Adjunct Architecture Faculty Member Receives National Award, Illinois’s ‘Highest Award’



By Andrew Connor

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Given that Metropolis once dubbed Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture adjunct faculty member Carol Ross Barney “Chicago’s New Daniel Burnham,” perhaps it’s no surprise that her eponymous firm was recognized recently by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum with a National Design Award for Architecture and Interior Design. 

The New York-based Cooper Hewitt is the only national design museum in the United States. Its National Design Awards program—now in its 21st year—is among the country’s most prestigious, representing the best of the best of American architecture and design. Architects honored in previous years include I. M. Pei, Frank Gehry, and Studio Gang. 

Ross Barney Architects was recognized for what the museum calls “noble projects”: those that may not have the largest budgets but nevertheless have a big impact on daily life. Perhaps the most impactful is the Chicago Riverwalk, a 16-year project that added 1.25 miles of pedestrian space to the Chicago River. 

The awards also praised the firm’s work on McDonalds’ Chicago Flagship Restaurant, the Chicago Transit Authority’s Cermak-McCormick Place and Morgan Street Stations, and the Oklahoma City Federal Building. Cooper Hewitt representatives said that “Ross Barney Architects’ best work is often for unexpected, compelling projects that go beyond architecture and exist on the edges or in the margins where design thought and consideration might not conventionally come into play.”

This year the awards were juried by landscape architecture scholar Kofi Boone; landscape architect, activist, and author Billy Fleming; and architect Patricia Saldaña Natke, who is also an adjunct professor at the College of Architecture. The winners—which also include landscape architect Mia Lehrer, architect Doris Sung, and fashion designer Becca McCharen Tran—will participate in virtual events and workshops throughout October to celebrate National Design Month.

“I would like to thank the Cooper Hewitt museum for initiating this program,” says Barney. “The idea of design is an important one that everybody should know about and share, and these awards serve to do that.”

As if the National Design Award was not enough, Barney also recently received what has been called “the state’s highest award” by every Illinois governor since James R. Thompson. The Order of Lincoln—which was started in 1964 and has honored more than 350 Illinoisans to date—recognizes and honors notable Illinois residents who have benefited communities in the state. The award’s organizers not only praised Barney for her design work, but also for her role as a founding member and the first president of the nonprofit Chicago Women in Architecture.

In addition to Barney, this year’s Lincoln laureates include singer Mavis Staples and astronaut Captain Scott Altman. Barney is only the third architect to have received the honor, joining Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Buckminster Fuller.

“This year’s Order of Lincoln recipients represent the values that make Illinois great,” Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker said in a news release. “Hard work, innovation, and determination have long been the foundation of our communities and the eight recipients of the Order of Lincoln have exhibited all of that and more.” 

Photo: Carol Ross Barney (Photo by John Boehm; courtesy Ross Barney Architects)