal at studio:indigenous, Milwaukee and Chair of the Department of Architecture at the University of New Mexico), Joyce Hwang (Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies of Architecture at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York and Founder of Ants of the Prairie, Buffalo, NY), and María Villalobos Hernandez (Assistant Professor at the College of Architecture, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago and Cofounder and Artist Creator at Botanical City, New York City).