Last fall, we came across a resource, City Shapers: Stories of Immigrant Designers, that highlighted immigrant architects in their journey to becoming an architect.  We downloaded the resource and immediately saw its importance and shared it on our resource page.  As well, we contacted one of its founders, Graciela Carrillo, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, asking if they would be willing to share their story — see below.  And definitely access the resource as listed above.  Hint: The resource is FREE if downloaded to Kindle.

As an immigrant architect from Colombia, adapting to a new country, language, and professional environment took much work.  I have talked to other immigrant architects from different countries and continents, and we all shared how difficult it was to navigate the professional path, specifically licensure in the US.  Many of them expressed that besides that, discrimination, racial biases, and cultural and language barriers were just a few of the obstacles they jump through every day.

Based on my experience, I cofounded the Immigrant Architects Coalition (IAC) with my peers Shahad Sadeq, Assoc AIA, and Yu-Ngok Lo, FAIA.  We came from different countries with diverse backgrounds, but we all have shared a common path in our journey to achieve a successful and meaningful career in the U.S.  The mission of the IAC is to help and provide resources for immigrant architects to achieve a prosperous career in the U.S.  When we were navigating the licensing path, we did not have anyone to guide us through the process.  In addition, some of us lacked mentoring opportunities.

IAC Founders, left to right: Shahad Sadeq, Assoc. AIA, Graciela Carrillo, AIA, Yu-Ngok Lo, FAIA

In my specific case, I did not work with any other immigrants, so I did not get help or advice on how to go through the licensure process.  Where I come from, you go through a process that is the same in any state within the country to get your license.  I did not realize that in the U.S., each State has its own professional regulations for licensure.  I did apply for an EESA (Education Evaluation Services for Architects) process to validate my degree, which is lengthy and expensive, and when I applied for my license in New York State, they did not accept this evaluation.  So, in other words, I learned from my own mistakes.  Therefore, we at the IAC are developing a comprehensive guide highlighting different topics of interest to immigrant professionals starting their careers in this country. We want to provide that advice we didn’t have then.  The guide is a work in progress and can be found on the IAC website.

We also provide support to other immigrant architects through mentoring and conducting informational sessions through local AIA Chapters, NOMA Chapters, and architectural schools.

IAC Presentation – AIA Oklahoma Conf.

Recently, the IAC released the book City Shapers: Stories of Immigrant Designers.  This book is the first step in achieving the IAC mission.  Twenty-four immigrant professionals share their experiences as firm owners, industry leaders, and entrepreneurs.  The stories in this book portray a typical path in their journey to achieve a successful and meaningful career in the U.S.  We hope that other immigrant architects get inspired by these stories to follow their professional goals. The book is also a resource to connect with these successful professionals in the U.S.


Graciela Carrillo, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Senior Manager, Nassau BOCES

Immigrant Architects Coalition Co-Founder

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.