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The Chicago Architecture Foundation is an organization that's as great as the sum of its parts, and we’d like to introduce you to the people that are making wonderful things happen here at CAF. Jen Masengarb, Director of Interpretation and Research.

1. Why does design matter?

Good design can make our lives better and easier, it can even delight and inspire us. Poor design can make life more difficult, annoying or even dangerous.  When I teach about design, I try to frame the process in terms of intention. What was the designer thinking? Hopefully, they made conscious decisions to solve a problem and create an object, space or place with a user in mind. Does the object fit well in my hand? Does this room I live or work in function well? Is this public space safe, comfortable, enjoyable? These design decisions matter because they impact humans. As an architecture professor once told me, “Love the person you’re designing for.”

2. What is your favorite Chicago building or place and why?

Arg! How about three? Stepping across the threshold of the Auditorium Theater magically transports me into 19th century Chicago. I could stare at the elegant Mid-Century Modern stainless steel and glass details of the Inland Steel Building all day. The South Garden of the Art Institute, designed by Dan Kiley, is my favorite place to escape and exhale.

3. How do you explain to your parents what you do?

Both of my parents were teachers for 40 years and they’ve fed my voracious love of architecture since I was an eight-year-old drawing floor plans in the margins of my math papers. So it was never hard to describe new projects to them. But to everyone else? I usually explain that I’m part educator, part architect, part historian. I teach adults and kids about architecture and cities.

4. If you could have dinner with anyone living or dead, who would they be?

The historian in me would love to share a meal with Chicagoans who lived, worked or visited in our “shock city” of the tumultuous 1890s. The young clerical worker with her first typing job in the Rookery Building. The plate glass worker installing giant windows in the Reliance Building. The Nebraskan farmer who visited the World’s Columbian Exposition. What was it like for them? I have so many questions! 

5. What are 5 things you can’t live without?

  1. good black sketching markers
  2. comfortable shoes
  3. my camera
  4. walks around my neighborhood park
  5. tacos

6. What is your favorite CAF experience?

Oh my—so many! Each year brings new memorable experiences. But without a doubt, at the top of the list would be teaching the new docent class each year. It’s such a joy to watch them grow through the weeks and years to become fluent in speaking about architecture and design.