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From cultural institutions to educational environments, urban planning to infrastructure, Carol Ross Barney’s vision has made an indelible impact on Chicago’s built environment.

by Nikki Snodgrass, Media Relations Manager

Chicago architect Carol Ross Barney has done wonderful things for the city. Her ability to design (and in many cases, redesign) spaces to delight and improve communities is evidenced by her dozens of projects.

The Chicago Riverwalk is just one example of the talent and thoughtfulness that Barney brings to each project. The design is transformative, changing the way people experience this span along Wacker Drive. Visitors enjoy a special oasis that's close to, but separate from, the downtown hustle and bustle. Creative landscaping and beautiful views of the city make the Riverwalk a pleasing commute through the area.

Carol's firm, Ross Barney Architects, maintains that taking a holistic approach to each design, with an effort to work collaboratively with the client, will result in the most successful finished product. The idea that “happiness and well-being are intrinsically linked to the quality of the environment” is the underlying inspiration and motivation behind their design approach. That philosophy is evident in everything they create.

Here’s a bit more about her favorite architects and buildings and some of perspective on the world of design.

What project have you enjoyed working on the most during your career?

Probably the Oklahoma City Federal Building. In addition to the architectural and security challenges, working in the atmosphere of important historical events was very exciting.

Name your favorite Chicago building.

Inland Steel. I like it so much that in 1984, Jim Jankowski, my partner at that time, and I walked off the street and into the office of the building to ask about renting space. Our offices were located in Inland for more than 10 years. It was a glorious space to work in. 

What five things can you not live without?

Challenging work, my family, a view of the lake, collaborating with the members of my studio and my Kindle and my iPad.

If you could collaborate with any historic Chicago architect, who it would be and why?

Harry Weese. He was a maverick, and I admire that. When I graduated from architecture school, Harry was my first choice for employment. I never worked for him but ironically my studio is currently located in the River North loft building that he owned and worked in, so I am literally surrounded by his aura now. 

What is Chicago’s biggest built environment challenge?

Chicago is in an enviable position compared to other big cities with its abundant clean water and working urban infrastructure, but we are not without challenges. Specifically, I think we need to fix our aging sewer and storm water systems. Our power and communications grids need rebuilding. Improved public transportation will be a 21st-century requirement.

How does CAC inspire people to discover why design matters?

CAC is preeminently excellent at taking everyday spaces and places and relating their importance to everyday people.

Mies van der Rohe or Frank Lloyd Wright?

Mies, not as diverse or versatile as Frank Lloyd Wright, but the serenity and beauty of his architecture puts him over the top.

 Why is it important for you to be engaged with CAC?

CAC makes understanding architecture easy for Chicago residents and visitors. I am an architect who believes that good design is a right and not a privilege. We share a mission.

If you were not an architect, what would you be?

I am currently obsessed with photography and ideography…I always thought I would like to be a filmmaker.

What is the one project type you have not worked on yet but would like to design?

Obviously every architect in Chicago would answer that the same way: the Obama Presidential Library. In addition, I would like to design high-density, multifamily housing.