HKS’ Erin Peavey Honored as 2024 AIA Young Architect

When Erin Peavey was just one exam away from becoming a licensed architect, the dual pressures of her professional and personal life – she was pregnant at the time – weighed on her so heavily that she reached out for help.

“I tried to pay someone to coach and mentor me so I could figure out what I was struggling with,” said Peavey, a Vice President and Health and Well-being Design Leader at HKS. “And they said to me, ‘why do you want to become an architect anyway? You’re a researcher.’”

Wrong answer. Peavey, who said she believes “a lot of people feel” the same way her would-be mentor did, wound up passing that final exam. And she has continued to make the grade ever since.

For her career-long efforts, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has named Peavey as a recipient of its 2024 Young Architect Award, one of the organization’s highest honors.

In recognizing her, the AIA called her “a visionary leader fueled by enthusiastic curiosity and striving for a higher level of design excellence.”

“A visionary leader fueled by enthusiastic curiosity and striving for a higher level of design excellence.”

For Peavey, who has worked at HKS since 2016, the recognition serves as validation for everything she’s done – and had to overcome.

“Throughout my career people have questioned whether I’m a real architect,” Peavey said. “I’m a researcher, I’m an author, I’m a facilitator. My hope is that (this award) paves the way for more people to have more non-traditional careers in architecture and I hope that others see the value those individuals bring to the industry.”

And though she just won the Young Architect Award, Peavey’s resume and accolades read like those of a grizzled veteran.

In her second year as an undergraduate at Texas A&M University, she co-founded and led SHEA, the first student group in the nation focused on environments for health. In 2009, while caring for her mother who was terminally ill with cancer, she founded and chaired AIA Austin’s Architecture for Health committee. In 2012, she became the youngest trustee in the history of the Academy of Architecture for Health Foundation, where she served for nearly a decade and increased research quality and funding.

Peavey was a founding member of the EDRA-CORE Program, which awards design projects that integrate research into practice and contribute new knowledge to the profession. She also contributed to the Center for Health Design in various capacities, including as an advisory board member for its Knowledge Repository, and is an editorial board member for Health Environments Research and Design (HERD) journal.

Driven by Curiosity

Since joining HKS, Peavey has become a leading global expert on social connections and loneliness – which the U.S. Surgeon General labeled an epidemic in 2023 – and how the built environment can help. Her research in those areas has led major organizations, such as Cigna and the Urban Land Institute, to seek partnerships with her.

In addition, she hosts a podcast (Shared Space), writes articles for Psychology Today – where she was the first licensed architect to have a regular column and is a highly sought after guest lecturer at colleges. She also frequently collaborates and appears at events and with organizations such as Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures, NPR, the Canadian Broadcasting Co., Bloomberg, Fast Company, SXSW and TEDx.

“I’m always trying to raise the value of social connection both in our lives and in the places we create,” Peavey said. “And in the larger spaces . . . so often the built environment is not considered or not thought about. I’m glad to be a leading voice in that and hope to expand the relevance of this work.”

In a letter to the AIA nominating Peavey for the Young Architect Award, HKS CEO, Dan Noble, described her as “a passionate advocate for the power of place to heal, connect and serve vulnerable populations.”

Jason Schoer, HKS Global Practice Director, Health, said that Peavey is “an architect driven by curiosity.”

“Her eagerness to understand and investigate how design impacts the human condition has led to meaningful perspectives and discoveries – for which we all benefit,” Schoer said. “The sky is the limit on what she will accomplish in our industry.” 

Peavey, who often gains inspiration from her energetic 5-year-old daughter, said she still has much to do at HKS. She appreciates the support of Noble, Schoer and the rest of the firm as she endeavors to “raise the level of consciousness” about how the built environment impacts health, happiness and social connection.

“At HKS I feel so supported,” she said. “I am not a person with one skillset. I’m a person that integrates many. I’m so happy to be a part of an organization that thinks about an innovative and unique vision for architecture and the power of design in the future.

“I’m a researcher and I’m an architect,” Peavey added. “I love getting to be both.”