2020 VAxDesign Awards

The Virginia by Design Awards recognize the best efforts of designers or visionaries in Virginia who, by profession or avocation, have made creating, preserving, and enhancing design in Virginia a notable endeavor which elevates the power of design. The awards specifically highlight excellence in design, visionary thinking, patronage, and the transformative role of design in shaping the built environment.

“We are so pleased to be recognizing the 2020 recipients of the Virginia by Design Awards in person.The awards celebrate the very best of Virginia’s designers and design visionaries, particularly those projects and bodies of work that benefit all Virginians.”

The Branch Museum of Architecture and Design proudly introduces the 2020 Virginia by Design WinnersThe annual awards – postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic – are juried by a panel with expertise in architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, art and art history. 

The awards will be presented at a ceremony and reception on Thursday, October 13, 4:00pm at The Branch.

Design Achievement Award

Awarded to a corporation or institution for utilizing design as a strategic tool in their mission and consistently exhibiting ingenuity and insight in relating design to quality of life.


Honoree: The Chesapeake Bay Foundation
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation was chosen given its long-standing commitment to sustainability beginning with the Merrill Center, to the net positive footprint of the cutting edge, LEED platinum Brock Environmental Center. 

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia is an aesthetically beautiful building that has virtually no environmental footprint. It is the culmination of more than forty-six years of eco-friendly design and construction. 

The Foundation’s community involvement, transparency regarding energy usage and production, and incorporation of biophilic design are directly tied to the Foundation’s mission to find effective, science-based solutions to the pollution degrading the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. 

Emerging Designer

Awarded to honor a designer, not yet licensed or professionally certified, who demonstrates an exemplary level of excellence in design execution and a dedication to advancing the discipline. The jury is honoring two designers for 2020.

Honorable Mention: Yimeng Teng, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Yimeng Teng is an Architect with Ro | Rockett Design in Charlottesville, Virginia. She has been cited for her creativity, work ethic, and enthusiasm on projects such as the innovative opera Ready.Set design for the Victory Hall Opera in Charlottesville. Yimeng is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Architecture with a Masters in Architecture.

Honorable Mention: Vanessa Nesbitt

Vanessa Nesbitt is an Interior Designer with Odell in Richmond, Virginia. With growing consensus around her humility, professionalism, and commitment to teamwork, she has been cited for her interior designs and renderings that embody strong conceptual and technical talent. Vanessa is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design.

Prize for Public Interest Design

This prize is for a creative project that has transformed its surroundings – whether a setting, neighborhood, or community. It is for an individual or entity responsible for shepherding the project within Virginia.  The jury awarded three 2019 Prizes for Public Interest Design in three categories.

Honoree: The American Civil War Museum
The American Civil War Museum is awarded the Prize for Public Interest Design in the Community Engagement and Participation category. The jury was unanimously impressed with the successful 2019 adaptive reuse project by Richmond-based architectural firm 3North, to construct a wing that unified architectural artifacts with elegant and welcoming new construction, as well as its incorporation in wayfinding signage and other such aspects throughout the museum. The project exemplifies the power of visionary design thinking to transform the visitor experience and foster meaningful conversation around Richmond’s legacy and future.


Honoree: The Low Line
The Low Line, a canal and waterfront linear park in Richmond, Virginia, is awarded the Prize for Public Interest Design in the Community and History category. The design by Waterstreet Studio was selected for its successful consideration and intersection of the project’s historic surroundings, environmental concerns, and community well-being. The Low Line exemplifies visionary thinking using the transformative power of design to reimagine and reclaim neglected space.


Honoree: The Essex Building
The Essex Building, a 1910 Greek Revival building in downtown Norfolk, Virginia, is awarded the Prize for Public Interest Design in the Community and Preservation category. The thoughtful restoration of the building by VIA Design to its origins with an eye toward the future, incorporating contemporary best practices around sustainability and technology, were foremost in its selection for this award. Home to VIA, the project is also cited for the Meet@319 ground floor space, which has been transformative for the reactivation of the street and community engagement in Downtown Norfolk.

Vision in Design

Honoree: Nicholas Cooper, AIA NOMA

Nick Cooper is a Principal, Design Director, and Civic + Commercial Market Leader with the Richmond, Virginia office of Hanbury, an architecture firm with offices in Virginia and the Carolinas. He was nominated and selected for his holistic approach to both work and life, and his commitment to community service. In a two-decade career, Nick has leveraged his gifted design acumen and architectural problem-solving skills to serve his community and help build the next generation. Nick is a graduate of Virginia Tech’s Architecture and Urban Planning program with a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture.

Honorable Mention: Karen Van Lengen, FAIA

Karen Van Lengen is the William Kenan Professor of Architecture at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. Karen was recognized for her innovative work addressing the tension between an increasingly inward facing population and public spaces, and specifically her soundscape work, which emphasizes the aural environment to advance the power of design in solving problems and connecting communities. She continues to work on experimental sound designs for architectural space with the aim to influence the scope and practice of architectural design. Karen is a graduate of Columbia University with a Masters in Architecture.