By Lenis Valens, Media Relations Staff
Omar Morales-Armstrong loved playing with blocks as a kid. He would build elaborate ‘structures’ and when his father would move a single block out of place, he would quickly put it back to make the perfect building again.
Morales-Armstrong has graduated from Legos to blueprints, working today as a senior architect in the Port Authority’s Engineering Department on the JFK Redevelopment Ground Transportation Project. He’s one of the few people of Hispanic heritage in his field and is building an impressive resume in his profession. LEED-accredited and a licensed architect in New York and New Jersey, Morales-Armstrong is a winner of the agency’s Applause Award for project management and a 2020 recipient of the Port Authority’s “Remembrance Through Renewal” Diversity & Inclusion award. Currently, he is helping develop a parking garage that features a “green” roof for JFK Airport.
Though Morales-Armstrong’s interest in architecture began as a child, his talent took shape as a high school student when he made blueprints of slide-rule hand drawings using ammonia in a darkroom. “It awakened a passion for design in me,” he said. That excitement stayed with him even during his time in the U.S. Army, deploying to Iraq, before returning to earn a Master’s Degree in Architecture from Columbia University.
Throughout school, he said he felt isolated, often being the only minority student in class. His experience mirrors those of many Hispanic students or employees who find themselves working to succeed in environments that were not always welcoming. The Bronx-born architect is the son of two attorneys of Puerto Rican descent who instilled in him a strong work ethic.
“It’s very important to me that when I inhabit spaces that are predominantly White, – and to be clear, Architecture is one of those fields – I represent my culture positively,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to prove that we belong in these spaces but representing well helps to challenge some of the pre-conceived notions that may exist about our worthiness to be “at the table.””
He’s been recommending books, documentaries, podcasts and articles about diversity and inclusion during Architecture Unit staff meetings. He recently joined the agency’s National Black Employees resource group and he, his wife and daughter also have been part of the Black Lives Matter protests in New York City.
Before joining the Port Authority, Morales-Armstrong worked at several public agencies, including the New York City Department of Design + Construction and the New York State Office of Parks and Recreation, where his team won the 2016 ‘Best Small Project of the Year’ awarded by the Engineering News-Record for an indoor horse riding arena in Staten Island that serves children with autism.
“Working with Omar is a pleasure because he challenges us with his passion and determination. He is universally appreciated by his teammates, managers and our client partners,” said Port Authority Assistant Chief Architect Russell Kriegel. “He reminds us that renderings should reflect our diversity and that we should understand our work in context with the most important social issues of our times. I value him as a person, and I am grateful he is on our team.”