Chris-Ann is the esteemed recipient of the 2015 Dubin Family Young Architect Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Chicago. She is currently a project architect for the Chicago firm Wheeler Kearns Architects.
Chris-Ann holds a BArch from the University of Technology in Kingston, Jamaica and a MArch from the University of Illinois at Chicago. With Wheeler Kearns, Chris-Ann has served as project architect for renovations of residences in Chicago and Glencoe. She recently completed an award-winning project, Inspiration Kitchens–Garfield Park for Inspiration Corporation, and Wolcott School, the Chicago region’s only high school for students with learning differences. In 2008, Chris-Ann and her husband Grant Gibson, an architect at CAMESgibson, won third place in the White House Redux Competition.
Chris-Ann’s current project is a new Noble Charter High School in Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood. She lives in Logan Square with her husband and their two children. We are pleased to feature such a talented designer in this edition of “Questions for an Architect.”
What project have you enjoyed working on most during your career thus far?
I have great memories as well as stressful “nail biting” moments from each project I’ve worked on. I’ve also been very fortunate to work with several fantastic clients, consultants and contractors—most recently at the Goodman Theatre, [with the creation of the] Alice Rapoport Center. The space attempts to create “the natural world” through form and materials in the heart of the city. It’s a space where Chicago youth, teens and adults through free public programs perform and learn theatrical arts. Another project which has a special place in my heart is Inspiration Kitchens Garfield Park, the adaptive reuse of a 1906 building into an 80-seat restaurant that serves subsidized meals to working poor families and market rate meals to the general public. This project was my first institutional project and a space I’ve continued to interact with no longer as an architect but as a customer with my husband and children.
You’ve worked on many different project types thus far in your career (residential, hospitality, education). Which type would you say is the most uniquely challenging?
My most challenging projects are institutional but they are also extremely rewarding. Often times the success of the project is embedded in the mission of organization and I’ve tried to provide thoughtful, quality work which respects both people and place. Such as the Chicago Urban League Outreach Center in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood where African American boys and men will be provided with the tools for an improved quality of life.
The 2008 White House Redux competition generated many submissions that were “…philosophical, political, satirical, often abstract—and highly creative.” (Inhabit, 2008). Why do you think that might have been, and did your submission exhibit these traits as well?
I think our submission was philosophical, political and maybe a bit satirical, but it wasn’t as abstract as the other winners. We submitted a rather traditional set of drawings and diagrams that described a building and alluded to the social, political and cultural ramifications that would come from it. The project was a quick, fun competition that let us unleash some of our political frustrations (from Bush era politics) and hopes (for an Obama presidency) through the medium of architecture.
How has Chicago’s designed environment influenced or inspired your work?
Chicago is a special place with many great things happening and challenges that we, as a city, need to address. That is probably the thing that gets to me the most. Chicago can feel like two cities; one is dense, beautiful, global and with private means, the other is isolated from economical and educational opportunities.
If you could collaborate with any historic Chicago architect, who would it be and why?
It’s difficult to select a single architect. I do have a top five list beginning with William Le Baron Jenney at the time when everyone worked in his office; Adler and Sullivan when the Auditorium Building was being designed and constructed; Daniel Burnham while he worked on the World’s Columbian Exposition; and Bruce Goff for the short time he lived and practiced in Chicago or any period during Bertrand Goldberg’s practice. However, given the social standards of those moments in America’s history, I’m much better off living and practicing at this moment.