2017 Young Architects Award Recipient
Emerging talent deserves recognition. The AIA Young Architects Award honors individuals who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made significant contributions to the architecture profession early in their careers.
With a keen interest in serving the less served, Chris-Annmarie Spencer, AIA, brings the spirit of resourcefulness she experienced growing up in Jamaica to her practice. A talented Chicago architect, Spencer’s focus on creative design is making a broad social impact.
The recipient of AIA Chicago’s 2015 Young Architect Award, Spencer is a project architect at Wheeler Kearns Architects, where she’s led countless nonprofits through the design process and brought into existence schools, design studios, and residences, often through sheer will and hard work.
At the Alice B. Rapoport Center for Education and Engagement, Spencer transformed 10,000 square feet of vacant office space on the second floor of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre building into two rehearsal labs, support spaces, and a lobby, expanding the theater’s community engagement and outreach programming by 30 percent. A second phase will see the addition of two STEM labs and an audition studio. The new space also allows the theater to increase enrollment in its teacher training program and host intergenerational offerings for lifelong learners.
Spencer’s work with Inspiration Kitchens, a nonprofit addressing the food desert issues facing the city’s East Garfield Park community, received nine design awards, including the prestigious Gold Medal Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence in 2013. For this triple-bottom-line project, Spencer adaptively reused a 1906 single-story building to create a 7,800-square-foot facility containing an 80-seat restaurant serving subsidized meals to working-poor families and market-rate meals to the general public. It also boasts a combination service, catering, and training kitchen to accommodate a 13-week food-service training program for 100 people annually. A sizable garden surrounds the facility, providing fresh herbs and vegetables as well as educational opportunities for students and the community. In its first year of operation, 12,000 meals were served, exceeding the set goal by 80 percent.
Spencer’s work is not limited to the South and West sides of Chicago. While designing residences in the city’s wealthy Gold Coast neighborhood, she struggled with whether or not it would be possible to practice in such dissimilar contexts. Choosing to view the experiences as symbiotic, Spencer embraces elements of both to create architecture that embodies caring and respect for people and place. Her work on high-end residences has afforded her opportunities to research lighting and finishes, which impacts her work for nonprofits and educational institutions.
With thoughtful designs that deliver architecture to people in all walks of life, Spencer demonstrates the need for community-based work in mainstream practice. Facing challenges with a quick wit and sense of humor only add to her authenticity as an architect.