Design to make the world a better place

We believe that happiness and well-being are intrinsically linked to the quality of our environment.

Our studio is dedicated to making extraordinary spaces, no matter the scope or scale, through inventive and integrated design. The built space we inhabit has a profound impact on individual lives and our shared environment.

By approaching each assignment holistically we discover unique, environmentally responsible, and memorable solutions.

Our work is iconic and transformative.

Our Story

Ross Barney Architects is an architecture, urban design, and landscape architecture studio committed to designing distinctive solutions for every project that we undertake. Established in 1981 by Carol Ross Barney, the firm enjoys long and successful history of creating innovative, environmentally responsible, user focused architecture and civic spaces that stand the test of time. Chicago, Illinois is our home base and laboratory.

From our inception, the studio has operated under the belief that the experience of exceptional space is a right that all society should enjoy. The firms’ diverse portfolio of work lends proof to the idea that great design solutions can be developed for any problem. At the heart of this success is a collaborative and holistic design process that actively engages the client and users of a project in order to discover a diverse range of possible solutions. The best design happens when these synergetic interactions and open exchange of ideas are allowed to flourish.

Research has always fueled our design process. We search for enhanced understanding of programmatic needs. We are continually exploring new materials and system applications to improve the performance of our buildings. We allow the building to grow out of its place, its technology, and its social and functional needs.

This combination of a collaborative process, material exploration, and dedication to excellence allows Ross Barney Architects to provide lasting contributions to the built environment, positioning the studio to continue making the world a better place.

Our Process

01 Research

Thorough research into place, function, and materiality provides an opportunity to push a solution beyond the confines of what is merely satisfactory. From building program to the materials used in construction, all aspects of a design benefit from focused investigation.

02 Collaborate

Exceptional work is accomplished when the client, design team, and project users are able to confidently engage in a thoughtful, candid exchange of ideas. Every team member has knowledge and expertise that is vital in defining the project vision.

03 Design

Holistic design addresses the project at all levels, from environmental context to door hardware. For any design solution there are a multitude of right answers, we define and explore the subset of answers that respond most appropriately to project goals.

04 Iterate

All good design is iterative. A diverse range of study and exploration is an essential step in assuring that a project achieves its full potential. Through the use of design alternates, the team is able to explore and discover the full potential of a project.

05 Synthesize

From presenting design concepts to producing construction documents, we take great care and pride in the production of our work. Our broad knowledge and experience in building design and construction produces clear and concise documentation for all of our projects.

06 Deploy

Construction oversight, making sure that the project is built as designed, is extremely important to the success and longevity of a project. After the design is complete and construction is finished a great building is a living, ever changing environment; a beloved space to work, live, and think.

Our Beliefs

Environment Stewardship

We have adopted a policy of maximum sustainability in our work; anything else is not an option for us.

Societal Aspirations

Architecture should inspire a contemporary vision of today’s society, emphasizing that design excellence is a right, not a privilege.

Never Commit too Early

We are always in love with three or four ideas, recognizing the fact that there is more than one answer we never commit to one idea too early.

Urban Sensitivity

While we seek to improve the metropolitan experience, we believe that architecture is an integral component of life quality. Great buildings strengthen community.

Take Risks

Great architecture is done by someone who hasn’t done it before, by someone who has to rethink every relation and isn’t tied down by conventions.


Our ideas and projects have been recognized by entities and publications from around the world.  Ross Barney Architects’ work has been exhibited in Chicago, New York, Washington D.C. and San Francisco, and has received more than 60 major awards, including:

Institute Honor Award for Architecture  American Institute of Architects. 2018, 2002, 1994, 1991.

Institute Honor Award for Regional & Urban Design American Institute of Architects. 2018.

Global Award for Excellence Urban Land Institute. 2018.

Institute Honor Award for Interior Architecture  American Institute of Architects. 1999.

Distinguished Building   American Institute of Architects Chicago Chapter. 2016, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2002 (2), 2010, 2009, 2008, 2003, 1999, 1997 (2), 1996, 1992, 1989.

Divine Detail   American Institute of Architects Chicago Chapter. 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2005, 2003, 1997, 1995.

COTE Top Ten Award   American Institute of Architects. 2013, 2009.

American Architecture Award   The Chicago Athenaeum Museum and Design Center. 2017, 2012.

Patron of the Year   Chicago Architectural Foundation. 2012, 2009.

Interior Architecture Award   American Institute of Architects Chicago Chapter. 2009, 2005, 2003, 2002 (2), 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994.

Design Award   General Services Administration. 2006.

Architectural Excellence in Community Design   Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. 2006, 2002, 2001.

Firm Award   American Institute of Architects Illinois Component. 2000.

Firm Award   American Institute of Architects Chicago Chapter. 1995.

Federal Design Achievement   National Endowment for the Arts. 1992.


*For a comprehensive list of awards click here

Our Services

Feasibility Studies

Building projects are expensive. As the owner or developer, you need to asses whether the project is worthwhile. We provide the information you need to develop a convincing financial package, including site analysis, conceptual design, zoning assistance, and construction and operating cost estimates.

Site Evaluation

Site analysis is a vital step in the design process. We help identify opportunities and constraints that have a direct impact on the cost of construction, including climate, topography, geotechnical characteristics, utilities, zoning, and regulatory requirements.


We will assist you in determining your project’s goals, the activities to be accommodated, and any special requirements or considerations.  Defining the program of a building or space is an essential part of ensuring a projects’ success


The realization of a typical building requires two million yes/no decisions by the design team. This overwhelming number demands an effective process with excellent communications. Through our flexible and responsive team structure, we find the solution that best balances the demands of program, building codes and site, context, technology, cost, and schedule.

Interior Design

The envelope of a building is only where it begins. From custom finishes and furnishings to the newest trends in collaboration spaces, we have well balanced understanding and commitment to a holistic experience.

Urban Design/Planning

We always look to the site, whether it is for the design of a building or in a broader urban context.  We provide planning analysis, land use and complete streets recommendations, and streetscape, public space, and schematic design for new and re-development.

Project Management

We observe construction for conformance to drawings and specifications; process the contractor’s shop drawings, and materials and product samples; review the results of construction tests and inspection; evaluate the contractors’ request for payment; handle requests for design changes; and administer the completion, start-up and closeout process for you.