Architectural Record - “Interview with Carol Ross Barney”

October 06, 2021
Carol Ross Barney Interview Architectural Record

The Octo­ber 2021 issue of Archi­tec­tur­al Record fea­tures an inter­view by Zach Mor­tice with Design Prin­ci­pal and Founder Car­ol Ross Bar­ney, FAIA, HASLA in hon­or of the studio’s receipt of the Coop­er Hewitt, Smith­son­ian Design Muse­um Nation­al Design Award.

With a port­fo­lio of train sta­tions, chiller plants, and bor­der sta­tions, Car­ol Ross Bar­ney has built one of the nation’s most vital prac­tices, from util­i­tar­i­an pub­lic infra­struc­ture that sel­dom gets the atten­tion of a design­er. But these pieces of urban con­nec­tive tis­sue, expand­ing out­ward from her home base in Chica­go — where she found­ed her firm, Ross Bar­ney Archi­tects, in 1981 — are not, in her hands, unas­sum­ing. Her Chi­cago River­walk (on which she col­lab­o­rat­ed with Sasa­ki) syn­the­sizes land­scape design and archi­tec­ture to cre­ate an engag­ing pedes­tri­an cor­ri­dor along Chicago’s found­ing water­way, gen­er­at­ing a new civic con­nec­tion to the water.

In response to the pan­dem­ic cri­sis and last year’s upris­ings against racist police vio­lence, demands for equi­table pub­lic space are reshap­ing con­ver­sa­tions around this sort of infra­struc­ture, just as the hori­zon of what’s polit­i­cal­ly pos­si­ble opens up a path­way toward more invest­ment in cities and towns. By select­ing Ross Bar­ney for the Coop­er Hewitt, Smith­son­ian Design Museum’s 2021 Nation­al Design Award for Archi­tec­ture and Inte­ri­or Design, the insti­tu­tion hon­ors a design­er who has found ways for the pro­sa­ic and noble to hold us togeth­er. The archi­tect spoke with Zach Mor­tice for RECORD.”

Chicago Riverwalk 1

The Chicago Riverwalk

Why did you decide to build your prac­tice around pub­lic sec­tor projects?

I start­ed out think­ing that design will make a dif­fer­ence. As a kid, there were spaces that impressed me, that made my emo­tions change, and I was real­ly aware of that pow­er. I want­ed to do that. But I had two epipha­nies. One was that pub­lic space has a much big­ger impact than oth­er spaces. If you’re going to make every­day life bet­ter, why not do it in pub­lic? The sec­ond was that I’ve always felt empow­ered work­ing in the pub­lic realm, because I see myself as a part of a com­mu­ni­ty, and that makes me not only the design­er but the client.

With my first part­ner, Jim Jankows­ki, we made a pact that we would rather do toi­let rooms and park­ing lots than hous­es for our friends, not that we had bad friends. We think this is more important.

How has Covid-19, which has sep­a­rat­ed us in many archi­tec­tur­al con­texts, made us reeval­u­ate the val­ue of the pub­lic sector?

The pan­dem­ic has forced us to con­sid­er our com­mon­ly owned and oper­at­ed pub­lic spaces in a new light. Now the space is so pre­cious, and peo­ple are think­ing about who owns it and why. In a way, that’s the essen­tial argu­ment that Amer­i­cans are hav­ing with each oth­er. What’s your respon­si­bil­i­ty to the whole? Can you be unvac­ci­nat­ed and be respon­si­ble? Is there moral­i­ty in that type of indi­vid­u­al­ism? And that extends to space. Why don’t we have green space for every­body? It’s forced a con­ver­sa­tion about the health and well-being of the com­mu­ni­ty, and our indi­vid­ual roles in it.”

When you were select­ed for the Coop­er Hewitt award, did it seem that appre­ci­a­tion for the pub­lic sec­tor work you’ve steadi­ly cham­pi­oned has final­ly risen to match the crises fac­ing the pub­lic realm?

We’re not the Coop­er Hewitt’s usu­al audi­ence at all. We’re almost urban guer­ril­las. We don’t have a build­ing spe­cial­ty — we’re real­ly inter­est­ed in a lot of dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions. What they have in com­mon is that they need some sort of inter­ven­tion, and they’re not always thought of as oppor­tu­ni­ties for design. It’s hard to run a stu­dio like that, believe me, although it’s been very sat­is­fy­ing. It’s will­ful. You do what you want.”

Read the full arti­cle at Archi​tec​tural​Record​.com.

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