About the award
The Gold Medal is the AIA’s highest annual honor, recognizing individuals whose work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.
As a leader of civic design’s vanguard since the early 1980s, Carol Ross Barney, FAIA, has persistently pursued architecture that betters the daily life of all who interact with it. Her thoughtful and transformative projects, almost all of which exist in the public realm, are imbued with hope and received with acclaim. From her early days in the Peace Corps working alongside the newly formed Costa Rican National Park Service to close collaborations with the leaders of the largest U.S. cities, all of Barney’s work has been guided by the ethos that good design is a right, not merely a privilege.
After her stint in the Peace Corps and time at Holabird & Root, Barney founded her practice, Ross Barney Architects, in 1981 in her native Chicago. Two years later, she received the Plym Traveling Fellowship from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, an opportunity that would invigorate her work in the public realm for the rest of her career. Barney’s work has been celebrated with more than 200 national and international awards, including two AIA COTE Top Ten Awards, the 2005 AIA Award for Excellence in Public Architecture, and AIA Illinois Firm Award and Gold Medal.
In 1997, Barney was tasked with finding hope in the face of overwhelming tragedy as the lead designer for the Oklahoma City Federal Building to replace the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building destroyed in the 1995 bombing. The project marked the first time a woman architect has been selected to lead such a commission. A far cry from an impregnable fortress, the 185,000-square-foot, u-shaped building, completed in 2005, integrates the necessary security measures with respect for pedestrians and the surrounding city.
For nearly two decades, Barney has championed the movement to inject new life into the Chicago River. The resulting Chicago Riverwalk, a 1.25-mile stretch of civic space from Lake Michigan to several of the river’s confluences, is an exciting new living room for the denizens of the city. The park references the repurposed infrastructure that defines the discrete “rooms” between the bridges that span the river. Featuring kayak tours, a wine bar, a veterans memorial, and countless public programs, the project has brought positive energy to Chicago’s urban realm and is a model for cities rethinking their water resources.
While Barney’s philosophy is evident in her work, she has, for nearly 30 years, delivered it to a generation of architects as an adjunct professor at Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology. The topics of the studio courses Barney leads have been closely related to her practice, from water transportation to mixed-use development as a way to spur a light manufacturing renaissance. Barney has also mentored countless talented architects in her studio, many of whom have built their own successful practices, become university architects, or discovered new paths through the values Barney instilled in them.
With her focus on design excellence, social responsibility, and generosity, Barney is an unrivaled architect for the people. Throughout all of her work, she has endeavored to make the world a better place and, in doing so, made an indelible mark on the profession. Her pioneering approach and ethics exemplify the highest aspirations of architecture.