by AIA New York
Ismael Leyva, FAIA, strives to elevate the design of residential projects in New York City, aligning innovative and contextually responsive solutions with the real-world challenges of difficult sites, market demands, financial constraints, and entrenched regulations. A native of Veracruz, Mexico, Ismael Leyva has grown his New York-based firm, Ismael Leyva Architects, into a team of 70 people and has completed more than 60 residential tower projects in New York City. When faced with site challenges—such as narrow street frontages, constrained air rights and intersection zone regulations—Leyva turns to unexpected geometries, cantilevers, setbacks, and cascading balconies to help solve design problems. Building on an experience in affordable housing and in facing social and economic challenges, Leyva served on the New York City Housing Authority’s mitigation assessment team, which examined flood damage to public housing in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The team developed four pilot projects that will allow residents to remain in their homes during major flood events. And as his firm continues to grow, Leyva’s work now has a global reach via projects in Mexico, Costa Rica, China, Nicaragua, and Qatar.
In 2018, the Jury of Fellows of the AIA elevated Leyva to the College of Fellows in the second category of Fellowship, which recognizes architects who have made efforts “To advance the science and art of planning and building by advancing the standards of architectural education, training, and practice,” according to the organization’s definition. Now among the AIA membership’s three percent distinguished with Fellowship and honorary Fellowship, Leyva was recognized at the New Fellows Reception hosted by AIA New York and at an investiture ceremony at the AIA Conference on Architecture in New York City.
Q: What is your proudest achievement as an architect?
A: To be able to contribute to society as an architect, and positively impact the built environment in the development of cities both here and abroad.
Q: What is your earliest memory of experiencing architecture?
A: I was fascinated by art (drawings, paintings and sculptures) at a very early age. The relationship of art to architecture influenced my decision in high school to become an architect.
Q: What is influencing your work the most right now?
A: My work is currently being influenced by changing new technologies and materials available to architects making it possible to create exciting and innovative new structures.
Q: What are you working on right now?
A: I am designing the tallest mixed-use building in the City of Cork, Ireland.
Q: What does being a fellow mean to you?
A: It is a great privilege and honor to be among a group of accomplished colleagues that have contributed to society through architecture, and who strive to create a better future for all.
Editors’ Note: This feature is part of a series celebrating the 28 members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) New York Chapter that were elevated to the AIA College of Fellows in 2018, an honor awarded to members who have made significant contributions to both the profession and society. Learn more about Fellowship here.