AIA Gold Medal to Carol Ross Barney

John Hill
8. December 2022
Carol Ross Barney on the Chicago Riverwalk (Photo © John Boehm)

In yesterday's Gold Medal announcement, the AIA describes Carol Ross Barney as "an unrivaled architect for the people," further stating that "Barney exudes design excellence, social responsibility, and generosity. Throughout all of her work, she has endeavored to make the world a better place, and, in doing so, made an indelible mark on the profession. Her pioneering approach and ethics are clear examples of the highest aspirations of architecture." As such, "Barney is being recognized for her pursuit of architecture that betters the daily life of all who interact with it."

Oklahoma City Federal Building (Photo © Steve Hall, Hedrich Blessing)

These superlatives are based on nearly five decades of remarkable buildings and landscapes, many of them public commissions, and a few of them highlighted here in photographs. This writer having worked as an architect in Chicago after graduating in architecture school in the mid-1990s, I can attest that back then Ross Barney was a local favorite for the quality of the public schools she designed, namely the colorful Cesar Chavez Multicultural Academic Center, completed in 1993, and the Lit­tle Vil­lage Acad­e­my, completed in 1996. 

One year later — two years after the 1995 terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma — Ross Barney was chosen as the lead designer for the Oklahoma City Federal Building, an important and highly scrutinized commission. It would take nearly a decade to complete, but the highly transparent design managed to stay such, even with a tendency for fortified government buildings amplified by 9/11. Ross Barney's range of architectural solutions can be glimpsed by comparing the Oklahoma City Federal Building, completed in 2005, and another building outside Chicago, the Swenson Civil Engineering Building at the University of Minnesota Duluth, completed five years later.

Swenson Civil Engineering Building - University of Minnesota Duluth (Photo © Kate Joyce Studios)

Although numerous firm projects are found outside of the Windy City, it's no surprise that some of the most important public projects designed by Ross Barney, who was born in Chicago and raised in the city's north suburbs, are found there. One of the most high-profile projects is the multi-phase Chicago Riverwalk, which stretches more than one mile, from Michigan Avenue on the east to Lake Street on the west. The popular promenade along the south bank of the river features a memorial to Vietnam veterans, dining, a kayak launch, and plenty of seating, making it as much a destination as a pedestrian path.

Chicago Riverwalk (Photo © Kate Joyce Studios)

The office of Ross Barney Architects is just steps away from the Riverwalk in River North, the neighborhood home to another high-profile project: the McDonald’s Chicago Flagship, where Ross Barney replaced the old Rock N Roll McDonald's with a building that expresses the fast-food chain's goal to "make sustainability the new normal." Completed in 2018, that CLT-framed building prominently topped with a solar pergola was followed by a net-zero McDonald's at Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida. 

McDonald’s Global Flagship at Walt Disney World Resort (Photo © Kate Joyce Studios)

This cursory look at a few projects coming out of Ross Barney Architects illustrate the firm's design quality as well as its commitment to public projects and the public realm, and to considerations like sustainability. No wonder that, before the announcement of the 2023 AIA Gold Medal to Carol Ross Barney, she was recipient of the 2015 Gold Medal from the Illinois Chapter of the AIA and AIA Chicago’s 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award, and the firm won a 2021 National Design Award from the Cooper Hewitt.

The jury for the 2023 AIA Gold Medal:
  • Nathaniel Hudson, AIA, Chair, FormGrey Studio, Reno, Nev.
  • Joseph Benjamin, AIA,  Lake | Flato, San Antonio
  • Arathi P. Gowda, AIA, ZGF Architects, Washington, D.C.
  • Anne Hicks Harney, FAIA, Long Green Specs, Manasquan, N.J.
  • Jaime Torres Carmona, AIA, Canopy/architecture + design, Chicago
  • Andrew Tyley, RIAI, RSHP formerly Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, London, United Kingdom
  • Melodie Yashar, ICON, Austin, Texas

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